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The bespectacled man with two pens in his shirt pocket and a black skullcap atop grey hair points to his computer screen and explains an epic project spanning generations.
Gabriel Birnbaum, 66, is a senior researcher helping document and define every Hebrew word ever—from ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls to the contemporary novels of Israeli literary figures like Amos Oz.
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It is a mammoth task under way since 1959, and even though a milestone has been reached on the digital project, there are still many years to go.
Called the Historical Dictionary Project at Israel's Academy of the Hebrew Language, it will serve as an invaluable resource for scholars, writers and linguists.
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But it will also act as an anchor for Hebrew, the ancient language revived in spoken form in the 19th century after some 1,700 years.
Work completed so far is already available to the public online.
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For Birnbaum, who has been working for the project for about 13 years and is charged with writing dictionary entries for the words, the project's researchers "understand that we do something very important for the Jewish people".
"For linguistics in general also, because it's a huge linguistic project in itself," he added.
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At his book-lined office at the project's headquarters in Jerusalem, he clicked through to various entries.
The Hebrew word for table, for example, brought up almost 3,000 occurrences, including from the Bible's Book of Exodus in a section where God tells Moses to create a tabernacle.
Business - Birnbaum
But it is not all business for Birnbaum.
Another tab on his browser was open to a song by Leonard Cohen, the late musician whose songs include references to Jewish tradition. Birnbaum is a big fan.
Dictionaries - Languages—perhaps - Oxford - English - Dictionary—Hebrew
While such historical dictionaries exist for other languages—perhaps most notably the monumental Oxford English Dictionary—Hebrew's status may give the project added importance.
Earlier incarnations of the language were...
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