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Earliest Known Printing of “Tikvatenu” [Our Hope – the origin of “Hatikvah”] Inscribed by Author Naftali Herz Imber to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the “revivalist of the Hebrew language”
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Dedicatory inscription on verso of title page (partly cropped by binder), handwritten in Hebrew by Imber: “To my wise friend, the linguist... of the periodical HaZvi in Jerusalem. [...] The renowned wordsmith from the ranks of the Jewish sages [...], Ben-Yehuda. This booklet is a memento from the author.

Inked stamps on title page and on several additional pages (Hebrew): “House of Reading and [Home of] the Book Collection, Jerusalem, may it be rebuilt and reestablished” / “Beit Sefarim Livnei Yisrael... Yerusahalayim…” [House of Books for the Children of Israel in the Holy City of Jerusalem]. The library known as “Beit Sefarim Livnei Yisrael” was established in Jerusalem by a group of scholars led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in 1884 (upon its closing in 1894, its book collection was transferred to the Midrash Abarbanel Library, which eventually evolved into the National Library of Israel.)

In 1886, prior to the publication Barkai, Imber published the following advertisement in Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's Hebrew-language newspaper, HaZvi (2nd year, Issue No. 36): “There is a book with me among my writings [to] which I have given the title ‘Barkai’ [...] Any printer who wishes to purchase it from me in order to publish it should contact me...” An editor’s note follows the advertisement: “We have seen these poems which have been written by Mr. Imber, and [regard them] in keeping with the principle to which we adhere, ‘Look upon the vessel and relate not to its creator' [in a play on words on the chorus of the well-known liturgical poem for the Day of Atonement, ‘Ki Hineh KaHomer’]. It is incumbent upon us to state that the spirit of lofty poetry hovers over them; their thoughts are pleasant and desirable. The language in them is pristine and clear, and the ideas are exceptional. Many of these poems are worthy of becoming national songs. In general, these poems are faithful national songs, writings of a distinguished poet.”

VI, [2], 127, [1] pp., 15.5 cm. Good-fair condition. Stains, mostly to first and last leaves. Tears, some open and some long, to title page and to several other leaves, mostly restored with paper or mended with adhesive tape. Handwritten notations to some pages. New binding and endpapers.

NAFTALI HERZ IMBER. Sefer Barkai [The Morning Star], book of poems. Jerusalem: M. Meyuhas Press, 5646 [1886]. Hebrew and some German.

Inventory #26582       Price: $60,000

The Writing of "HaTikvah" – National Anthem of the State of Israel
This one-of-a-kind association copy of the first printing in book form of the national anthem of Israel, hand-dedicated by its author to the father of the modern Hebrew language, is a truly amazing exemplar of unparalleled importance. A unique, museum-quality item, there can be no more historically important copy of this prescient publication than the present one. Alongside signed copies of Herzl’s ‘Der Judenstaat’ and Ben Gurion’s Declaration of Independence, this signed copy of ‘HaTikvah’ is a landmark of Zionist history. It is a copy that can deservedly take pride of place as a centerpiece in the most exceptional collections of Jewish and Zionist literature.

According to his own account, Naftali Herz Imber wrote the first draft of the words to the poem then known as “Tikvatenu” (“Our Hope”) in 1877-78 while he was living in Iași, Romania. But a different source, cited by the Hebrew-language Encyclopedia of the Founders and Builders of Israel (p. 1586), states that the original words were written in 1886, while Imber was thoroughly inebriated, having drunk profusely in the course of the Purim festivities at the colony of Gedera. According to this source, Imber arose from his stupor to declare that he had “just now composed the first two verses to our national song, which shall give expression to our hope.” Subsequently, while touring the various colonies of Palestine, Imber altered the words and added verses. Eventually, the work was published in its final draft (for the time being) in Imber’s collection of poems titled Barkai [The Morning Star]. Roughly a year after the publication of the collection, Shmuel Cohen (1870-1940), one of the young pioneers of Rishon LeZion, took an existing melody and set it to the words of the poem. Cohen's work was an adaptation of a traditional melody with Slavic roots, associated with Romanian coachmen. The Czech composer Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) made use of an almost identical tune as the central theme to his famous symphonic poem “Vltava” (also known as “The Moldau”).

With its new melody, the song was enthusiastically adopted by the settlers of the colonies. From there it traveled to Europe and was quickly embraced by the Zionist Congresses, to be sung at the conclusion of each congress. Years later, the song was renamed “Hatikvah” and the Hebrew lyrics gradually underwent a number of changes. The main changes were introduced in 1905, when the line “to return to the land of our fathers, to the city where David had encamped” was exchanged for “to be a free people in our country, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem”; and the words “the Age-Old Hope” were turned into “the Hope [“Hatikvah”] of Two Thousand Years.” Though not officially sanctioned at the time, neither by law nor decree, the first two verses of the song became almost universally accepted, with few if any dissenting voices, as the national anthem of the Jewish people. In 1933, Hatikvah gained recognition as the anthem of the Zionist movement. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, it was unofficially adopted as the national anthem. This recognition was not officially grounded in law until 2004. (See: Eliyahu HaKohen, “Od Lo Avda Tikvatenu” [Our Hope has Not been Lost], “Ariel,” Issue No. 186, January 2009 (Hebrew), pp. 101-104.)

Naftali Herz Imber was born in Złoczów (today Zolochiv), Galicia (then a region of the Austrian Empire, today part of Ukraine). He was given a traditional Jewish education up to his teenage years, but while still a youth he embraced the “Haskalah” (Jewish Enlightenment) movement, and shortly thereafter, Zionism. After wandering through Eastern and Southern Europe, taking on various occupations, in 1882 he chanced upon the Christian Zionist author, journalist, and British Member of Parliament, Sir Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888), to whom he dedicated his book of poetry, Barkai. Oliphant happily took the young poet under his wing, and brought him along when he took up residence in Palestine, where Imber served as his personal secretary. In Palestine, Imber was mostly supported by Oliphant and his wife, Alice. Imber’s relationship with the Jewish settlers in Palestine was complex; on one hand, he was filled with profound admiration for the ‘halutzim,’ spent a great deal of time getting to know the various moshavot, and found many enthusiastic readers for his poetry among the people there. On the other hand, he never ceased to quarrel with the appointed officials of the preeminent patron of the Yishuv, the Baron Edmond de Rothschild. In the "Polemic of the 'Shmitah'" (1887-89; a halakhic discourse in search of an appropriate approach to the biblical commandment requiring farmers to leave their fields fallow every seventh year) Imber sided with the Rabbinical establishment, and through his poetry, took issue with the representatives, supporters, and patrons of the New Yishuv, specifically the Baron Rothschild. Apparently, his excoriation of the Baron's clerks for their corruption and ineptitude was at least to some extent in response to the harsh criticism personally leveled against him at the time, for accepting money and medical care from his benefactor Oliphant and various Christian missionaries. Nevertheless, Imber's stance on these matters was far from consistent; at times he showered praise on the Baron’s personnel, particularly when they catered to his material desires.

Following the passing of Alice Oliphant, Sir Laurence left Palestine, and Imber was deprived of his patron. Shortly thereafter, he returned to his wandering lifestyle, visiting India and spending time in London before finally settling in the United States. He died in New York in 1909 and was buried there, but was reinterred in Israel, in Jerusalem’s Har HaMenuhot Cemetery, in 1953.

Imber dedicated the present copy of Sefer Barkai to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922), a Hebrew lexicographer and newspaper editor who was the driving force behind the revival of the Hebrew language in the modern era.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda
Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman (later Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) was born in Luzhki, Vilna Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Vitebsk Oblast, Belarus). He attended a Jewish elementary school where he studied Hebrew and the Bible and read large portions of the Torah, Mishna, and Talmud. His mother hoped he would become a rabbi and sent him to a yeshiva. There he was exposed to the Hebrew of the Jewish Enlightenment which included some secular writings. Later, he learned French, German, and Russian. Reading the Hebrew-language newspaper ‘HaShachar,’ he became acquainted with the early movement of Zionism and concluded that the revival of the Hebrew language in the Land of Israel could unite all Jews worldwide.

Upon graduation in 1877 Ben-Yehuda went to Paris for four years. He studied various subjects at the Sorbonne University, including the history and politics of the Middle East. In Paris that he met a Jew from Jerusalem, who spoke Hebrew with him. It was this conversation that convinced Ben-Yehuda that the revival of Hebrew as the language of a nation was feasible.

In 1881 Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. He found a job teaching at the Alliance school. Motivated by the surrounding ideals of renovation and rejection of the Diaspora lifestyle, Ben Yehuda set out to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish and other regional dialects as a means of everyday communication between Jews who moved to Israel from various regions of the world. Ben-Yehuda regarded Hebrew and Zionism as symbiotic: "The Hebrew language can live only if we revive the nation and return it to the fatherland," he wrote.

Ben-Yehuda was married twice, to two sisters. His first wife Devora died in 1891 of tuberculosis, leaving him with five small children. Her final wish was that Eliezer marry her younger sister, Paula. Six months later, he married Paula, who took the Hebrew name ‘Hemda.’ Hemda Ben-Yehuda became an accomplished journalist and author in her own right, ensuring the completion of the Hebrew dictionary in the decades after Eliezer's death.

Ben Yehuda raised his son, Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda (his first name meaning ‘son of Zion’), entirely in Hebrew, not allowing him to be exposed to other languages during childhood. Ben-Zion thus became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew as a mother tongue.

Many devoted Jews of the time did not appreciate Ben-Yehuda's efforts to resurrect the Hebrew language. They believed that Hebrew, which they learned as a biblical language, should not be used to discuss mundane and non-holy things. Ben-Yehuda was the editor of several Hebrew-language newspapers: ‘HaZvi,’ ‘Hashkafa,’ and ‘HaOr.’ HaZvi was closed down for a year in the wake of opposition from Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community, which fiercely objected to the use of Hebrew, their holy tongue, for everyday conversation. Even Herzl declared, after meeting Ben-Yehuda, that the thought of Hebrew becoming the modern language of the Jews was ridiculous.

Ben-Yehuda was a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language [Va'ad HaLashon HaIvrit], later the Academy of the Hebrew Language, an organization that still exists today. He was the author of the first Modern Hebrew dictionary and became known as the "mechayeh [reviver]" of the Hebrew language. Many of the words he coined became part of the language, but others never caught on.

Ancient languages and modern Arabic were major sources for Ben-Yehuda and the Committee: "In order to supplement the deficiencies of the Hebrew language, the Committee coins words according to the rules of grammar and linguistic analogy from Semitic roots: Aramaic, Canaanite, Egyptian and especially Arabic." Concerning Arabic, Ben-Yehuda maintained that Arabic roots are "ours": "The roots of Arabic were once a part of the Hebrew language... Lost, and now we have found them again!"

Ben-Yehuda died of tuberculosis in December 1922. He was buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. His funeral was attended by 30,000 people.

In his book “Was Hebrew Ever a Dead Language,” Cecil Roth summed up Ben-Yehuda's contribution to the Hebrew language: "Before Ben Yehuda, Jews could speak Hebrew; after him, they did." This comment reflects the fact that there are no other examples of a natural language without any native speakers subsequently acquiring several million "first language" native speakers.

VI, [2], 127, [1] pp., 15.5 cm. Good-Medium condition. Light stains, mainly to the first and last pages. Tears, some open, to the title page and a number of other pages, most of which are fixed with glued paper and tape. Restored horizontal tear to page 87-88. Ink stamps, glosses and notations in pen on a number of pages. Modern covers and end papers.

Eliyahu HaKohen, "Od Lo Avda Tikvatenu [Our Hope has Not been Lost],” Ariel Magazine, issue 186, January 2009 (Hebrew), pp. 101-104.

Provenance and census
We acquired this at Kedem Auction in November 2021. It was consigned by the preeminent private collector of Jerusalem imprints. The collector, who owned it for the better part of 50 years, did not keep a record of his acquisitions back then.

The book was not stamped by the Midrash Abarbanel Library nor the National Library of Israel, indicating it was never in those institutions. No one knows where the book was between the “Beit Sefarim Livnei Yisrael” library collection in the 1890s and the collector’s acquisition.  

The dedication page had tape on its upper edge that prevented the first two lines of the dedication from being read. Kedem had the tape removed by a professional conservator, fully revealing Imber’s dedication.

We know of only two other signed copies of Sefer Barkai selling at auction. The first sold for $49,200 at Kestenbaum (Auction 62, lot 222June 2014). The second sold for $30,000 at Kedem (lot 114 May 2021). This copy is infinitely more important than the two previous copies sold at auction.

The National Library of Israel lists two copies in their online catalog; neither is signed. WorldCat shows copies in five other institutional collections; none are signed.

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