"Before Ben-Yehuda... Jews could speak Hebrew; after him they did.
" - Cecil Roth
Before its "resurrection", the Hebrew language had been passed down from generation to generation for millennia as part of the Jewish education of young men in the diaspora. The reason that it was considered a "dead" language was that it had not been used conversationally by any significant Jewish population since second century Jerusalem. Hebrew, the language of the Torah, was considered too holy for day-to-day conversation and reserved for prayer and religious discussion. In Jewish populations in Palestine and Eastern Europe, Hebrew combined with other languages to form Ladino (Spanish + Hebrew) and Yiddish (German + Hebrew). Thus, the Hebrew language survived in its original form in religious settings and in modified form in various dialects.
With the rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, Ashkenazic Jews fleeing religious persecution in Western Europe and Russia came to settle in Palestine. These Ashkenazic Jews spoke Russian and Yiddush, while the indigenous Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino and Arabic. In 1881, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, an ardent Zionist from Lithuania, arrived in Palestine with the goal of unifying the Jews in the ancient Hebrew land with the ancient Hebrew language. He invented hundreds of modern words, and began compiling A "Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew", completed by his family after his death. He encouraged Jewish schools to be taught in Hebrew. He published a newspaper in Hebrew, Hatzvi, that covered a wide range of topics. In 1890, he founded the Hebrew Language Council. Through his contributions and dedication to his cause, Ben-Yehuda inspired a fervent enthusiasm towards the Hebrew language in the growing Jewish community in Palestine. In 1922 Britain recognized Hebrew as the official language of the Jews in Palestine and in 1948 it became the official language of the new state of Israel.