When the Lingua Franca Was Hebrew

Evidence from Medieval Europe reveals that Jews from different lands were comfortable using Hebrew both in prayer and in everyday life.

In the introduction to his lexicon “Mahberet He’arukh,” Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham Ibn Parhon, a 12th-century North African scholar who had immigrated to Italy, begged forgiveness from the readers for his heavy and clumsy Hebrew. He blames it on the difference in the knowledge of Hebrew between Islamic and Christian countries: “And I’ll appeal to the reader who finds a mistake or something forgotten or language...