Yalon (originally Distenfeld), Hanoch

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YALON (originally Distenfeld), HANOCH

YALON (originally Distenfeld ), HANOCH (Henoch ; 1886–1970), Hebrew linguist. Born in Trutky, near Lopatin in Galicia, Yalon was influenced by his older brothers who had become maskilim, and became well versed in the Hebrew literature of the *Haskalah. At the age of 22 he went to Lemberg (Lvov) where he taught Hebrew. He studied Akkadian at Lemberg University and during World War i moved to Vienna where he studied Semitic languages at the university.

Yalon was invited in 1921 to teach at the Mizrachi Teachers' Seminary in Jerusalem, where he was employed until 1946. He then devoted his life solely to research. In 1962 he received the Israel prize for Jewish scholarship. In 1963 a jubilee volume was published in his honor.

Yalon's published work is comprised only of articles, most of which were collected in three books: Mavo le-Nikkud ha-Mishnah ("Introduction to the Vocalization of the Mishnah," 1964); Pirkei Lashon ("Studies in the Hebrew Language," 1971; posthumously); and Megillot Midbar Yehudah ("Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls," 1967). He also edited Kunteresim le-Inyenei ha-Lashon ha-Ivrit (vol. 1, 1937–38; vol. 2, 1938–39; altogether four issues); and Inyenei Lashon (two issues, 1942–43).

Yalon's achievements as an innovator in the field of research on the Hebrew language were considerable. His studies cover all periods of the history of the Hebrew language: the Bible, mishnaic Hebrew, piyyut, medieval grammarians, Hebrew poetry in Spain, rabbinical Hebrew, grammarians of more recent centuries, and the Haskalah literature down to the contemporary spoken language. Yalon was the first to recognize the importance of the living traditions of Hebrew, especially that of the Yemenite community. While teaching at the Mizrachi Seminary, whose students came from all ethnic groups in the country, he observed the differences between the living traditions. He found that the Yemenite tradition was close to Hebrew and Aramaic with the Babylonian vocalization. Up to this time it was customary to dismiss the oral traditions of the various communities as "errors." Yalon, however, showed that sometimes their traditions had a Hebrew basis which was different from that transmitted by the masoretes of Tiberias.

His approach established research in mishnaic Hebrew grammar on a new basis. Like J.N. *Epstein, by whom he was greatly influenced, and S. *Lieberman, he realized that the printed versions of mishnaic Hebrew texts were unreliable and therefore one must go to the manuscripts. Consequently he showed that between the grammar of mishnaic Hebrew and biblical Hebrew there were far greater differences than had been thought up to his time.

His achievements were no less in the field of criticism. Yalon wrote about scholars who were fixed in their views which were based on past and dated scientific methods. Out-spoken and very sharp in his criticisms, Yalon showed great courage in his attack. His critical activity was admirable for he persisted in it knowing that it would have little effect. Only toward the end of his life he realized that his teachings, and not those of his rivals, had triumphed in the research of Hebrew linguistics in Israel. To the public at large Yalon was known mainly as the scholar who had vocalized the six books of the *Mishnah (with a commentary by Ḥ. *Albeck, 1952–58, 1958–592). Yalon did not aim at a pure scientific vocalization which would reflect the original form, but at times he even left the faulty vocalization which had become sanctioned through the acceptance of all the communities for many generations.


Sefer Ḥanokh Yalon (1963), 9–50; Y. Kutscher, in: Haaretz (April 13, 1962, March 27, 1970, March 30, 1971).