Semitic language that is both a sacred language of Judaism and a modern vernacular in Israel. Like Aramaic, to which it is closely related, Hebrew has a documented history of nearly 3,000 years. The earliest fully attested stage of the language is Biblical Hebrew: the earlier parts (“Standard Biblical Hebrew”) date before 500 BC and include even older poetic passages; the later parts (“Late Biblical Hebrew”) were composed circa 500–200 BC. Post-Biblical Hebrew, variously termed Rabbinic or Mishnaic Hebrew (see Mishna), is characterized by an early period when Hebrew was still probably to some degree a vernacular and a later period, after circa AD 200, when Aramaic became the everyday speech of Jews in the Middle East. The 6th and 7th centuries marked a transition to Medieval Hebrew. The resurrection of Hebrew as a vernacular is closely linked with the 18th-century Haskala movement and 20th-century Zionism. Contemporary Israeli Hebrew is spoken by about five million people in Israel and abroad. Seealso Ashkenazi; Sephardi; Hebrew alphabet.
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Among Orthodox Jews it is used for books both of the Tanakh, the oral law (Mishnah and Talmud) or any work of Rabbinic literature. Works unrelated to Torah study are rarely called sefer by English-speaking Orthodox Jews.