Picture Hebrew

Hebrew speaking countries

Hebrew is one out of two official languages in Israel and is spoken in Palestine as monther tongue by a part of the population. The Hebrew language (native name: עברית) has its roots in the Afro-Asiatic language family.

As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 63 percent is in Israel. A total of about 6.1 million people worldwide speak Hebrew as their mother tongue.
Hebrew is one of the oldest languages in the world. It is best known for its use in the Torah, the Jewish Bible, in which the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew some 2500 years ago. It has its origins in the Canaanite languages, which in turn are classified among the Semitic languages.

The original Old Hebrew was influenced and later supplanted by Aramaic languages during the first millennium BC. After the Exodus, i.e. the expulsion of the Jews from Judea with the destruction of Jerusalem, Hebrew hardly played a significant role for a long time and became a sacral language. Only among Jewish scholars, however, did it continue to be used for scholarly texts. However, since numerous Jewish Torah texts were written in Hebrew, the language never died out.

Distribution Hebrew

Distribution today

Picture Hebrew It was not until the late 19th century that there were successful efforts to bring the language back into official use. The plan was to establish a Jewish national language in Palestine. This gave rise to modern Hebrew, called "Ivrit". Today, Hebrew is spoken by about 9 million people worldwide. 6.1 million of them are even native speakers, living mainly in Israel, but also in Palestine. Outside of these two countries, however, its use is limited to Jewish communities and synagogues.

CountryRegionOfficial languageDistributionTotal
IsraelWestern Asiayes63.1 %5,909,000
PalestineWestern Asiano4.1 %202,000

The Hebrew Script

The characters, similar to Arabic, differ significantly from the Latin script. The often brush-like lines of numerous scripts are striking. The alphabet consisted in the old Hebrew of 22 letters, today there are 27 consonants. The written language does not know any vowels. Occasionally, dots are added above or below the letters to indicate stresses. Thus, in most cases, one must already know a word to be able to read it. Because of the missing vowels, it is not obvious how it is pronounced. Dots are also rarely used in newspapers and books.

By the way, writing is from right to left. Not only the omission of vowels, but also the direction of writing is thus related to the Arabic script.

Unless otherwise described in the text, this page is about native speakers — not the total number of speakers. How many people understand or speak Hebrew as a subsequently learned language is not the subject of this page. Countries where native speakers make up only a few thousand, or even a few hundred people, or countries with a percentage well below 1% are unlikely to be listed here.