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Israel Yeivin was born in Berlin. His family immigrated to Palestine when he was seven, and he grew up in Tel Aviv. His father, Yehoshua Yeivin, was a conceptual philosopher of the Revisionist Zionism movement and founder of the radical Zionist group Brit HaBirionim. His mother was Miryam Atara Margolin.
He got his elementary schooling at Ahad Ha'Am School and completed his secondary schooling at Gymnasia Balfour in 1940. Soon after, he began to study Hebrew Language & Literature (לשון וספרות עברית) and Universal Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He received his M.A degree in 1958. His thesis dealt with "Hakafat HaTevot HaZeirot BaMikra (21 Sfarim)". The same year he married Batya Heifetz. They had 2 sons.
In 1968 he received his doctorate for his research on "Babylonian point vocalization". While studying at the University, Yeivin worked at a printing shop as type setter and proof reader in order to support his extended family. Then he became proof reader on the editorial staff of the Hebrew Encyclopedia. He also worked in the preparatory stage of the Encyclopedia Judaica and as Editorial Secretary of the "Tarbitz" quarterly. In addition, he worked in the Bible Project of the Hebrew University. There he became expert in deciphering ancient manuscripts of the Bible, including "The Aleppo Codex", following which his book on the codex was published.
With the project to create the Historic Dictionary of the Hebrew Language by the Academy of the Hebrew Language in 1959, Yeivin was one of its first scientific staff. He worked on the Dictionary's editorial board for more than 30 years as Head of Ancient Hebrew research. From 1968 Israel taught in the Hebrew University Language Department, later on becoming a professor and Head of the Hebrew Language Faculty. In 1990 he retired. He continued interest in further research of the subjects he had taught: The Masorah; The Bible Accentuation (Ta'amei HaMikra); The traditional language as revealed in the Babylonian Vocalization; Rabbinical Hebrew, "the language of the Sages" (Leshon Hachamim); The Liturgical Poetic Language (Leshon HaPiyyut); and Lexicology. He published 3 books and more than 50 research papers.
In 1975 Yeivin spent several months at Cambridge, England helping to unravel and classify documents from the Cairo Genizah. Professors Ezra Fleischer and Jacob Sussmann shared in this work with Yeivin.
Awards and honours
In 1986, Yeivin was awarded the Friedenberg Prize for his book "The Hebrew Language Tradition as Reflected in the Babylonian Vocalization".
In 1989, he was awarded the Israel Prize, for the study of the Hebrew language. Among the reasons for their decision, the judges stated that "…he is one of the greatest world authorities in the study of the Masorah and Accentuation (Teamim) and the greatest scholar of the Hebrew Masorah in Babylonian Vocalization."
Yeivin was a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language from 1987 and member of the Israel National Academy of Sciences since 1991. He transferred his private collection of micro-films of vocalizations, including parts of hidden archives of Genizah, in vocalization and accentuation to the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts of the National Library in Jerusalem in memory of his son Dov, who died in 1986. Further in memory of his son Dov, a large part of his rare scholarly collection has been donated to the Ariel University Center of Samaria Library.
- The Aleppo Codex of the Bible: a study of its vocalization and accentuation, 1968
- The Hebrew Language Tradition as Reflected in the Babylonian Vocalization, 1985
- The Biblical Masorah, 2003
- Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah, 1980
- Reuven Mirkin, "Baal Hayovel", in Researches in Language E-H, Book Israel Yeivin. Jerusalem 1992