One of Hasefer’s first volumes, issued in 1923, was a slim collection of Jabotinsky’s Hebrew poetry translations. In it were selections from Poe and D’Annunzio, the whole of Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat, and sections of Edmond Rostan’s Cyrano de Bergerac. What made it noteworthy, however, was not its content but its use of the Sephardic diction that Jabotinsky had first heard in Basel in 1903, together with the Sephardic system of poetic scansion. Although the Hebrew spoken in twentieth-century Palestine had adopted the Sephardic pronunciation, nearly all prominent Hebrew poets of the day were still adhering to the Ashkenazi rules of composition. Jabotinsky’s translations had an impact on the younger generation of Hebrew poets and helped speed the transition to a Sephardic prosody that took in the 1920s.
A second, more radical change that he promoted never attracted many followers. This was the Latinization of the Hebrew alphabet for purposes of phonetic clarity, an idea in keeping with similar spelling reforms undertaken at the time, such as the simplification of Russian and Yiddish orthography in the Soviet Union and the Latinization under Atatürk of Turkish’s Arabic script. It was a symptom of Jabotinsky’s ambivalent attitude toward Jewish tradition that he, the ardent lover and proponent of Hebrew, had an almost dyslexic difficulty with its written characters—“those damned square letters,” he once called them—and wished to exchange them for an alien system that would have severed the language from its ancient roots. Happily, few of its users agreed with him.
(Tsk tsk, such editorializing!) The last proposal reminds me of Nabokov’s wishing that Russian were Latinized.