The knowledge of Arabic is of critical importance for Israel; hence, advancing it at all levels is a matter of national interest. It is essential for cultivating mutual understanding between Jews and Arabs and for acquiring acquaintance with Islam and Arabic culture.
In 1947, one year before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Hebrew University published the first scholarly Arabic-Hebrew dictionary. This dictionary made an important contribution to scholarly research and education. However, the passage of decades has created an urgent need for a new Arabic-Hebrew dictionary that will meet the requirements of the 21st century, both in terms of the very large number of new words and concepts that have emerged, and in terms of the great changes in language usage that have occurred, in Arabic and Hebrew alike.
In 2007, Menahem Milson, Professor Emeritus of Arabic Studies at the Hebrew University, embarked on the immense enterprise of compiling a new comprehensive and up-to-date Arabic-Hebrew dictionary.
This new dictionary now contains some 35,000 entries. Since Arabic has over 1,400 years of rich literary history, contemporary Arabic naturally incorporates words and expressions originating in ancient sources, including the Koran, Hadith and other religious literature, as well as early poetry and proverbs. Moreover, the rise of fundamentalist Islam in the recent generation has increased the currency of words and idioms originating in the religious texts; thus, expressions which were considered archaic 50 or 60 years ago are now back in circulation, including in the media. This dictionary naturally aims to include these words and expressions.
The large number of widely-used sayings and proverbs that are included in it, and the thousands of examples, drawn from both current media and classical Arabic literary sources, render the dictionary a trove of information on Arab culture and social mores. Thanks to its digital nature, the dictionary can also be used as a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary.
The dictionary is already regarded by the top experts in the field as “the best modern Arabic dictionary extant in any language.” Nevertheless there is still much to be done to complete the work including additional checking of entries, emendations, and ensuring that the dictionary is up-to-date with the ongoing evolution of the language.
The Dictionary Project research team is made up of five outstanding student research assistants including native speakers of both Hebrew and Arabic. Professor Milson has undertaken the project as a volunteer from the outset. It is estimated that it will take about three years to complete the project, after which the work will move into a state of on-going maintenance. The British Friends of the Hebrew University continues to help in completing the project.
Currently, the online dictionary gets over 30,000 hits a month and while most of the users are in Israel, internet records show that there are also users in Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and more.
The web address for the dictionary is: http://arabdictionary.huji.ac.il .