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My Early Life with Arabic
We were the descendants of Isaac. The Arabs, descendants of Ishmael, were therefore not only our neighbors but also our family members, our cousins.
About the author: Menahem Milson is professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where among other posts he served as head of the department of Arabic language and literature, director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, and dean of humanities. A co-founder and academic adviser of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), he is the author of, among other books, Najib Mahfuz: The Novelist-Philosopher of Cairo.
A former paratrooper and intelligence officer in the IDF, Milson also served as adviser on Arab affairs to the Israeli military government in the West Bank and Gaza (1976-78) and in 1981-82 headed the civil administration of Judea and Samaria.
Anwar Sadat and Menahem Milson. Menahem Milson.
The launch in 2015 of the online Arabic-Hebrew dictionary—a massive, fully searchable database complete with notes, examples, and expressions drawn from many historical layers of the Arabic language—capped many years of dedicated labor by Menahem Milson, professor of Arabic language and literature emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the essay below, adapted from remarks delivered on the 90th anniversary of the university’s Institute of Asian and African Studies, Milson reflects on the opening stages of his lifelong involvement with the language.