The Academy is the premiere institution for the scientific study of the Hebrew language, and at the forefront of its activities is the Historical Dictionary Project, which was formally established in the 1950s.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was the first to create a historical dictionary: The Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew, 1908-1959, which brought together Hebrew from different eras. Nonetheless, one man alone cannot truly complete such an enormous project.
As early as 1937, the president of Va’ad HaLashon (“The Language Committee”), Prof. N.H. Tur-Sinai, proposed the establishment of “a large endeavor which prepares an academic dictionary of our language, in all of the periods and evolutions that it has endured from the moment it is documented, until today". Later, with the establishment of the Academy, it was decided that the Historical Dictionary Project would be its central scientific undertaking. The overarching goal of the HDP is to present the history and development of the Hebrew lexicon, from the earliest occurrences of words down through their most recent documentation. Whereas similar historical dictionary projects in Europe merely brought citations from texts of recent centuries, the Academy’s HDP is based upon Hebrew texts up until 1100 CE, and large selections of literature from the periods thereafter until the founding of the State of Israel. It was decided to begin with texts from the post-biblical period, and thus the database reflects more than 2000 years of Hebrew writing.
Such a project requires a large textual database, and the HDP was one of the first in the world to use modern technology for a computerized concordance. In 2005, some fifty years after the beginning of the project, it was decided there was enough material to begin the writing of entries.