jewish_recon_logo_0.jpg

Get Email Updates!

Hebrew in The Curriculum

In 2001 two discussions about the role of Hebrew in Reconstructionist religious schools took place on EdTalk, the listserve for Reconstructionist educators.

February 2001 discussion

November 2001 discussion



 


 

Discussion from February 2001


Jerry Kiewe, Columbia, Maryland

The Columbia Jewish Community School abandoned its weekday option several years ago due to a variety of reasons; decreased enrollment and a generally dismal atmosphere. Yes, the lack of reinforcement is problematic, but there is much more “energy” on Sundays and I think that is critical.

We currently operate Sundays only for K thru 7; K thru 3 go from 9 AM to 10:50 AM (1 hr. 50 min.), which combines Hebrew language & Judaica.

During this same time period, grades 4 thru 7 have Hebrew language only classes but are divided by skill level rather than age. They're similar, but not identical. Next year we plan to break our existing Level IV thru VIII system into smaller groups which: A) concentrate on more specific areas such as decoding letters, vowels, vocabulary, reading skills, pronunciation, trope, conversational Hebrew, etc. and B) use labels which will be less stigmatizing. This system requires continuous assessment to keep attuned to the developing skills and learning needs of the students and this too is something that we hope to improve upon.

These same 4th thru 7th graders have a 20 min. snack break in our cafeteria; we have had a school store for years which now offers pizza - immensely popular. They then go to grade-based Judaica classes from 11:10 AM to 1 PM (another 1 hr. 50 min.).

Yes, it CAN be viewed as a “long day” however, our kids go to “regular school” for 6-8 hours already and the only other option is weekdays - and that is an even LONGER day for students.

I know the Torah school at Adat Shalom (Bethesda, MD) has classes on Saturday and that has proven very successful, but that is not a feasible option for us for a variety of reasons - we have a history as a community school and employ some observant teachers, and services are in an interfaith center which houses a second synagogue and doesn't have space enough for our school. Even our Sunday classes are held at a nearby high school. Yes, we could use it on Saturday, but then we are removed from the synagogue services, which defeats the whole point of Saturday services.

Finally, I just have to say that I am gaga for gaga! I fondly recall this game from my preteen days and think that a “gaga court” may be overdoing it. Overturned benches and picnic tables always worked well and were also useful for reducing the size of the court as some people are eliminated. For variation with large groups, try using two gaga balls at once and/or form multiple teams.

Jerry
 


Benjy Ben-Baruch, Detroit Michigan

Jerry Kiewe in Columbia, Maryland wrote: Next year we plan to break our existing Level IV thru VIII system >into smaller groups which: A) concentrate on more specific areas such as decoding letters, vowels, vocabulary, reading skills, pronunciation, trope, CONVERSATIONAL HEBREW, etc. . . . [capitalization added]

30 years ago in Detroit we fought the battle regarding conversational Hebrew. The unique United Hebrew Schools system (now defunct because of synagogue-federation politics) reviewed its own experience and the research in teaching foreign languages. We came to the conclusion that conversational Hebrew or Hebrew as a modern language COULD NOT be taught to all of our students within the framework of a 6-8 hr/week 3-day/wk curriculum. Most students can only be taught functional Hebrew for cultural literacy. (There are some students who can rapidly learn foreign languages and be taught conversational Hebrew IF they have a minimum of 1-hr/dayinstruction for a minimum of 3 days/week. 3 (or even 4) hours spread across 2 days is insufficient. Furthermore, this is predicated upon a fully qualified Hebrew-as-foreign-language teacher using a professionally developed curriculum.

I very strongly suggest that there is not a single Reconstructionist school that can or should teach conversational Hebrew. We teach Hebrew for cultural literacy. We either delude ourselves or we misrepresent what we are doing if we think we teach conversational Hebrew.

Benjy




Jerry Kiewe, Columbia, MD

Dear Benjy and EdTalkers,

We teach conversational (modern) Hebrew at all levels (K - 8). Our goal is not to make fluent speakers of our children, but to provide them with the “hook” that makes language fun, i.e. using it in everyday activities, as well as to give them a basis with which to build future Hebrew fluency.

Each class opens with about a 10 minute conversational component. The children play “Simon says” in Hebrew. They buy and sell fruit and vegetables, etc.

In 7th grade, those who wish, switch to conversational Hebrew in the 2nd semester (about half choose that option). By then, many have become bar/bat mitzvah, or are working with tutors. The conversational component gives them something “new” to look forward to and continue with. They are in their first month of conversation--so far, it is very successful! Next year, as eighth graders, they will go to Israel as part of Ta'am Yisrael (a trip organized through the Chicago CFJE). The conversation they begin in 7th grade is part of the preparation for this trip.

I agree with all of Alice Bechtolsheim's points acknowledging both the limitations and worth of conversational Hebrew. I would add only a few more points specific to my own school's Conversational Hebrew efforts.

First, CJCS (Columbia Jewish Congregation School) added the Conversational Hebrew component at the behest of the parents shortly before my arrival some seven years ago. I am aware that it goes against the trend - which, knowing my school, may have even provided additional incentive. :-) It was an overwhelmingly clear directive and we wished to be responsive.

Second, as I mentioned in my original piece, we have a “skill-based” Hebrew program; students move from class to class based upon their mastery of the specific skills that are covered. This helps prevent boredom and encourages efforts at reinforcement in the home. Conversational is our “advanced” level and is also considered an optional “enrichment” class - not everyone gets there and no one is forced to take it. The reinforcement is a positive and those who are in the class definitely find it “fun” - which is a rare thing for 6th & 7th graders in Hebrew school.

Third, our school/synagogue now offers it's own summer teen trip to Israel every other year and this is worthwhile prep.

Finally, even if they can't master Hebrew given the limited time, it helps impress upon students that Hebrew is a modern, LIVING language. It's definitely a very different - and equally valuable - perspective from the one they get learning text and prayers.

Jerry Kiewe
Education Director
Columbia Jewish Congregation School
Columbia, MD
 


Mary Meyerson, Bethesda, MD

Benjy -- thanks for your comments on the Hebrew dilemma -- functional literacy vs. conversational Hebrew. I agree. In the past our program here has focused on conversational Hebrew, with the upshot being that students are neither fluent enough to converse nor proficient enough to decode. The emphasis this year has changed and, hopefully, we'll begin to see some progress by the end of this year, with more retained learning over the summer to build on for next year.

What I ran into here as objections when we changed our focus this year were 1) (from the teachers) “The kids only want to learn conversational Hebrew because prayer Hebrew is boring.” and 2) (from the parents) “If it's not fun you won't be able to get them to learn.” Both parents and teachers were in agreement that the kids “wouldn't want” to do Hebrew homework.

I believe strongly -- and have said to teachers, parents, AND students that part of the “fun” comes from a sense of mastery. In order to learn any kind of skill there needs to be practice and reinforcement. Two hours a week in class with NO outside work equals at most 64 HOURS a year.

And unless there are bilingual parents at home, 64 hours a year can't cut it for conversational Hebrew (and maybe not even if there are bilingual parents).

L'shalom,

Mary Meyerson
Adat Shalom
 


Benjy Ben-Baruch, Detroit, Michigan

I would like to make a couple of comments regarding the teaching of Hebrew and respond to some of the issues raised here.

First, teaching Hebrew for cultural literacy is NOT synonymous with teaching “prayer-book Hebrew” -- and does not have to be boring.

Secondly, teaching “conversational Hebrew” is NOT synonymous with teaching conversational phrases. The teaching of either “conversational Hebrew” or of conversational phrases is as boring to children as any other part of Hebrew school -- perhaps even more so if it involves drills. (If it does not involve drills, it is definitely not the teaching of conversational Hebrew. Teaching of “conversational Hebrew” means teaching Hebrew for fluency -- minimally passive fluency, i.e. the ability to understand spoken and written Hebrew. If we are not succeeding in doing this, we are not teaching “conversational Hebrew”.) (We do ourselves and our students a very great disservice when we are not honest about what we are really doing or what we can realistically accomplish.)

Thirdly, students do not have to have “fun” in school. Everything else being equal, “fun” is good. But kids can -- and often do -- have “fun” in school and still consider it boring and a waste of their time. The core component of motivation is NOT “having fun”. Rather, it is knowing that what is being taught is important, that one needs to learn, know, master the material and/or skills being taught. All of the research and praxis of both Ivan Illich and Paolo Freire is based upon and supports this principle. Indeed, both Illich and Freire demonstrated that students will put up with and overcome bad teaching if they understand why they need to learn something. The core of motivation in education is perceiving that one needs to learn certain material and/or master certain skills.

Students can play games and have a wonderful fun time, but if they do not understand why what they are learning in Hebrew school is important to them, if they do not perceive that what is being taught meets needs they have, they will not be motivated and they will believe that we are wasting their time.

Most of our students do not aspire to be fluent in Hebrew. ALL of our students need Jewish cultural literacy. They need it to participate and be empowered in THEIR community. They need it to adequately deal with their Jewish identity and to form healthy identities that integrate all parts of themselves.

Ultimately, we will do a much better job in motivating our students if we teach Hebrew for cultural literacy -- something that all of our students really do need.

Finally, nothing succeeds like success. Success breeds success. If we successfully teach Jewish cultural literacy, we will find that our students and our teachers will be happy and motivated. (And if anyone successfully teaches fluency in spoken or written Hebrew to a majority of our students in a 1-2 day/week elementary school program, we will nominate you for the highest awards we can bestow and then beseech you to teach the rest of us how to perform miracles.)

All of our students need Hebrew for Jewish cultural literacy and we can successfully teach this. Only a minority of our students need us to teach them fluency in spoken or written Hebrew and we cannot successfully do this anyway.

(BTW, cultural literacy does include some familiarity with Israeli culture. Cultural literacy is not synonymous with davening. Ability to participate in synagogue services is only a component of Jewish cultural literacy. Learning to appreciate Jewish art, or learning Yiddish expressions or Ladino songs are also components of Jewish cultural literacy.)

Benjy Ben-Baruch
 


Jody Bessner, New York, NY

Benjy, I think your point that “cultural literacy” isn't only decoding skills for davening is a very important point. I try to incorporate some component of simple Hebrew conversations (e.g. what time is it, how are you, counting skills, colors, etc.) so students can relate to Hebrew as a spoken language. This is not fluency.

I also think it is important that in addition to decoding, students have a sense of what the prayer means. The above, with the addition of understanding important phrases (e.g. what chag sameach, mishloach manot, etc. means) is Jewish cultural literacy. We need to be clear with our families that this is what the children are learning, otherwise they will be sorely disappointed. Our families can also gain from becoming familiar with Jewish/Hebrew expressions; often they have no idea what we are talking about! This is true even for families who are involved. Recently, someone told me that a regular synagogue go-er asked her what the word “chazan” meant!

Jody

 

 


Discussion from November 2001


Ruth Kaplan

I am the Ed Director of a small one-day-a week home-based Reconstructionist school program. I am feeling the need to revisit our goals (and methods) regarding our Hebrew language instruction. The school goes from grades 1-7 and each class spends from about 1/3 to ½ of the class time on Hebrew. The lower grades meet for two hours, middle grades for 2 1/2 and upper for 3 hours on Sunday mornings. Class sizes are small, anywhere from 4-8 children per class. We have classes about 25-26 Sundays per year.

There is an ongoing tension between our goal of teaching “siddur” Hebrew and tefilot and the desire to also teach modern Hebrew. In our statement of curriculum objectives, the Hebrew portion reads as follows: “Ability to decode Hebrew and to read selected prayers in the Siddur: limited understanding of simple modern Hebrew.”

We use the Kadimah, Z'man Likro and Z'man L'Tefilah series. I would appreciate hearing in particular from other one-day-a-week programs. What are realistic goals? How much modern Hebrew can one teach? How much music do you use to teach Hebrew? How do you decide what vocabulary words should be taught and which words? How do you get children to retain those words? How much grammar? What about homework? What about the problem of parents who can't help cuz they don't know Hebrew? How do you make it fun for kids?

And finally, do any of you teach any Yiddish-songs, words, anything?

I would appreciate some insights from those of you who don't just teach or administer one-day-a week programs as well, although the task seems so daunting given the time constraints.

Todah Rabah!

 

Ruth Kaplan
Shir Hadash Cooperative School
Newton, MA
 

 


Deborah Eisenbach-Budner

Shalom Ruth and all other Hebrew-concerned folks,

What a quandary. In my experience in Jewish educational programs the study of Hebrew and the questions around it represent everything from Jewish identity (what kind of Hebrew: siddur/tanakh or Modern? connection/disconnection to prayer, to Israel?), family priorities (when it comes to time and commitment), authenticity (I don't know Hebrew...what about my kid...aren't I a legitimate Jew? or shame over not knowing Hebrew, feeling alienated, embarrassed). The list goes on and on. BUT, I keep trying to figure out how to do it.

My feeling is that you need to start with the parents and have clarity with them about the goals - why learn Hebrew? what does it lead to and enable? Figure out ways to help parents learn the basics, too: Parents and children studying together in a class, good and easy self-study guides for adults, etc. From there it is easier to make pragmatic decisions about texts, etc.

Now my question: what HEBREW COMPUTER PROGRAMS do folks have experience with? I am working with a community that has no formal Hebrew in its twice a month curriculum. All Hebrew is done by individual tutors and aimed at Bnai Mitzvah prep! I am looking into the feasibility of kids working at home on their computers and then coming together essentially for check-ins and enrichment. I'd love to find a program that focuses on siddur and tanakh Hebrew or even a hybrid like Ot L'baot (Torah Aura) that includes modern.

ANY SUGGESTIONS? Thanks, so much.

Deborah Eisenbach-Budner
Havurah Shalom Educator
Portland, Oregon
 


Sylvia Jacobs

This is just a quick answer. We decided a long time ago that we can just teach children to decode and be familiar with the siddur. We meet twice a week each session is 2 hours, 1/2 the time is Hebrew. We do a “tefillah” assembly for 15 minutes once a week. We used to do interest groups and had a group that did “eating your way through Hebrew” it's nice but it doesn't stick.

GOOD LUCK

Sylvia Jacobs
Administrator
Reconstructionist Congregation of the North Shore
Long Island, NY
 


Barbara Carr

Chevre,

This is Barbara Carr in San Diego and with the hope that I can help some of you with the “reinventing the wheel” process... here I go. The Gesher School began as a living room-based school with a strong ethics and weak Hebrew program and now is a little more mainstream (but I'm doing my best to keep the old flavor). Students come on Sunday for 1 1/2 to 3 hours depending on their age. B'nai Mitzvah classes meet three times a week. My 22 year old son learned almost all his Hebrew in the seventh grade as he prepared for Bar Mitzvah... now students go in to their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year with a facility in “decoding”. So, we've traveled a long road on this very complicated issue.

First, to quote our Rabbi, supplementary schools are designed to teach religion, not to teach language. No supplementary school can expect to successfully teach modern Hebrew to their students and still teach all the really critical components of a Jewish education -- Prayer; Torah; Ethics; Holidays; History... well, you get the idea.

Second, most of our families have an inaccurate understanding of the importance of spoken Hebrew in the development of children who understand the values of Judaism and choose to live those values. They look back at their own religious education and feel that it was hypocritical because they spoke words they didn't understand and so in an attempt to be more authentic, they want us to teach spoken Hebrew. They don't realize that the true “shandah” or scandal of 50's and 60's education was that we didn't learn what the prayers meant... a far more important lesson then a word for word translation. That's the difference between then and now.

Third, every community has to make it's own choices about the role of Hebrew in the curriculum. Without a doubt, an emphasis on Hebrew means that you will be giving up something else. Choose that something else carefully.

None of this is to say that we don't teach Hebrew. At Dor Hadash -- a school of 140 students pre-K through 12 -- letter recognition, simple words and songs all are taught in the primary grades. Grades 2 and 3 have rudimentary primers. Hebrew is integrated into the regular lesson plans for all our small kids. In grade 4 we begin a separate hour of Hebrew... with two hours of Judaica. In addition we have an Independent Learning program which allows further pursuit of Hebrew if the student chooses. We also have some Day School refugees who come in once a week for an hour and a half of Hebrew enrichment in addition to their regular three hour class on Sunday. In addition to being able to sound out Hebrew we also have a separate strand of prayer literacy, where the students basically learn prayers in Hebrew while also learning where they come from, where they fit in the liturgy and what they mean. We also recommend several Hebrew software programs -- The Alef-Bet Schoolhouse Collection and Learning to Read Hebrew, both from Davka. I'm sure there are more out there... but once we made the investment we've stuck with it...

San Diego has a supplemental High School for Jewish Studies which offers Hebrew for high school credit (certified by the San Diego school district). I know this is a benefit of living in a big city, but I'm able to encourage families that are really into language acquisition to focus on that for their children, not to expect it. From our school. You may want to see if there are programs like that available in your own communities.

So, this was more than you ever wanted to know... but I think Hebrew literacy will continue to be an issue in our schools --- and at some point you each will have to address this ---From one side or the other.

With wishes for peace,

Barbara Carr
Education Director
Dor Hadash, San Diego, CA
 


Jody Bessner

I think we should be honest and say that, in a 3 or 4 hour a week program,(and don't forget about snack and recess) not only can't we teach spoken Hebrew, but we can't really teach Torah, spirituality, values, prayer fluency, history, holidays, etc. etc., either. What we can do is give students some insight into what's out there, a taste of text, values, and Judaism, so to speak. Hopefully this will inspire them in the future, and/or get their families to become more involved in Jewish life now.

Jody in NY
Education Director
West End Synagogue
 


Malke Frank

Hi Ruth and EdTalkers,

Our school in Pittsburgh, Dor L'dor, consists of Kitot Gan through B'nai Mitzvah. Except for the gan which meets every other Sunday, each class meets one day a week for 2 hours. each class meets in the home of one of the students. Our classes are intentionally small, 7 or 8 around the dining room table. when a class is larger, we have 2 sections. The classes meet during the week, (except for the Gan which was the parents' decision) which enables us to have family programs on Sunday about once a month, in addition to school erev Shabbat dinnners/ havdalot, and individual class Shabbat dinners/havdalot. the school year is 34 weeks. Coming. From being a principal in a more “normal” set-up and with 2-3 days a week of school, I was amazed, and still am after 9 years, how much kids can learn in a small, intimate environment, where discipline problems are nonexistent.

Our curriculum is full, the teachers work hard, and homework is a given. the areas of study are torah, history, holidays, values, middot, Israel, “God.” our Hebrew study concentrates on prayer. we use Z'man Likro 1 & 2 (ARE Publishing - arepublishing.com) for Bet and Gimel and continue with Hineini 1 and Hebrew Through Prayer 2 (Behrman House - behrmanhouse.com) for Dalet and Hay. Next year, there will be a Hineini 2 to which I plan to switch. The Vav and B'nai Mitzvah classes use the siddur as their Hebrew text. The teachers also teach songs for holidays and for teaching simple words and phrases (Shimon omer, etc.) and use Hebrew phrases and words as part of their teaching - numbers, body parts, etc. The parents realize that because of the time limitation (which they chose when the school was created, before my time), the study of Hebrew as a language cannot be a priority. Prayer becomes a language for the kids as they learn roots, meaning, context, geography of the service, and melodies. most of the parents do not know Hebrew and cannot help at home with review, although I do send to them parallel prayer letters of what their children are learning, with the Hebrew, translation, and transliteration, explaining the history, meaning, place in service, and a family activity, so that they do become involved. It works!

We also have a community middle-high school, which meets on Sunday and Wednesday. There, the students can learn Hebrew as a language, as well as other subjects. Our responsibility is to give the children a taste of Jewish learning in a way that will entice them to want to learn more. We want to provide them with an understanding and appreciation and a love of what being a Jew means. Remembering facts and grammar constructs can always come later when they are ready for it. I must admit that our students do not “hate going to Hebrew school, ” even with the homework. Having supportive, involved parents is probably the main reason.

Hope this helps.

Shabbat shalom,

Malke Frank
Ed Director, Congregation Dor Hadash
Pittsburgh, PA
 


Benjamin Ben-Baruch

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS on Hebrew in Jewish educational curricula:
Teaching Hebrew is NOT a traditional goal of Jewish education. 150 years ago very few Jews learned Hebrew as a language. They learned to function culturally in the Jewish world using Hebrew phrases and decoding Hebrew and chanting and singing in Hebrew (and Aramaic and Yiddish and Ladino and . . .). Teaching Hebrew as a language was part of the political and cultural agenda of the Zionist movement, part of the Jewish “cultural wars” fought in the 20th century. And it was assumed that the teaching of Hebrew would take place within the context of Jewish schooling that occurred minimally 4 days week and usually 5-6 days a week.

Beginning in the 1950s, teaching Hebrew has devolved into a torture we inflict upon our children because we mistakenly believe it is our duty to torture them in this way. We confuse learning Hebrew with Jewish learning. For centuries many of the leading Hebrew language scholars have been Christian and Muslim clerics and scholars. Clearly, proficiency in Hebrew has very little to do with immersion in Jewish culture.

Do we want to teach our children to be fluent in Hebrew or do we want to teach them about Judaism and enable them to participate in the full range of activities of the Jewish people and Jewish communities?

Ruth wrote: “I would appreciate hearing in particular from other one-day-a-week programs. What are realistic goals?”

First, any and all curriculum goals are unobtainable if they are pushed onto a congregation. Curriculum goals need to be constructed and reconstructed. From a values-based process that involves the community. Educators have a duty to provide leadership and professional expertise in this process -- but should not even try to control it. Only when a community sets clearly unrealistic goals should educators become “stubborn” or unyielding.

One area in which I, as an educator, would become stubborn and unyielding is in the area of Hebrew language instruction. In anything less than a 6-hr/week and 3-day/week program the teaching of modern Hebrew for the purpose of learning Hebrew as a language is unrealistic. Trying to attain such a goal is cruel to the students. And even in a 3-day/week program, this goal is extremely difficult to attain.

A realistic goal is to teach Jewish cultural literacy. Key to Jewish cultural literacy is the ability to participate in religious services including the abilities to decode Hebrew, to be sufficiently knowledgeable about Jewish culture to be able to use and recognize various phrases, songs, etc. in the various traditional Jewish languages, etc. The traditional Jewish languages, or languages which carry major components of Jewish culture include Hebrew, Aramaic, Ladino, Yiddish, and English.

“How much modern Hebrew can one teach?”

None. We cannot teach Hebrew as a language. We do not have the time. Most schools lack qualified personnel. Teaching a foreign language requires very special skill sets. It also presumes students are goal oriented and committed and have the time to devote in class and at home.

“How much music do you use to teach Hebrew?”

We should be teaching Jewish cultural literacy and not Hebrew, The answer is obvious: as much as possible.

“How do you decide what vocabulary words should be taught and which words?”

The correct question, in my opinion, is: What do we need to know to be able to fully participate in Jewish community activities including religious services?

“How do you get children to retain those words?”

By using them as they live their Jewish lives. Children want to be part of their community. We need to help them understand that we are giving them the skills they need to do so. But we can't do this if we aren't really giving them these skills.

“How much grammar?”

Very very little. We should not be teaching Hebrew as a foreign language.

“What about homework?”

More important than homework is integrating what they learn in school with their lives. We are teaching them skills for Jewish cultural literacy. The more they participate in Jewish culture and in the congregation's and Jewish community's activities, the more practice they will get in these skills and the more they will be motivated to want to acquire these skills. Rather than thinking about homework, we should be thinking about structuring congregational activities to maximize student involvement and we should be thinking about helping each home integrate as much Jewish culture into family and home life as possible.

“What about the problem of parents who can't help cuz they don't know Hebrew?”

If you make parents the problem, you've destroyed your ability to provide a Jewish education for the children. The vast majority of our parents want to be more Jewishly cultural literate and to integrate Judaism into their lives. We need to help them do that. We need to think in terms of organizing and structuring educational and cultural experiences that help them and their children do this rather than focusing narrowly on formal classroom schooling.

“How do you make it fun for kids?”

By organizing and structuring educational and cultural experiences. But let's examine this question. All things being equal, educational experiences which are “fun” are better than those that are “not fun”. But education is not about fun. It is about education. And key to education is motivation -- not fun or enjoyment. If one is motivated to learn and/or acquire skills and one succeeds, then one has a feeling of fulfillment and accomplishment. “Fun” becomes rather irrelevant.

The question, therefore, becomes how to motivate students. We have something they need. We have to help them realize this. They have a very real need to integrate their Jewishness into their personal identities. They have a very real need to attain Jewish cultural literacy so as to be able to fully participate in the activities of their community. They need to be able to decide the nature of their involvement in the Jewish community and the ways in which they will integrate Judaism into their lives on the basis of their values and their choices -- rather than on the basis of exclusion because of lack of cultural literacy.

“And finally, do any of you teach any Yiddish songs, words, anything?”

Jewish cultural literacy is not, and never has been, limited to Hebrew. Hebrew has a unique status in Jewish culture. It is the language of most of our sacred texts and it is the only language that is virtually universal to Jewish communities across both time and space. But there are very rich Jewish traditions in the languages of North America (English, French, and Spanish) and also in Ladino, Arabic, Yiddish, and Farsi (to name just a few). Yiddish culture still thrives in Israel, New York City, Mexico City and Buenos Aires. (Yiddish even has 2 words for email!)

Benjy Ben-Baruch
Detroit, MI
 


Steve Libowitz

While I find some validity in Benjy's comments, I have found that the general reason for “torturing” our Jewish children with the Hebrew language is so that they can do 3 things:
1) read from the siddur in shul (and enjoy the rhythms and spirituality of the language), 2) read from the Torah and 3) read a haftorah, the last two specifically on the occasion of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. As a youngster, I was never much moved by my Reform friends whose call to the torah was a few mangled Hebrew prayers and then a hastily rushed speech in English. I feel the same now.

I agree, though, that it is difficult to teach children Hebrew (or any language) in a couple-hour blocs once a week; the result can seem to the children aimless and the benefits can prove generally negligible. Still, I strongly believe that given that Hebrew is the language of our religion, of our peoplehood, there is great value in searching for a positive way to teach it, even if it is just one day a week, in conjunction with the history and culture of our people.

Steve Libowitz
Chair, Kesher School Board
Congregation Beit Tikvah
Baltimore, MD

Type: Listserve Thread

This is the archival site for Jewishrecon.org. It is no longer updated.

For the new site, please visit https://www.jewishrecon.org