The Rabbi Goes Back to School

Image: The cover of Reading Hebrew with Tikva, one of the textbooks for class.

Today, on the first of Elul, I did something I’ve needed to do for a while: I signed up for a class in Modern Hebrew.

“But rabbi, don’t you already read Hebrew?” I can imagine a reader thinking. And yes, I read the Jewish Bible just fine. I can read the medieval commentaries, and of course the prayers in the prayer book.

However, drop me into the middle of Tel Aviv, and my shortcomings will truly shine. Biblical Hebrew is to Modern Hebrew as Shakespeare is to Modern English — yeah, they are the same language, sort of, but the vocabulary has changed. I’ve never been very good at Ivrit Modernit (Modern Hebrew) and my last class was 20 years ago. So, time to fix that!

Would you like to learn Hebrew? Tikva Farber, my teacher, is a highly trained teacher who gets excellent results with students. You can find her upcoming classes on her website, Hebrew with Tikva. If the class times are not good for you, or if you are shy, she offers private lessons, too. I’m signed up for the intermediate class, since I have not forgotten everything, but there are classes for total beginners, too.

Why learn Hebrew? There are many good reasons:

  1. Do you love Torah? Hebrew will take you into the heart of Torah.
  2. Do you care about Israel? Learning Hebrew is a way to express your love for Israel. It is not enough to say, “Oh, many Israelis speak English!” Many Israelis don’t speak English. Moreover, even if they do, Hebrew language is a key part to understanding and being understood in modern Israel. There are words and concepts that do not translate easily — by learning Hebrew, you make a beginning at understanding Israelis.
  3. Are you a critic of Israel? You, too, could benefit from learning some of the language. For one thing, if you want to be taken seriously by Israelis, one way to say, “I’m committed” is to learn some Hebrew.
  4. Attending services is entirely different when you’ve learned to understand Hebrew.
  5. Planning to visit Israel? The person who visits who speaks no Hebrew will be stuck as a tayar, a tourist or sightseer. Want to ask questions of someone beside your tour guide? Want to make friends? Learn some Hebrew!
  6. Finally, are you parenting a Jewish child? Want to communicate to them that Hebrew school is important? Children believe what they see us DO, not necessarily what we SAY. Tell you child Hebrew is important by learning some yourself.

It’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to not be good at it. I am hard of hearing, and I’m terrible at understanding spoken Hebrew. I want 5782 (2021-22) to be the year that my Hebrew gets better, not worse. I invite you to join me!