Why Learn Hebrew?
Can it be fun and easy to study Hebrew? In Rabbi Mike Comins’ book, Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer is Difficult and What to do About It, there’s a chapter called “Overcoming the Hebrew Barrier,” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. Kushner feels that Hebrew, or the lack of Hebrew language skills, need not be a barrier to prayer. Rabbi Kushner goes on to say:
“on a scale of linguistic difficulty from one to ten, of which Finnish or Turkish is a ten, and pig Latin is a one, English is a seven and Hebrew is a three. There are five times more words in the English dictionary than the Hebrew dictionary. Once you get over the hump of the funny letters going in the other direction, you’ve got an easy language on your hands.” (p. 171)
In other words, Hebrew is easier than English! Wow!
I remember when I was in third grade, how excited I was to start learning the alef-bet (Hebrew alphabet). I see this in our children here at TBT, too! Let’s get back to the question, why study Hebrew? Some say that it’s the language of learning Torah, that translations are “diluted.” Others suggest it’s a holy language because the Torah was given to us written in Hebrew.
It might not matter why we teach and study Hebrew; what’s most important, in many ways, is how we, as parents, discuss this topic. It’s helpful to explore today’s “typical” Jewish family as compared with Jewish families in history. In 1960, Nahum Glazer created a profile of benchmarks in Jewish families.
The five qualities Glazer felt were characteristic in Jewish homes are: distinct roles for parents and children; non goal-oriented perennial learning; separation between the generations; importance of the Jewish calendar shaping family life; nachas (joy/pride) from kinder (children); and shalom baayit (peace in the home). Many of these are still present, in varying degrees, and I ask you to consider how these benchmarks apply to you and your family.
At Beth Tikvah, I see nachas from kinder at every bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah. I also see many adults and children who are interested in perennial Jewish learning. And I’d love to discuss Jewish learning with you and assist you in your personal Jewish journey and your family’s.
I look forward to seeing you here at TBT.
Hugs and blessings!