Hebrew, the Living Breath of Jewish Existence: The Teaching and Learning of Biblical and Modern Hebrew


Source: Institute for Jewish Policy Research


Most Jewish day schools in the United Kingdom underperform in the teaching and learning of Hebrew. Indeed, prominent figures in the UK Jewish establishment have singled out the teaching of Ivrit (Modern Hebrew) in Jewish day schools as in need of improvement. Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks argues that whilst children are undoubtedly better educated Jewishly now than in the past, many challenges remain. I contend that the physical separation between the Jewish Studies and the Hebrew departments in Jewish day schools does a disservice to both by shutting the door to crucial teaching and learning opportunities of Hebrew. I recommend that Jewish day schools should be working towards breaking down these ‘barriers’. In the present research, I address this issue from the perspective of my own interest, namely Hebrew pedagogy. My research investigates the extent to which creating connections between Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew can enhance the teaching and learning of Hebrew in Jewish day schools. I employ an Action Research methodology within the context of a case study using elements of Appreciative Inquiry and written through the lens of Autoethnography. From a theoretical perspective, I draw on research regarding second and foreign language acquisition and suggest that Ivrit cannot be separated from its religious, cultural and historic framework. That is, while Hebrew is taught in the United Kingdom as a Modern Foreign Language, I propose that we are in fact teaching a cultural language. This term more aptly describes a modern living language bound up in a particular religion, culture and time, as is Ivrit. Using the Hebrew root letters as the route to link Biblical and Modern Hebrew, my research demonstrates that this integration can enhance the teaching and learning of both. My case study shows that schools and teachers who choose to integrate Biblical and Modern Hebrew can successfully embrace educational change, a process which will require them to confront their belief systems as well as accepting new teaching approaches and materials. The Hebrew language has evolved, survived and thrived over the millennia and for me it is the essence of Jewish survival.

Updated: Jul. 27, 2016