Lookjed Classic: On Teaching Hebrew

December, 2018

Source: Lookstein Center for Jewish Education


One ongoing lament among day school educators is the inability to successfully teach Hebrew language skills to the students in their schools. Ivrit be-Ivrit instruction, once commonplace in many day schools in North America and across the globe, is in use less and less frequently. Even schools that were once bastions of Hebrew language instruction are begun to despair about its effectiveness. This issue was revisited recently when the new chairman of the Jewish Agency called for Israel to devote resources to teach Hebrew to Jews around the world.

This topic has been discussed on Lookjed a number of times, with the most powerful statements coming from Professor Shawn Zelig Aster – then at Yeshiva University and currently at Bar-Ilan – who penned two articles on the subject. The first refers to an article that Professor Aster wrote for the Commentator, the Yeshiva College student newspaper, where he relates how he discovered that students entering YU -many of whom had studied in day schools for 12 years before spending a year or two in Israel - were functionally illiterate when they entered his Bible courses. The Lookjed post lays out a planned intervention program to assist those students in reaching a level of competency in the language.

Aster’s first Lookjed post, entitled “Adventures in Literacy-Land” introduced the challenge and the suggested responses.

The second Lookjed post, entitled “Through the Looking Glass” was written a year later. It describes how the program was implemented and take-aways from the experience.

I share here excerpts from each of the posts below, together with some of the comments that they engendered.

Updated: Jan. 02, 2019