No One’s Studying Hebrew Anymore — That’s A Big Problem

July 11, 2019

Source: The Jewish Forward 


College enrollment in Hebrew courses is dropping sharply, and this downward spiral may soon have profound effects on the American Jewish community.

Modern Hebrew enrollment fell 17.6 percent between 2013 and 2016, according to a report from the Modern Languages Association (MLA), while Biblical Hebrew suffered a 23.9% decline.

The number of Hebrew students has been falling for a decade, with little discussion in the Jewish community. In 2006, a total of 9,620 college students were enrolled in a modern Hebrew course. That number fell to 6,698 in 2013, and dropped again to 5,521 in 2016. Biblical Hebrew has gone from over 14,000 students in 2006 to just 9587 in 2016.

Hebrew is more than a traditional “foreign language” for Jews. The Hebrew language is the gateway to the prayers, the Torah, and other foundational Jewish texts. While the common second language for much of the world today is English, the common language for the Jewish community is now Hebrew.

As the Jewish world splits into two large communities in America and Israel, Hebrew is even more critical as the language that can connect American Jewry and Israeli Jewry; without Hebrew, much of contemporary Israeli culture is simply inaccessible.

College Hebrew is an equalizer — it offers a crucial opportunity to obtain Hebrew proficiency, especially for those who did not attend Jewish day school. If this avenue is closed, such students may never be able to carve out the time to learn Hebrew.

The President of the MLA offered suggestions for how college faculty can encourage language study, including standing up for the language requirement at meetings. The Jewish community should follow suit with an extensive discussion on the crisis in Hebrew-language enrollment, including an exploration of new philanthropic support for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students, as well as language-immersion programs. With declines this steep, the time to stand up for Hebrew on campus is now.

Read more at The Jewish Forward.

Updated: Jul. 18, 2019