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Tips on Learning Hebrew for Prospective Rabbinical Students

Why study modern Hebrew?

At the beginning levels, the similarities between modern and ancient Hebrew are far greater than the differences. This is especially true regarding vocabulary acquisition and also pertains to grammar. Learning Hebrew vocabulary in a modern Hebrew setting affords students the opportunity to put words into sentences, write essays, converse with others on topics of daily life, and receive feedback from the teacher and the other students in the class.

Students who have acquired enough modern Hebrew to be admitted to the Mekhinah Year spend an entire year learning biblical Hebrew grammar for four hours per week and rabbinical Hebrew for two hours per week. This has proven particularly successful because students have a strong background in modern Hebrew and are already familiar with much of the vocabulary they encounter in both these classes. Also, students who are familiar with the basic grammatical structures of modern Hebrew find it much easier to (re) learn them in biblical Hebrew.


What should I focus on in my learning program?

Vocabulary is extremely important. The more words you know, the easier it is to learn the details of the language. Learn new words every day, use them, put them in context. This work, in conjunction with learning grammatical structure, is vital.

In addition, we recommend that you focus your efforts on acquiring fluency in reading un-vocalized modern texts (that is, text with letters but no vowels). This is a skill you will need throughout your rabbinical training and beyond.

What should I look for in a good Hebrew program?
 
In general, the more classroom hours the better. Studying at an ulpan in Israel (an intensive immersion program) — preferably one that is run either by a university or a municipality — can be a very effective means of learning Hebrew. History has shown that most applicants who succeed in passing RRC’s entrance exam have spent a year or more studying in an intensive ulpan in Israel and/or have completed at least four semesters of high quality, college-level modern Hebrew. For those who are unable to spend extensive time living in Israel, it is possible to learn Hebrew while living in North America, but appropriate study options are limited.

A successful, useful Hebrew class — either in Israel or elsewhere — should meet the following criteria:

  • The class should meet no less than three hours per week and you should be expected to spend two hours in homework and preparation for each classroom hour.
  • The class should meet for a full academic year, i.e., 26 weeks of instruction.
  • The class should have no more than 10 students and you should have plenty of opportunity to speak with others and use what you are learning.
  • The class should be conducted almost entirely in Hebrew.
  • You should have plenty of opportunities to read aloud, both at home and in class.


The following activities are recommended to supplement classroom language study. However, they generally are not sufficient as the sole means of achieving the minimum level of Hebrew proficiency needed to meet RRC’s entrance requirement:

  • a private tutor
  • a book or program you work through on your own
  • spending time in Israel
  • chatting with Israeli friends
  • reading the siddur every Shabbat

Behatzlakha!  Good luck!