Best Books for Learning Hebrew – old and new ways

People often ask me to recommend the best books for learning Hebrew. I have to take a deep breath because I need to gain an understanding of their preferred learning. As the heading for this blog says, ‘best books for learning Hebrew – old and new ways. To understand the title of this blog, ‘old ways’ refer to a physical book, and ‘new’ ways refer to online learning. 

Once I have established the student’s preferred learning method, I can refer them to the appropriate resource. Whilst modern Hebrew workbooks still exist in their physical form, online learning has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. Even universities provide access to online textbooks for students to use instead of physical ones.

It certainly is more accessible to have textbooks on the computer. There is a growing concern about students carrying heavy backpacks (full of textbooks!) as it can lead to poor posture and, in some cases, musculoskeletal issues. Hence, the move to online textbooks can help those who need to carry heavy books to and from school or university.

Best books for learning Hebrew – is it the Hebrew primer?

The word ‘Hebrew Primer’ takes me back to my primary school days in the 1980s. I remember sitting at my desk using the Hebrew Primer to learn the Hebrew alphabet. I remember it being quite challenging as the book did not provide any audio! If I wanted to use an audio resource, I would have to use a tape and tape player (who remembers those days? LOL!)

These days, a student can use a ‘Hebrew Primer online. Resources such as are far more interactive and engaging. The online resources can include audio, printouts, videos, cartoons and songs. It goes to show that the best books for learning Hebrew may be online!

The beauty of online learning is that it caters for all learning styles. When I created the Easy Learn Hebrew program, I utilized the VARK learning method: visual, auditory, reading and kinesthetic—unfortunately, books do not provide this range of learning styles. Learning from a book needs to occur in conjunction with a teacher, which can be limiting. Sometimes the best books for learning Hebrew are online!

Is it possible to learn Hebrew in 6 weeks – even using the best books for earning Hebrew?

The above question needs clarification! If it means learning the entire language: learning how to read and write, learning Hebrew verbs and grammar, I am going to put myself out on a limb and say ‘no’. However, if it means just learning to read Hebrew, I think it is doable. If a person is focused, motivated, goal-orientated and has the resources, then definitely!

Having the right mindset and having the ‘why’ at the forefront of your mind will make the task of learning to read the Hebrew language in six weeks. As with any goal, the ‘why’ is so important. The reason for undertaking this task will vary from person to person. Let us have a look at the person who wants to learn to read Hebrew to have a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

I tell students that this might be one of the most challenging tasks they will undertake in their entire life. it is important to remind them they must learn to read a whole new language, which they may not have been exposed to. I read them the requirements of learning to read Hebrew to read the ancient Hebrew text in the Torah. They also need to learn to read from the siddur as well.

The ‘why’ is so important!

Usually, a person has a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at age thirteen. Girls who are part of the orthodox community will have the Bat Mitzvah ceremony at age twelve. However, let’s be honest here. Many young teenagers are more interested in playing sports and hanging out with their friends than in learning this ancient language.

Whilst the adults say to them, “Hey, you are connecting with your Jewish heritage,” their mind is not always engaged with the process. It is, therefore, the teacher’s responsibility to help the young student find their ‘why’. To say, ‘because you have to’ is often not enough. It is important to explore their family history with them and find a unique, meaningful connection for them to connect with.

Mature aged Bar mitzvah or Bat mitzvah

For many reasons, some Jewish people did not have a chance to have a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. A prime example is holocaust survivors. Many years after the war, people started requesting to have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Indeed, Rabbi Axelrad from Brandeis University presided over the first adult bar and bat mitzvahs in the 1970s.

Here’s a fun fact: The oldest person to have a Bar Mitzvah was Yisrael Kristal, who was 113 years old! He could not have a Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13 as it was in the middle of World War One. I wonder if he had to learn to read Hebrew at the age of 113! However, he had a ceremony with his family around him. His ‘why’ was incredibly important; it was an opportunity that was denied to him when he was thirteen.

Others who have mature-aged Bar/Bat Mitzvahs are people who convert to Judaism. Some people wait thirteen years after conversion (is this significant?). Other people want to have the ceremony soon after the conversion to feel part of the community. Whatever the reason for their timing, there are common themes; to learn more about their new religion and to feel connected.

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