How to read the Hebrew alphabet – an oft asked question. Hebrew has a long and remarkable history, and many people want to know how to read the Hebrew alphabet. Why is it so important for some people to learn how to read the Hebrew alphabet? People with this interest may want to do so for various reasons. For some, it may be because it is a historical language. Others need to learn it if they convert to Judaism, having a Bar Mitzvah or want to reconnect with their heritage.
Learning Ancient paleo text
Whatever the reasons, learning how to read the Hebrew alphabet can be challenging for many people. The Hebrew alphabet script is entirely different to the Latin characters. The Hebrew text we read today is precisely the same in Israel in biblical times, in the ancient paleo text. If one is to examine the Torah, it is evident that there is no other text like this anywhere else.
When I teach Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah, students how to read this ancient text, it is a fantastic feeling to hear them read this ancient language. It is a language that has so much history and significance behind it. I always tell them they are a small part of the much bigger Jewish puzzle. That their parent, their father, and their mother read this text, as did their ancestors.
How to read the Hebrew alphabet
When a person sees this ancient text, it can be confronting and confusing! However, a person usually starts learning how to read Hebrew because they have a goal in mind. It is with a strong determination that they embark on this journey to master this skill and will not give up until they do. An online resource, like https://www.easylearnhebrew.com can be helpful, as it demystifies the language.
The other day I attended a Bar Mitzvah of a pupil I had taught and had an interesting conversation with another attendee about the enthusiasm of kids to know how to read the Hebrew alphabet. This person was attending the ceremony for the first time and was not Jewish. He asked me if some kids, who start learning to read Hebrew, but give up because it can be challenging to learn to read.
Immediately I answered ‘no’; not one pupil I have taught has given up, ever. I reflected on this conversation this other evening, and I wondered why not, why not give up. Some kids start learning to play a musical instrument or learn martial arts or sports. After a while, they often say, “This is too hard; I’m giving up”. And fair enough, not everyone enjoys every activity.
This has not been the case when a child (turning into a teenager) needs to learn to read Hebrew. Yes, they struggle with it, and sometimes they do not always enjoy learning this new skill, but they do not give up! Is it because it is so ingrained in the Jewish cultural identity that they push forward? Regardless of the reason, in my experience, no one has ever dropped out!
How to learn the Hebrew alphabet and Learning Biblical Hebrew
It is one thing to learn to read Hebrew to be able to read the Siddur, Haggadah, or other Jewish texts. But, it is quite something to start reading from the Torah scroll. The scroll is handwritten by a scribe or, in Hebrew, a sofer. It is quite ornate if you have not seen the script in the Torah. It is not dissimilar to reading an English textbook, then having to read old-fashioned text.
The old-fashioned English text is squiggly and ‘scrawly’ (if such a word exists LOL!) and takes some time to get used to it after reading regular modern-day English text. The same is for Hebrew; the text in the siddur is relatively straightforward to read, whereas the text in the Torah is squiggly and ‘scrawly’.
Moving from text to cursive script
It is one thing to learn to read Hebrew block text, but it is entirely something else to read cursive script. Unlike English, it is an entirely different set of characters. The only letters that look similar are the vav and the yod. All the other letters are a completely different shape! It is like having to learn a whole new alphabet.
When I started attending a Jewish Day School when I was nine years old, I had to learn Hebrew cursive. It was mandatory as we had to write in cursive for our Hebrew written work. I learnt this new skill quickly to keep up with the class! But, this skill stood me in good stead when I lived in Israel.
In Israel, all the shops and street signs have blocked Hebrew. But written communication is in cursive. It was hard enough having to navigate a new country, a new language, and a new culture. But it would have made it more stressful if I had to learn a whole new written language. At least I was familiar with it, and I did not need to master another new skill!
Although I must admit, my cursive writing was not sophisticated at all; it was very childlike. I am not surprised by this. Considering that I learnt to write Hebrew as a nine-year-old and did not have a lot of practice when I was growing up. Living in Israel forced me to write in a more ‘mature’ fashion! At the end of the day, as long as my handwriting was legible, it did not matter.
Does everyone need to learn Hebrew cursive?
Many of my Hebrew pupils become quite stressed when I tell them about the two types of Hebrew writing styles. I reassure them by saying that they do not need to learn cursive handwriting if they are doing their Bar Mitzvah or converting to Judaism. This skill of cursive writing will only be necessary to learn if or when they ever move to Israel.
I tell them that I will only teach them skills that are necessary for their individual journey. They are so relieved to hear this that they start relaxing and enjoying the Hebrew lessons!