hebrew for christians
hebrew for christians

Hebrew for Christians

I want to give a bit of background about how it came about that I started teaching Hebrew to Christians. I had to go to a pharmacy to buy some medication. I was wearing my favourite T-shirt that had 'Sesame Street' written in Hebrew. The pharmacist asked me if it said 'Shalom'.

The T-shirt sparked a conversation, and it transpired that he was a devout Christian and was keen on learning Hebrew for Christians. He also gave me the name of his friend, the head of the language college at the local Baptist College. Because of this encounter with the pharmacist, I was teaching a student to learn to read Hebrew at the theological college.

Hebrew for Christians – reading the Hebrew scriptures

Hebrew for Christians – reading the Hebrew scriptures is a course that I taught to a number of pupils there, all of who were profoundly religious and wanted to engage with Hebrew for Christians. Their knowledge of the original bible, the Torah, was vast. At the end of every course that I teach, the pupils are able to read Hebrew (albeit slowly), and I always ask them to read longer texts. One of the texts that I asked them to read was from the Jewish Scriptures, in the Torah, the Shema and the passage that follows it, V'ahavta; found in the parashah, V'etkhanan, in the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 5-9.

A familiar bible verse

Reading this familiar bible verse made their eyes light up in excitement, and I nearly fell off my chair in surprise and amazement that every single student recognised the text from the Torah and was able to name the book and chapter where it was found. I realised at this point how important Hebrew for Christian people is. Once they had finished reading this text, we had a long conversation about why this Hebrew text is so important to people who follow the Christian faith. According to this group of students, this excerpt from the bible, the Sh'ma, is essential to Christians because it helps to keep God in the forefront of their minds.

Once I truly understood this, I spoke to other Christian bible colleges and discussed with them the importance of the Hebrew Bible for Christianity. It opened a whole new world to me, and they were excited to hear about the online program Easy Learn Hebrew, which their students could buy to learn the Hebrew letters, read Hebrew, and learn some Hebrew vocabulary, such as Hebrew verbs.

Whilst the prayer of the Sh'ma and the V'ahavta is very important for Christians, this prayer is the most important prayer for Jewish people as it is the bedrock of the Jewish faith – the belief in one God that cannot be compared to anything or anyone else. To reinforce this concept, the prayer directs people when it needs to be recited when it is utilised and recited in many different ways.

Firstly, it is included in the daily prayers that Jewish people recite twice daily during the morning and evening prayers, known as the Shacharit and Ma'ariv services. Secondly, the Sh'ma and the V'ahavta are handwritten on parchment and placed in a tube called a mezuzah, which is attached to the doorpost of a Jewish person's house and has become a symbol of Jewish identity. Indeed, some Jewish people touch mezuzah when they walk through a doorway that has a mezuzah attached to it. They kiss the fingers that touched it to seek a connection to God, and kissing them affirms the connection.

The text of the Sh'ma and the V'ahavta is also found in the phylactery (in Hebrew, it is known as tefillin) that Jewish men (and some Jewish women) over the age of 13 put on every morning. The purpose of putting on the tefillin is to serve as a reminder of God's intervention when the Israelites had to leave Egypt and reinforce the existence and belief of one God. In the Sh'ma and the V'ahavta, it is commanded that the words of this prayer be bound as a sign in the Jewish person's hand and as a symbol on the forehead. Hence the reason why people who put on tefillin wrap a box (attached to a leather strap) to their forearms and their forehead.

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