learn to read hebrew
learn to read hebrew

Learn to read Hebrew

I have many new students contact me by calling my mobile phone. At any given moment, my phone can ring, showing a phone number I am unfamiliar with. If it does not show ‘suspected spam’ on the screen, I answer the call. On several occasions, the person on the other end says, “My child needs to learn to read Hebrew. Can you help us?” Unfortunately, he (or she) cannot read the Hebrew letters or the Hebrew vowels. Help!

These are my favourite phone calls to receive! One of my passions, ever since I was a teenager has been to help beginners learn to read Hebrew. There are so many reasons why a person wants to learn to read biblical Hebrew. Some people need it for Bar or Bat Mitzvah preparation or to learn it as part of their conversion.

Learn how to read the Hebrew alphabet letters

The desire to learn to read the Hebrew alphabet letters, and Hebrew reading itself, are the primary reason for people to make the phone call. They need to start Hebrew classes. Others want to learn to read Hebrew because they want to read the Hebrew Bible in the original text. Learning the Hebrew language is popular for so many different reasons.

Most calls I receive are from parents looking for a tutor for their son or daughter to help prepare them for the upcoming rite of passage. This is because so many of these parents attended Hebrew School when they were children and learnt the Hebrew alphabet letters and even some of the Hebrew language.

Ancient Hebrew alphabet

Indeed, the ancient Hebrew alphabet can be challenging to recall if it is not utilised on a daily or even monthly basis. Unfortunately, most of the parents who call me do not remember anything they learned, and the problem is they have absolutely have no idea where to start with helping their child learn to read Hebrew. I advise them that one of the options is to encourage them to use the Easy Learn Hebrew program to help them learn to read. It has had such great success with kids of this age!

Of course, they could buy them a book for the child to start learning by themselves. But let’s be honest, what eleven- or twelve-year-old child has the motivation to sit down by themselves to learn a language and the Hebrew script without any help? They would rather be outside (or online) playing with their friends! Finding the right Hebrew tutor to help teach their child to learn to read this new language is such a load off their mind. It is one less thing they must worry about. They just need to help with homework!

Whilst having a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah is an integral part of Jewish tradition, one of the challenges for the parent is that the ceremony is not ‘compulsory’ for the child and they cannot ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ their ceremony, unlike their school subjects. So, the learning commitment requires ‘buy-in’ from the child; he or she needs to be invested in the process of studying for it; indeed, it is a completely different mindset, as everything else today is based on accomplishing an ‘achievement’, what academic mark a person receives, or how much money a person earns in their job.

So, it is different for the child who is preparing for this coming-of-age ceremony. It is only a ceremony, and there is no report card or pay cheque at the end of it. Instead, it is a Jewish tradition that dates back 700 years ago, to the thirteenth century, with the first ceremony being recorded in France. Moreover, the word bar is not even Hebrew; it is Aramaic and does not even appear in the Torah!

Historical records show that the first ceremony consisted of a declaration by the father, saying that he was abdicating responsibility for his 13-year-old son. However, chronological records show that the rabbis who wrote the Talmud stated that at the age of 13, boys were obliged to fulfil the Jewish commandments. So, there is a connection to ancient times.

The term Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah literally translates as ‘son of the commandment’ or ‘daughter of the commandment’. As mentioned before, the word bar is Aramaic for son. However, the words bat and mitzvah are Hebrew for ‘daughter’ and ‘commandment’, respectively. It is known as a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys and girls when they reach the age of 12 or 13. It is a ceremony acknowledging that they have become a ‘Jewish adult’, meaning they are responsible for observing the mitzvot (commandments). Note that in Orthodox Judaism, it is 12 years old for a girl, but in Conservative and Progressive Judaism, it is 13 years old, the same age as a boy.

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North Ryde. NSW. Australia