Each person who wants to learn to read Hebrew has a very different Hebrew reading journey from someone else. Each person’s path is very different. A person’s journey depends on their reason. I like to call this their ‘why’. Why does a person want to learn to read Hebrew? What are the external or internal factors motivating them? What is pushing them along this path?
Hebrew reading journey – a case study
Whatever someone does in their life, internal and external factors motivate them. Let’s start with a simple example; a Jewish couple has a boy who is becoming Bar Mitzvah. I’m going to call this child ‘Aaron’. Throughout Aaron’s life, his family has practised Judaism, focusing on the cultural aspects.
For example, they celebrate Shabbat every week and chant the Hebrew Shabbat prayers. They also go to a Pesach Seder once a year. So, Aaron started hearing the Hebrew language from a young age. However, he never actually learnt to read it. When Aaron turns eleven, his parents panic, as he needs to learn the Hebrew alphabet to read from the Torah!
Aaron is enrolled in the local Synagogue’s Hebrew School to start learning to read Hebrew. He is put in the class called Biblical Hebrew for Beginners so he can start learning Hebrew in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. As Aaron grew up hearing the Hebrew language every week, he found it easy; he quickly picked it up and soon caught up with his peers.
As I mentioned earlier, internal, and external factors influence a person’s Hebrew reading journey. So, let’s explore some internal factors. I will never forget I taught a Vietnamese man, David, to learn to read Hebrew. All he wanted to do was to convert to Judaism and make Aliyah, the Hebrew term, go and live permanently in Israel.
David spoke conversational English enough to communicate in the grocery store, the bank etc. But he could not read or write in English. So, I assumed I would find teaching him to read Hebrew challenging. I could not have been more wrong. David’s internal factors were so deeply seeded that he found his Hebrew reading journey relatively easy.
Every day he set aside time for reading practice to ensure he could achieve his lifetime goal. Once he mastered Hebrew reading, I gave him a modern Hebrew workbook to help prepare him for living in Israel. It is great to be able to read Biblical Hebrew, but it will not help him find the train station in modern-day Israel!
I have taught many people to learn to read Hebrew when they are undertaking conversion to Judaism. Most people I have met who are converting to Judaism are doing so because they are going to marry, or married to, a Jewish person. However, I have taught a few students who converted to Judaism because they thought it was the correct path for them to follow.
However, a person undertaking the conversion process, because they have a Jewish partner/spouse, they are motivated to start this Hebrew journey due to an external factor. I don’t know if they would be learning Hebrew if they were not undertaking the conversion process. It doesn’t matter; it is just an interesting observation.
I have provided three very different examples of why a person starts on this exciting journey. It is an individual process, and ultimately everyone achieves their goal of becoming a Hebrew reader, whether influenced by internal or external factors and their primary reason for doing so.
Whatever a person’s reason; it is individual them. It is not an easy journey to undertake as Hebrew is not an easy language to learn to read. The main reason is it is so different to any other language. If you know someone learning this ancient language, encourage to undertake reading practice. It will definitely help them.