Off-Topic Modern Hebrew

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Sat May 18 18:37:34 EDT 2002

Professor Lyosov's description of what passes in some quarters for Hebrew language study ["'meaning-oriented'  teaching, enabling a future preacher to find a Hebrew word or two in his BDB + Analytical Key  and to use them in his sermon."] would be quite funny if it were not so true.  I am reminded of the language class learning English as a foreign language.  To translate the word "barren," one student found "unbearable" in his dictionary.  A second found "inconceivable," while a third chose "impregnable."  In class, the teacher corrected them all, noting that his dictionary clearly indicated "insurmountable!"

Surely acquisition of a sense of ease with a language should be a prerequisite for the teaching of it, non?  [a] Can it reasonably be argued that knowledge of the way in which "biblical" Hebrew is sung/recited in the synagogue lends nothing to one's ability to model it as a "real" language in the classroom?  [b] Ever since the classic work of Saadia Gaon on the hapax legomena of the Hebrew Bible [pitron shivim millim], there has been a strong voice in favor of reading rabbinic literature as a source for one level of understanding of the biblical texts.  [c] Despite the Europeanization of Modern Hebrew, fluent speakers of the modern dialect clearly have an ease with the language that must be viewed as a positive rather than a negative.  I think at least of: the ability to hear the roots in derived nouns and adjectives and adverbs, the ability to associate comparable formations, the ease of distinguishing between letters often simply called "silent" [neither Alef nor `Ayin is silent!] for those whose only goal is a wooden recital of what is a "dead" text to them.

So, nu, what could a little modern Hebrew hurt!

Charles David Isbell
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