Modern Hebrew2--BH example

Randall Buth ButhFam at
Sun May 19 08:39:58 EDT 2002

shalom Yonatan,

You asked about what be BH.
An example of how one plans material might be the most instructive 
for listeners overseas.

A couple of asides as a preliminaries. (1) My daughter is finishing her 
MA at Hebrew U, (ha-Hug la-miqra) where she is working on her 
German exam this summer. (She was raised around English, 
Hebrew, Arabic and Swahili--no Yiddish-- so its pushing her 
nicely.) I asked her about the German joke and she hadn't heard it. 
That actually speaks of progress in the field.

(2) On the extent of BH I would include contemporary inscriptions 
with the biblical period and would personally extend that up through 
Dead Sea Hebrew (Late Second Temple Literary Hebrew) even 
throwing in the Hasmonean snippet in Qidd66a.      - - -
However, for the ulpan we aim at broadly attested stuff that would seem 
to have been around in the 7th c BCE according to hurvitzian analysis.
This is not always easy. So how does this work?

Take a concept like social, rhetorical obligation. How does one express 
"I need to . . . " "I have to . . ." "I've got to . . ."  ?

Today in modern H we say things like
hu tsarix  la`asot 
hitsTaraxti la`asot

Personally, I think this was already current in Second Temple Hebrew
as Mishnaic Hebrew would suggest. Especially suggestive is the abstract 
noun     tsorex
that occurs in 2 Chr 2.15 and Ben Sira 37.8. 

But I don't use it in the ulpan because it is marginal in my eyes. The 
plain vanilla phrase is

`alay la`asot

So that is what we drill. For example, if drilling a situation in class
"he has to build a house" one student might point to a male student
and say "`alav livnot bayit". 
(yes, with `ayin pronounced, we use a mivta mizraHi plus uvular resh
as bh-listers may hear on #16 of the Hebrew Demo under "courses" 
on the website
The teacher may then turn to another student and say "anaHnu" 
That student must point to him/herself and some others while 
saying   " `alenu livnot bayit ". 
Then teacher may say to another student "hem". That student 
must point to a group of people/students and say
`alehem livnot bayit.

The students are learning BH, learning it faster, retaining it longer, 
building initial audio/oral capabilities AND having fun. See 
We may even produce some scholars down the road, but 
that is a different question altogether. We are also "producing" 
housewives and seminary students who return to read parashat 
ha-shavua in the heartland of the USA. And that is gratifying. 

A final comment: we do not teach modern Hebrew in class, but 
we do not isolate them from it either.The "rule" is that in 
class we teach and use Biblical Hebrew, outside of class 
the students are on their own. 
For example, on a field trip a student may ask about a car in 
modern and biblical Hebrew as a joke. I will tell them that 
mexonit  is the common word for a 'car'. What would a time-
machined ancient have said? ulay  `agala, o  rexev. It's not a 
bad game. But we do not teach that in class or as serious BH. 

[[A comparison might help give some out there a perspective: 
filling 50 minutes of BH classtime with 43 minutes of English. Can 
anyone expect that that would be either purer or more efficient?]]

And Fun? In one of the skits on sefer Yonah, Yonah says 
"yesh li Hol ba-pe" students are asked to say things like "yesh li 
mayim bape  . . . dam   . . . yayin  . . . rir . The last one (drool, snot)
isn't so common in BH but it's fun 
veha-talmidim  zoxrim ma ze   rir. 

shavua` tov,

RAndall Buth

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