Hebrew – Ivrit
The Hebrew language (Ivrit) is a fundamental component of what constitutes the Jewish People. In order to appreciate the relevance of Ivrit, it is helpful to understand the origin and meaning of the word itself. The word Ivrit is derived from the word Ivri (a Hebrew). A common definition of the word Ivri is a descendant of Eber, עֵבֶר, who was an ancestor of Abraham, the first person to be called an Ivri (Genesis 10:24). To be an Ivri, is to be a descendant of this lineage, to be a part of this family.
Moreover, Ivrit comes from the root עבר which has several meanings including to “cross over” or “pass through,” indicative of the nomadic life of Abraham and his descendants. (One can say this is true even today.) Given these understandings, we conclude that Ivrit is a reflection of who we are as a nation, genealogically, historically and culturally; Ivrit connects us through time and space.
Hebrew is a connector; it connects us to our history, provides a sense of belonging to the Jewish People and to the land and country of Israel. Much like the word Ivrit, words in Hebrew bear historical weight and reflect Jewish culture and values.
And while historically Jews took on the language of their host countries, they perpetuated the use of Hebrew through prayer, study and even the development of other “Jewish languages” such as Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic, all of which share the common element of Hebrew serving as an integral component. Having a shared language has unified us as a nation for over 3000 years and can continue to be a critical tool that connects us to one another.
Pedagogic Rationale – Why using Hebrew makes for good education
Language is a purveyor of history, culture, values and ways of thought. The study of the Hebrew language opens students to their rich history spanning 4000 years, to a vibrant and contemporary Jewish culture and to the opportunity to inform the future of the international Jewish community.
In his essay entitled “Language, Identity, and the Scandal of American Jewry,” Leon Wieseltier writes: “Our language is our incommensurable inflection of our humanity; our unique way of presenting, not least to ourselves, what our unique way is through the world. Our language is our element; our beginning; our air; the air peculiar to us. Even our universalism comes to us (like everybody else’s universalism) in a particular language.”
Language is a critical element in identity development; it is a tool that informs the way that we think, enabling us to make meaning of the world around us and navigate it.
Jewish educators should utilize Hebrew as an integral tool to help their students develop their Jewish identities as individuals and as a collective. Hebrew is the language of the Jewish People and empowering our students to have access to this tool provides them with the ability to engage with Jews worldwide, the world without geographic boundaries in which they live.