Sign up to learn Hebrew

By Glen Pickus, Temple Beth Or | Feb 22, 2012

Hebrew is the universal language connecting all Jews.

I could walk into a synagogue anywhere in the world and be able to join them in prayer (despite the fact my Hebrew skills are very limited).

Similarly, a Jew from anywhere in the world visiting Temple Beth Or this Friday night for the Shabbat worship service will have a familiarity allowing them full participation in prayer with us.

Because Hebrew is a rich and colorful language, biblical stories come alive for those who know it well. They are able to understand the nuances and breadth of the teachings that are unreachable through translations.

You don’t have to be Jewish to benefit from learning Hebrew. All those who want to be able to read the Hebrew Bible in its original language and explore the depth of its teachings have a reason to learn.

If you are Jewish, knowing at least some Hebrew will allow you to reap the benefits that Judaism’s universal language provides; from a sense of belonging to a more comprehensive understanding of the ethics and values the Torah teaches us.

That’s why Jewish children enrolled in religious school begin learning Hebrew letters as early as kindergarten and begin Hebrew language classes in third grade, as is the case at Temple Beth Or.

On one level, it is essential for students to have rudimentary Hebrew skills in order to prepare for their bar/bat mitzvah. On another level, knowledge of Hebrew expands the meaningfulness of the worship service and Torah study and provides a connection with all Jews.

At Temple Beth Or, much of the worship service is in Hebrew. During the services, Rabbi Jessica Kessler Marshall frequently breaks from the formal proceedings to explain the etymology of Hebrew phrases in both prayers and the Torah.

In doing so, she provides those of us who possess lesser Hebrew skills the opportunity to appreciate the insights into what is really being taught.

For adults either interested in expanding their Hebrew skills or interested in taking the first steps toward learning Hebrew, Temple Beth Or is now offering Hebrew language courses. You don’t have to be a member of Temple Beth Or, or even Jewish, to attend.

There will be two courses, a beginning class, which will guide students toward mastery of the Hebrew alphabet and simple sounding out of words rather than understanding, and an intermediate class, which will focus on “prayer book” Hebrew and/or learning to read the Torah.

While one cannot expect to become fluent or conversational in Hebrew, students will gain a solid foundation that could progress toward fluency.

Some vocabulary will be taught, especially in the higher-level class, but the emphasis will be on decoding Hebrew, which will allow participants to more fully participate in Jewish worship services anywhere in the world.

Heidi Piel, Temple Beth Or congregant, faculty member and Jewish educator, will teach the beginning class. That class will meet 7-8:15 p.m. Mondays from March 5 – May 21 at Temple Beth Or.

Heidi’s class will cover much of the same material that religious school students study – learning the Hebrew alphabet, basic pronunciation and comprehension of words. It will lead to improved skills in using the Siddur (prayer book) during worship services.

The intermediate class will be taught by Jeremy Alk, long-time Seattle-area Jewish educator and professional Hebrew and bar/bat mitzvah tutor. Jeremy’s class will meet 7-8:15 p.m. Sundays from March 4 - May 20.

The intermediate class will cover Hebrew appropriate for using the Siddur and may be used as a steppingstone for those seeking an adult bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, as well as becoming service leaders and even Torah readers.

Course fees are $120 for Temple Beth Or members and $180 for non-members. For more information or to register go to the Temple Beth Or website at www.templebethor.org (click on Learning/Adult Education) or call the office at 425-259-7125.

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