Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Speak Biblical Hebrew: A Program in Israel

I've not participated in this, but I know many who have and they rave about it:

At first glance the ulpan at Kibbutz Tzova, about 20 minutes west of Jerusalem, may seem no different than any other. But within a couple of minutes of listening to the exchange between students and teachers, it becomes clear that there is something fishy about the Hebrew spoken here.

Welcome to the Biblical Ulpan, a framework that allows students to study biblical Hebrew in its original context. In place of the conventional grammar-driven approach to Hebrew study that often includes memorizing elusive rules and arcane verb charts, biblical Hebrew is the medium through which the language is taught here to Christian and Jewish students.

"Studying a text needs the 'code' [the language] and the culture, history and geography in order to be most fully understood," explains Randall Buth, who founded the ulpan 10 years ago.

"Students may be throwing a plastic sheep in the class after hearing a command like 'hashlech et hakeves el hatalmid sham' [Throw the sheep to the student over there], without realizing that the verb is part of the hif'il pattern [causative grammatical form]," he says. "When they finally know a few verbs or forms from these categories they will receive a presentation that organizes the forms into a system. The binyan system that is dreaded by many a beginning student is cut down to size and more easily understood."

Buth, who holds a doctorate in Semitic languages from UCLA, has also studied theoretical linguistics. He worked for the United Bible Societies in Africa for 20 years supervising Bible translation projects into local languages.

See the JPost article for the rest.  You can get more details at the program's website at



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