Hebrew Study and Proficiency

Kickstart your future as a Jewish leader

What is the Hebrew Requirement?

Applicants to the Rabbinical program, programs of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and residential MA programs of the Schools of Education must demonstrate capacity in the Hebrew language comparable to one year of college-level Modern Hebrew. We do not need to see documented coursework in Hebrew; however, you must pass a Hebrew Capacity Exam in order to matriculate. The Exam is taken at the time of the admissions interview.

How will my performance on the Exam affect my offer of admission?

Admissions decisions are reached independently of the results of this exam. Admitted applicants who do not demonstrate sufficient capacity in Modern Hebrew may be required retake the exam, attend HUC-JIR’s Pre-Ulpan Hebrew Learning Program on the Jerusalem campus, or defer enrollment to improve their language skill.

Other Programs’ Hebrew Proficiency Requirements

For the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, the Executive Masters program in Jewish Education, and the part time Masters program in Religious Education on our New York campus, students must have Hebrew proficiency equivalent to one year of college-level Modern Hebrew demonstrated on a transcript or passing a proficiency exam in order to graduate from the program. One may enter the program without a solid Hebrew foundation but will need to take Hebrew to fulfill the one-year minimum requirement. If necessary, this requirement can be met after matriculating, but prior to graduation.

The Hebrew language requirement for the Pines School of Graduate Studies is a minimum of two years of Biblical Hebrew.

Why does Hebrew matter?

We believe that Hebrew is essential. It is essential for

  • An intimate understanding of the foundational texts of Jewish tradition
  • A profound sense of the meaning and resonance of key Jewish concepts and attitudes
  • Your prospects of fulfilling your academic requirements at the College-Institute at the highest level
  • Your connection with the State of Israel and its people
  • The opportunity to be part of a reborn Hebrew culture
  • Your sense of authenticity and legitimacy as a Jewish leader
  • The quality of your teaching, learning, presenting and leading in the work you will do for decades to come
  • Fulfilling our vision of an informed, committed and connected Jewish community in North America and beyond

For all these reasons, we encourage you to reach the highest possible level of Hebrew proficiency before applying to the College-Institute. Candidates often ask what kind of Hebrew preparation they need before applying. There may not be a simple one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Over the years many candidates have worked on their Hebrew by taking university courses in Modern or Classical Hebrew , and/or by spending time at intensive Hebrew programs in Israel and elsewhere, and/or by immersing themselves in a Hebrew speaking environment, and/or by engaging in the study of Hebrew texts at a high level.

You can never have too much Hebrew, and we encourage to take every opportunity to strengthen different aspects of your Hebrew knowledge – fluency, comprehension, grammar and vocabulary, contemporary and classical. In our experience, there is a close connection between these different kinds of Hebrew knowledge. Getting stronger in one field often makes it easier to improve in all the other areas.

While we would love all our students to be fluent in Modern Hebrew, the core competence we are looking for is your ability to grapple with Hebrew texts – to understand and ‘decode’ them, and to be able to explain what they mean to people who will look to you for expertise and insight. Our experience shows that those who come in to the program with a high level of Hebrew, and those who work hard to improve their Hebrew level in the course of their studies, often achieve higher academic success in the program.

We want to offer a word of encouragement to those thinking of applying who do not have a rich Hebrew background. There are a number of examples of students who came to the program at a very basic level, but who worked hard and achieved impressive results. If you are keen to learn and show the ability to improve, we will work with you to ensure that you make up for lost time. Don’t feel discouraged if you leave the later parts of the HCE (described in a separate document) blank. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It just helps give us a sense of where your Hebrew currently is.

Recently we have changed our emphasis from setting a minimum entrance requirement to concentrating on what we want to happen with your Hebrew proficiency in the years to come. We are most keen to establish that you have the motivation and the potential to reach the level of Hebrew we want you to attain as you move through the program and out into the field. We will be providing extra instructional hours for those of you who come to the program relatively low on Hebrew expertise but high on motivation and potential.

We want you to know that we are constantly in search of new ways to enrich our Hebrew instruction. We are currently looking at more ways of carrying through the study of Hebrew beyond the Jerusalem year, as well as ways of ensuring that the work you do in Jerusalem feeds into the continuation of your studies. We will be gauging your Hebrew capacity at various points in the course of your studies, because we believe that developing this capacity is crucial for the successful completion of your studies. Hebrew is essential, so it is essential we get your Hebrew instruction right.

Hebrew instruction is part of our vision for the Jewish community of tomorrow – inspired, supported, empowered and educated. For you to play a role in this vision, we want you to be able to speak the words of the Hebrew Bible in their original tongue, and in so doing to bring the words of Torah alive. In the words of Psalm 51:  אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶךָ.  

Preparing for the Hebrew Capacity Exam

The Rabbinical School, Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music and the residential MA programs of the Schools of Education require a Hebrew language capacity equivalent to one year of college-level Modern Hebrew, as demonstrated by performance on the Hebrew Capacity Examination (HCE).  At the time of your interview at the College-Institute, or close to that time, you will be asked to take the HCE. It has been designed to assess whether you have attained the minimum level necessary to begin the program, and to place you in the appropriate Hebrew level to optimize your learning.

We are enclosing some examples of text and grammar questions from different levels to give you sense of the exam (see Resources below).  A useful text in preparing for the most basic levels of the HCE is Volume One of a book known in English as Hebrew From Scratch. In Hebrew the book is entitled עברית מן ההתחלה כרך א' .  The book is written by Shlomit Chayat, Sara Israeli, and Hilla Kobliner, and it is published by Academon in Jerusalem. If you demonstrate high proficiency in this work, most particularly up to page 326, it is extremely likely you will do well on the examination.

In general, in order to meet our minimum requirements, examinees need to demonstrate that they can

  • Read with comprehension texts that discuss daily life, describe people and places, narrate past events, etc.
  • Demonstrate proficiency with basic grammar.

The examination comprises three sections, each of which are organized according to increasing levels of difficulty:

1.  Reading Comprehension.  There will be up to ten texts at increasing levels of difficulty. After each of these texts you will be asked questions of different types. You may be asked to select missing words from a given list; or to determine whether a statement is correct or incorrect based on your understanding of the text; or to answer a number of multiple choice questions. 

2.  Grammar. You will be asked to answer multiple choice questions which ask you to select appropriate verbs, prepositions, plural forms, construct forms (semichut), question words and other grammatical forms,

3.  Writing. You will be invited to write a composition or answer a question from a range of possibilities. The length of the composition will vary from 30 to 200 words and more depending on the level of difficulty.

All questions in sections 1 and 2 should be answered in order. All questions in these sections are either multiple choice, or they ask you to add missing words.  When you start guessing answers in section 1, we recommend you move on to section 2. When you reach the same point in section 2, move to section 3.  In section 3 you will be asked to write a short composition in Hebrew. You will be given a choice of several topics. The intention here is to get a sense of your current ability to express yourself in writing in Hebrew.

Candidates are sometimes concerned with the length of the examination. Please don’t be. The exam is designed to accommodate a wide range of Hebrew levels. You are not expected to complete more than you are comfortably able to do. 

Results of the Hebrew Capacity Exam

Admissions decisions are reached independently of the results of this exam. Admitted applicants who do not demonstrate sufficient proficiency in Modern Hebrew may be required retake the exam, attend HUC-JIR’s Pre-Ulpan Hebrew Learning Program on the Jerusalem campus, or defer enrollment to improve their language skill.  You will be contacted to let you know the results of your Hebrew Capacity Exam.  Rather than give you a precise grade, we will let you know which of the following four categories your results place you in:

A. You passed!

Congratulations. You may begin the year in Jerusalem at the regular starting point in July. When you arrive there you will be placed in an appropriate Hebrew class.  In cases of exceptional ability in Hebrew, there may be the possibility of exempting out of Hebrew studies, or of tailoring a special program to allow you to develop your Hebrew skills at the highest possible level.  For most candidates, however, being in Category A simply means: we look forward to seeing you in Jerusalem in July.

B.   Pre-Ulpan

For the last few years the College-Institute has offered an intensive Hebrew program in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular summer semester. This pre-Ulpan program begins in June.  If you are in category B, you will be invited to participate in the pre-Ulpan program. If you do well in that program, you will then continue in the regular program just like candidates in Category A. You may wish to re-take the exam (we have prepared a shortened and revised form of the examination for this purpose). If you do well, you may then be moved from Category B to Category A. If not, you are invited to join the Pre-Ulpan.

C.   Worth Re-Taking

If you are in Category C, you did not reach the minimum Hebrew level for acceptance this year, but you came close. There is a good chance that, with additional guidance and study, you will be able to reach Category B.  We encourage you to re-take the exam (described above in Category B). If you do not pass the re-take, your admission to the school will be deferred until you can demonstrate the minimum necessary Hebrew level.

D.   Did Not Pass

You did not reach the minimum level of proficiency. You may choose to study further and then re-take the exam, or you may wish to defer until you have a chance to strengthen your Hebrew.

A candidate in Category A who defers their entrance to the College-Institute by more than two years will have to re-take the Hebrew Capacity Exam. 


Below are a few resources to help you prepare for this Hebrew requirement: For an in depth evaluation of your abilities, download the Sample Hebrew Capacity Exam. This Examination is of a similar difficultly level to the actual exam but only a quarter of the length. In addition, check out these additional resources to improve your Hebrew.