Hebrew Study And Preparation

student reading a book and student read on phone

Applicants to the Rabbinical School, the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and the concurrent Master of Arts in Jewish Learning and Master of Educational Leadership program must demonstrate a minimum Hebrew capacity in Modern Hebrew before enrolling.

Admitted applicants to these programs must demonstrate a minimum Hebrew capacity in order to matriculate into their program. The Hebrew Capacity Evaluation may be taken at any time after their application has been started and completed within one week of their admissions interview.

Students in the Executive Masters in Jewish Education (EMA) and the single Master of Educational Leadership (MEdL) programs must demonstrate a Hebrew proficiency equivalent to “one year of college-level” Modern Hebrew either by evidence on a previous transcript or passing a proficiency evaluation in order to graduate from their program. A student may enroll in the program without the requisite Hebrew knowledge at the time but will need to study Hebrew to fulfill the minimum requirement prior to graduation. If you have questions about this requirement or anything else about these programs, please schedule time with a member of our team.

Applicants to the Pines School of Graduate Studies Ph.D. program should be prepared to demonstrate a minimum of two years of Biblical Hebrew, preferably from a university, through an oral evaluation. Applicants to the Masters of Arts in Jewish Studies program are required to demonstrate only one year of Biblical Hebrew study (though 2 years is recommended) through an oral evaluation. If you have questions about this requirement or anything else about these programs, please schedule time with a member of our team.

Our commitment to Hebrew at HUC goes beyond its utility to access classical Jewish texts like the Tanach, the Jewish Bible. While we expect you to achieve that particular milestone, we also expect you to encounter Hebrew as the living language of the Jewish people.

In the words of our professors, Drs. Rabbis Lisa Grant and Wendy Zierler,


Hebrew is a powerful relationship builder between Jews across time and space. Through the Hebrew of the Torah or of an Israeli newspaper alike, Jews around the world meet each other and the Jewish past and present through Hebrew. As Jews travel the globe, they take comfort in encountering a Jewish worship service in which the Hebrew prayers feel like well-worn pathways of religious identification and familiarity. Whether one enters the language through conversation with an Israeli or study of classical Hebrew texts, every encounter with the language supports the capacity to engage with other types of Hebrew.


The Hebrew language provides an unmediated entrée into Jewish texts, ideas, and culture and abets professional success. Proficiency in Hebrew also contributes to a sense of Jewish authenticity, allowing for direct access to the foundational texts of the Jewish past and present: Bible, Mishnah and Talmud, Midrash, the medieval canon, liturgy, Hasidic texts, modern and contemporary Israeli literature and culture.


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.

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.

There are as many Hebrew curricula as there are Hebrew programs, therefore it can be difficult to compare, for example, “three semesters at a state university” to “six weeks in an immersive ulpan in Israel.” While we do have recommendations about where and what to learn, it is most important that you learn, at least, what follows below.

Admitted applicants must be able to demonstrate the following Hebrew language skills and areas of knowledge in reading comprehension and writing (Hebrew script) in order to matriculate into their program of study.

  1. Verbs
    1. Identification of the “shoresh שורש” of a Hebrew verb from an infinitive form of these four active in pa’al פעל , pi’elפיעל , hifil הפעיל , hitpael   התפעל
    2. Distinguishing between and conjugating in these four active binyanim בנינים in present and past tense
      1. Other particular verb groups: פ״י, ע״ו, ל״י
    3. Recognition and active use of at least 20-25 verbs essential to daily life such as verbs of motion, working, studying, traveling, living, eating, drinking, dressing, etc.
    4. Use of a conjugated verb followed by the infinitive form of a subsequent verb
  2. Grammar
    1. Definite and indefinite articles, plurals
    2. Create compound nouns, smikhut
    3. Identification and usage of single-letter prepositions – ל, ש, מ, ב, כ, ה
    4. Recognition of the direct object marker “את” both by itself and when combined with pronominal suffixes.
    5. The possessive article “shel” של both by itself and combined with pronominal suffixes – שלי, שלך, שלו, שלה, שלנו, שלהם, שלהן
    6. Possession in the present tense using “yeish יש” and “ayn אין”
    7. Transitional phrases such as “bemeshekh במשך”, “lakhen לכן”, “lamrot למרות”
    8. Question words – mi מי, mah מה, eifo איפה, lama למה, eich  איך, madua מדוע, m’ayin מעין, and ayeh איה
    9. Single-word expressions followed by the infinitive form such as “kasheh קשה”, “chashuv חשוב”, “tzarich צריך”, “mutar מותר”, “efshar אפשר” and “asur אסור”
  3. Vocabulary
    1. Counting to 1000, ordinal numbers, “yoter יותר”, “pachot פחות”, “midai מדי”
    2. Counting money
    3. Hebrew numerical values (gematria) – א = 1…ת = 400
    4. Telling time – daily/weekly/monthly/yearly, seasons and festivals, as well as expressions “ba-t’kufah בתקופה” and “b’meah במאה”
    5. Telling age – e.g. How old are you? At what age did you…?
    6. Colors and materials
    7. Basic foods and dishes, eating in restaurants, (“lehazmin להזמין” as an introduction to hifil הפעיל verbs)
    8. Basic adjectives to describe the physical appearance and basic bodily needs
    9. Objects found in one’s home and school environment
    10. Words related to the synagogue and Jewish institutions
    11. Articles of clothing in conjunction with the verb “lilbosh ללבוש”
    12. Names of family members
    13. Names of common professions
  4. Reading Comprehension: The ability to navigate vocalized and non-vocalized Hebrew texts, including previously unseen texts composed in the present tense on a basic topic of daily interaction and the ability to read a liturgical text commonly read during a Shabbat service with fluidity and precise vowel pronunciation
  5. Listening Comprehension: The ability to listen to and comprehend a simple dialogue or reading of a passage relevant to daily life utilizing a set of vocabulary.
  6. Writing and Translation as defined by the ability to compose a paragraph in the present tense on one’s life such as where one lives, what one studies, where one works, numbers and the days of the week and the complimentary ability to translate an equivalent text from Hebrew to English.

We believe that most applicants are capable of developing a capacity for Hebrew that will allow them to study at the level needed to access primary Jewish sources, ancient and contemporary. Yet, each of our students comes to learn Hebrew at different stages in their lives, with different linguistic abilities and exposure, and in very different environments.

We, therefore, urge you to schedule time with our Coordinator for Hebrew Learning Support, who can help you assess your learning style, ways to deepen your linguistic capacities, for Hebrew specifically, and make a plan for learning what you will need to know to succeed as a student and a professional.

The best way to learn a lot of Hebrew, quickly and effectively, is to enroll in an ulpan environment—focused on language immersion—in Israel or with our colleagues and partners at Middlebury’s Language School. Our students have also had particular success in preparing their Hebrew in ulpanim at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Haifa University.

Feel free to visit this page filled with recommended books, movies, t.v. shows and podcasts that all support one’s Hebrew learning.

The Hebrew Capacity Evaluation (2021) includes the following evaluations over the course of 86 questions/exercises:

  1. Verbs (1-21) — Identify roots, correct verb conjugations based on context, identify the tense, and binyan (form).
  2. Prepositions (22-31) — Choose the correct preposition, the correct noun form (for smichut–compound words/phrases), the matching (gendered) word (e.g. f. adjective with a f. noun)
  3. Vocabulary (32-55) — Choose the best answer from the words listed (sometimes verbs, adjectives, nouns, prepositions) — I think this is the hardest section because vocabulary depends a lot on what materials one uses to learn from.
  4. Reading Comprehension (56-77) — Has them reading a little of everything — a couple of ads, a synagogue announcement, a wedding invitation, a few news briefings and two longer divisions of one article about preserving the customs of the Ethiopian Jewish community who immigrated to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. They can all be figured out by context, though the last article will certainly be challenging for many of our applicants.
  5. Written Assignments (78-79) — 78. Novice to Intermediate, 79. Intermediate to Advanced OR Advanced to Superior Level
  6. Reading and Speaking Samples (80) — Record yourself reading one of the previous reading comprehension texts and record yourself spontaneously responding to one of two prompts–both expect short answers–and reading two vocalized Jewish texts (one biblical, one liturgical)
  7. Listening Comprehension (81-86) — Watch and listen to three video clips and answer questions about them.

There is! You can find it here, take it as many times as you like and use it to focus on the skills listed above. The practice evaluation will explain both correct and incorrect answers, so you learn as you go. If you have questions, contact Hebrew Learning Support Coordinator, Lisa Ansell, (lansell@huc.edu).