Hebrew Study and Proficiency - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Hebrew Study and Proficiency

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Kickstart your future as a Jewish leader today

What is the Hebrew Requirement?

Applicants to the Rabbinical program, programs of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, and the Concurrent Master of Arts in Jewish Learning and Master of Educational Leadership program 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 Executive Masters program in Jewish Education and the single Master of Educational Leadership program, 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 requirement for the Pines School of Graduate Studies Ph.D. program is a minimum of two years of Biblical Hebrew, and 1 year for the MAJS program (though 2 years is recommended).

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.