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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Jews Who Can’t Speak Hebrew

Rashi writes that a parent who doesn’t speak in the Holy Tongue to his children is considered as if he is burying them.
head-in-the-sand

Photo Credit: YY

Jewish Identity Quiz #2

אמרנו בעבר שכל ילד פורטוריקני בארה”ב יודע לדבר ספרדית בנוסף לאנגלית אף על פי שלא נולד בפורטוריקו. גם כל ילד סיני או קוראני באמריקה יודע לדבר בשפת אבותיו. רק היהודים לא דוברים בשפתם המקורית. אינני יודע למה. כנראה יש סיבה פסיכולוגית עמוקה מאד. אם לאחד ממכם יש את התשובה אשמח לשמוע.

Did you have trouble reading the Hebrew? That’s exactly my point. Some readers say that I’m a crazy fanatic when I say that Diaspora Jews suffer from schizophrenia when it comes to their Jewish identity. For example, even though they are Jewish, many don’t know more than a few simple words in Hebrew. After all, Hebrew is the language of the Jewish People, not English, or German, or Russian, or Yiddish.

Let me ask you, how many Puerto Ricans kids in New York don’t know how to speak Spanish? And look at the Koreans and Chinese in America. All of their kids speak Korean and Chinese as if they were still in Korea and China. And what Moslem kid in America, France, or England doesn’t know how to speak Arabic from the crib? But when it comes to Diaspora Jews, most of their kids hardly know any Hebrew at all. I know this, because we host a lot of Birthright youth at our home in Yerushalayim for Shabbat meals, and almost none of them know Hebrew at all! They are bright, university students, but when it comes to a knowledge of Hebrew, Yiddishkeit, Jewish history, or what’s going on in Israel, they are complete ignoramuses. Totally empty! Isn’t this strange? How can you explain this?

Certainly, Jewish kids aren’t less intelligent than Puerto Ricans and Arabs who have no trouble learning their own languages. Could it be that Diaspora Jews feel so compelled to prove that they are just like their gentile neighbors that they don’t learn Hebrew? Could it be that they are so afraid to have dual identities that they don’t want to learn a strange tongue? Or is it because they have been so long in exile that they don’t see any reason to learn the language of their Forefathers and pass it on to their children for the generations to come?

No wonder assimilation is such a great problem! First you give up wearing Israeli sandals, then you give up eating falafel, then you stop teaching your children Hebrew and tell them that they are Americans like everyone else – and then you’re surprised when Johnny comes home with a Protestant girl for Thanksgiving vacation. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two.

If a child speaks in English, he’ll grow up thinking that he’s English. If he speaks in French, he’ll grow up thinking that he’s French. So why not marry a French girl like everyone else? That’s why Rashi writes that a parent who doesn’t speak in the Holy Tongue to his children is considered as if he is burying them, G-d forbid (Devarim, 11:19). He buries them in a foreign culture which waters down, or cuts them off completely from Torah and their true Jewish roots.

In Israel, thank G-d, all of the children speak Hebrew. Even kids of the Olim, who insist on speaking Diaspora languages at home, learn to speak fluent Hebrew at school. And while there are readers who always cry out that Israelis marry Arabs – the truth is that it isn’t even one percent of the population, compared with the 60%+ assimilation in America and most every other place in the world.

You can get angry at me if you like and continue to keep your heads in the sand. But the writing on the wall is clear. The Diaspora is on the way out. The only future for our children is Israel.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." For the past several years, he has written a popular and controversial blog at Arutz 7. A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of The Jewish Press


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43 Responses to “Jews Who Can’t Speak Hebrew”

  1. Anastasia Klein says:

    Puerto Ricans speak Spanish because they grew up in Puerto Rico. Maybe the Hebrew Schools in America should be more "inviting" to learning and not so horrible. Everyone hated Hebrew School.

  2. it was to teachers – totally inept

  3. Stevie Sacks says:

    Blame our parents and grandparents if you have to place blame – they were proud to speak English and proud to become citizens of the US. What would have happened if my great grandfathers on my mothers side or great grandparents on my father's side had come if they had had the choice at the turn of the last century to come to Israel instead of the US? Of course my parents would have leaned Hebrew and so would my sister and I – but that's not how history played out.

  4. Thats just a n excuse , today there r good stuff on the Internet for hebrewstudies for beginners

  5. I am also an hebrewtutor

  6. Myriam Obadia says:

    Thanks a lot Dude. As a olah chadasha I feel really welcome when I read that. we haven't all got the luck to have parents who could afford to send us to Hebrew school where we were born (or raised). Some of us even have parents, whose parents couldn't afford it either, or were concentrating on hiding their Judaism in order to survive. Maybe, rather than apportion guilt and blame, you could volunteer to teach new immigrants or people who are just trying to be better Jews.

  7. Mikhael Meir says:

    בדרך כלל סינים-אמריקאיים או קוריאנים-אמריקאיים שמדברים סינית או קוריאנית הם בני הדור הראשון באהר''ב, בני מהגרים שגדלו במשפחות שסינית או קוריאנית היו שפת הבית, אבל סינים-אמריקאיים בני הדור השני או השלישי באהר''ב בדר"כ אינם מסוגלים לדבר בשפות אבותיהם. למיטב הבנתי, פורטוריקנים דוברי ספרדית שנולדו ביבשת של אהר''ב נוטים להיות אלה שגדלו במשפחות דוברות ספרדית ו/או גדלו בכשכונות מסוימות שספרדית מדוברת היא נפוצה, אבל הרבה מה מדברים ספרדית שגוייה שמעורבת באנגלית (ספנגליש).

  8. Mikhael Meir says:

    בדרך כלל סינים-אמריקאיים או קוריאנים-אמריקאיים שמדברים סינית או קוריאנית הם בני הדור הראשון באהר''ב, בני מהגרים שגדלו במשפחות שסינית או קוריאנית היו שפת הבית, אבל סינים-אמריקאיים בני הדור השני או השלישי באהר''ב בדר"כ אינם מסוגלים לדבר בשפות אבותיהם. למיטב הבנתי, פורטוריקנים דוברי ספרדית שנולדו ביבשת של אהר''ב נוטים להיות אלה שגדלו במשפחות דוברות ספרדית ו/או גדלו בכשכונות מסוימות שספרדית מדוברת היא נפוצה, אבל הרבה מהם מדברים ספרדית שגוייה שמעורבת באנגלית (ספנגליש).

  9. Mikhael Meir says:

    Another incorrect generalization you make is your suggestion that Muslims in the US learn how to speak Arabic from the crib. That may be true if you are talking about prayer, in which case they are similar many American/British Orthodox Jews who are fluent in the language of the siddur and the mishna, but not in the Hebrew we speak in Israel. But many Muslims in the US/UK are from Pakistani, Bangladeshi or African origins, they generally will not know spoken Arabic unless they've also lived in Arabic-speaking lands. That said, I also am very disapointed in US Jews' lack of knowledge in Hebrew, but it also reflects American and English speakers lack of competency in foreign languages in general. I would expect more Hebrew competency (if not fluency) from the segment of English-speaking Jews who are very pro-Israel and Zionist, though. I have met many Latin American, French, Dutch, Belgian, or German Jews who were active in Zionist groups such as Bnai Akiva for instance, and they usually can manage to speak at least some basic Hebrew even if they did not live in Israel for an extended period of time. You cannot say the same for most of their American counterparts, though.

  10. Mikhael Meir says:

    Another incorrect generalization you make is your suggestion that Muslims in the US learn how to speak Arabic from the crib. That may be true if you are talking about prayer, in which case they are similar many American/British Orthodox Jews who are fluent in the language of the siddur and the mishna, but not in the Hebrew we speak in Israel. But many Muslims in the US/UK are from Pakistani, Bangladeshi or African origins, they generally will not know spoken Arabic unless they've also lived in Arabic-speaking lands. That said, I also am very disapointed in US Jews' lack of knowledge in Hebrew, but it also reflects American and English speakers' lack of competency in foreign languages in general. I would expect more Hebrew competency (if not fluency) from the segment of English-speaking Jews who are very pro-Israel and Zionist, though. I have met many Latin American, French, Dutch, Belgian, or German Jews who were active in Zionist groups such as Bnai Akiva for instance, and they usually can manage to speak at least some basic Hebrew even if they did not live in Israel for an extended period of time. You cannot say the same for most of their American counterparts, though.

  11. KosherWine says:

    I'm not sure what results we'll be getting from complaining about these Jews, especially to them. A Jew reading your article who finds him or herself in the exact same situation might not accept your rebuke. Let's face it, no one likes being told what to do. Quite frankly, I don't believe you can encourage anyone to teach their kids Hebrew by the approach of this article. Baruch Hashem, my kids learned Hebrew and are in Israel. I've only recently learned to speak Hebrew and I'm 57 years old. One more thing, don't sweat assimilation so much. Assimilation has been with the Jewish People since the times of Avraham Avinu. Moshiach, we'll get there, al tidag. I have a suggestion for you though: if you haven't already done so, could you please provide us a Hebrew version of you article so we can improve our Hebrew or some other constructive criticism with a positive air about it. Why so much bummering? Lighten up baby & Shabbat shalom -rafi.

  12. I didn't realize the above would be posted to my kosher wine page. If this link comment is annoying to you please let me know and I'll be careful not to post in future. Shabbat shalom -rafi

  13. Like the news story written in Hebrew above (given to us but not translated). I found the factoid therein interesting but the truth is that after a couple of generation if those immigrants do well in this country they will also likely assimilate and no longer teach their children the mother tongue. I've seen it with people I know from India and China and they're no slouches.

  14. Liad Bar-el says:

    Rather than blaming the blamer, Myriam, take it as a challenge to develop more synapses. :-) Should you read Tzvi’s background, http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/from-hollywood-to-the-holy-land/2012/05/03/0/ you might find he has less Jewish background than you. IMO, from his dramatic change in life, he really wishes every Jew to do all he/she can to become more Jewish and thus closer to HaShem. Such is my wish to you and everyone reading this talkback.
    If you are truly an olah hadashah, you will have many challenges and they are all designed to raise (להעלות) all olim closer to HaShem. אתם מעלים את עצמכם Good luck and hope you have great success in your endeavors in Israel. Should you come to the Kotel during the month of Elul, ask for the Shofarman so I can welcome you ברוך הבא

  15. Myriam Obadia says:

    Liad, re-read my post calmly and put aside our difference of political opinions in other comments. Tzvi was insensitive to many who -while born Jewish- didn't have the luck to grow up in a Jewish environment. His background may be relevant to the way he feels, but not to the way he expresses it. Yes, I am truly olah hadashah. What have I ever done to you that you would put my words in doubt?

  16. Myriam Obadia says:

    Thank you, Rafi. It's nice to know I'm not the only one to start Hebrew in my 50s.

  17. Karen LichtBraun says:

    I am learning, too…in my 50's…:) There are plenty of websites to learn Hebrew but "live" teacher and a place to practice is needed. In NYC the Ulpan classes r expensive & usually one day a wk, which is not enough.

  18. Liad Bar-el says:

    Myriam, had I not put our differences aside and welcomed you as an Olah Hadasah, I would not have written to you. You have not done anything to me personally that I would doubt that you are not telling the truth but rather the misunderstanding you have given on how you designated your name followed by University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Also, you have not given any Israel reference only two California designations in your facebook that gives the impression that you are still in Calif.

    From your comments, it seems that you are transferring and displacing your stress from my comments on me of which I fully recognize and understand…more than you seem to know. Tzvi may appear to you as insensitive for you grew up in a very insensitive environment; so, again this transfer of personal self-perception of problems to others is taking place. I was not born in a Jewish environment and I don’t find him insensitive at all but rather consistently “hitting the nail on the head”. He has a talent of a professional screen writer to get his point across in the most effective manner. Others have criticized his writings and it mostly shows jealously because they can’t even come close to his skills of communication.

    Now, you can get into your linguistics training and tear apart everything and anything that Tzvi has said and on what I have said as well but the truth of the matter still stands for all Jews, get out of the Diaspora and get the Diaspora out of you (everyone) as well. Shabbat Shalom

  19. Ben Meltzer says:

    Don't blame the kids blame the parents who's jewish identity ends at kosher style and bagels. the vast majority of american who are Jewish is what the problem is. they should be Jewish Americans. When Judaism becomes important to them then and olny then will they get it.

  20. Myriam Obadia says:

    Ulpan, is free in Israel, as well as quite intensive (5 hours a day, 5 days a week). The problem is that, in my area the classes are geared more towards people whose native language is Russian, but I'm coping with this by also using some internet classes which are rather affordable (100nis per month).

  21. Karen LichtBraun says:

    @myriam- what internet class r u using? I am in NYC & Ulpan is expensive. NJOP has a great writing & reading classes that r free.

  22. I choose not to blame anyone but what makes me angry are those that don't learn the language of the country they are living in

  23. Anton Errington-Wood says:

    Happens with every culture Benno, it's called assimilation !

  24. Liad Bar-el says:

    Once there was a lady, Olah Hadasha, who didn't learn Hebrew. She became interested in a California Rabbi who wanted to start up a California commune. If she went to him, she's probably the Queen Commune Mistress by now. Forgot her name, it might have been M&M (you know the Mars & Murrie kind). :-)

  25. David Bonin says:

    Why is it so EXPENSIVE to learn Hebrew? then?. over 1000 dollars to lessons on the internet?. Are those making Aliyah given lessons in Hebrew without having to pay thousands?. . teaching Hebrew to jews in the diaspora is an investment for Israel.

  26. Myriam Obadia says:

    Yes David. When you make Aliyah, you'll get 5 month of intensive ulpan (5 hours a day) for free + a (very) small stipend to live on for the first 6 months. If your usual language is English, make sure you do not end up in Ashkelon (like I did), since no one in the misrad ha'klita (immigrant services) nor the city hall speaks English and the ulpanim are run in Russian. It's a lovely town, but it adds too much challenge for a new immigrant. Do not count too much on Nefesh B'Nefesh: In the States, they are very efficient to help you prepare and make sure you get all the official paperwork upon arrival, but once in Israel, they are useless.

  27. Myriam Obadia says:

    But it isn't cheap. Nefesh B'Nefesh too tends to have that very same prejudice: not all the Jews in America are well off. Many live below poverty level, but aren't taken into account by the -usually- very charitable Jews, a) because they don't see them at the Synagogue (forgetting that, to be a member, you've got to pay dues), b) because, when they do contact Jewish charities, they're put on the donors list instead of the case list (I know. It happened to me for year, before I made Aliyah)

  28. Myriam Obadia says:

    It's part of the ulpan program, so it's not a public site (you have to be enrolled in the physical class to have access), but it helps, because my teacher only speaks Hebrew and Russian. Don't worry Karen, provided you make sure to Ask Nefesh B'Nefesh to put you in a larger town or a kibbutz with lots of English speakers, you'll get the classes geared to your needs.

  29. By the way, Tzvi, with your attitude toward Jewish and Philosemitic gentile Christians ("[Women a]re no worse than Jews-for-Jesus, Christians and heathens who get to pray at the Kotel with their symbols and icons on."), you won't encourage any Jews to make aliyah and undo any assimilation. Are we who believe in Yeshua (Jesus) and who are Pro Israel really that bad to you, and are women that bad in your sight? I speak as a bat-Anusim and Levit who finds your attitude part of why my dad and his family are affected not to do teshuvah for hiding their Jewishness and assimilating.

  30. David Blatt says:

    I don't think he said anything so offensive.

  31. He's saying that Jews for Jesus and Christians are in the same category as heathens or even worse.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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