The aim of this activity is to examine the general importance of a common language, and assess the status of Hebrew as the language of the Jews today.

  • Split the students up into pairs. Tell them that they have sixty seconds for each student to communicate a piece of information to the other. At the end of the minute, gather the class together again and ask how many of the students used a Jewish language to pass over their information and how many used a non-Jewish language to do so. On the assumption that they all used a non-Jewish language, ask them why they did so? Ask them for how many years they think that two Jews from the same area of the world would have used a non-Jewish language to pass over information to each other?

    There is no correct answer to this question but it will give you an opportunity to explain the issue of Jewish language as expressed above. Explain that Jews have traditionally used one of three language forms to speak to each other - Hebrew, mixed languages and non-Jewish languages. Explain the modern division of Hebrew inside Israel and non-Jewish languages outside.

  • Ask the class whether they think there is any significance in the fact that Jews speak different languages to each other in different parts of the world. Would it make any difference if the different languages that they spoke were different Jewish languages? Talk about the general function of language. Is it merely a technical means of communication? If so, all languages must then be considered suitable for communication, and the important issue is the fact of communication between people, regardless of the language in which it takes place. Or does language have a cultural and ideological function in preserving the unity of a group of people? If so, the language of communication is important as well as the fact of communication.
  • Now give out the following midrash to the class in small groups. Each group must understand it and formulate a response to its second part, which deals with the question of language. Do they agree with the idea posited in this midrash? If so, how do they relate to the fact that it is communicated in a non-Jewish language? If they do not agree with its idea, they should present an argument as to why they think that it is wrong. All answers should relate, inter alia, to the relevance of the midrash to the contemporary world.

    Israel were redeemed from Egypt because they did not change their names. They went down there as Reuben and Shimon and came back as Reuben and Shimon. Reuben was not called Rufus, not Judah Julianus… Also because they did not change their language - they continued to speak in the holy tongue.
    Leviticus Raba 32:6

  • Share the different responses in the large group, and examine them.
  • At this point we suggest a formal debate in which the issue to be discussed is as follows:


    In the introduction to the debate, make the point that, in the contemporary world, the only candidate for a Jewish language is Hebrew. The debate concerns the importance of a Jewish language as a central medium of communication between Jews.

  • After the debate, each student should write an statement (i.e. a personal belief statement) regarding their position on this issue. At the end of this statement, they should write whether they think that they themselves need to be more committed to the Hebrew language than they are at the moment. If the answer is positive, they should list three practical steps that they could take to improve their knowledge of Hebrew. Next to each of these they should write whether they are prepared to carry out those steps in their own life.
  • Volunteers should then present their positions and their personal decisions - if any - to the entire group.

Additional Activity:

Building a Campaign.

  • After the debate and the ensuing discussion, we suggest the possibility of an extra activity whereby, divided into small groups, the class prepares a campaign for increase the learning of Hebrew within their own geographical community. This campaign should be multi-dimensional, attempting to influence as many Jews as possible. It should include marketing campaigns and advertising slogans; articles to the Jewish press; a ‘political’ campaign within the community and anything else that is relevant.




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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0