Languages

Jews have spoken and produced literature in many languages. Because of the diversity of the historical Jewish experience, many languages can be considered Jewish languages—even English. Additionally, Jewish culture has almost always been multi-lingual and command of multiple languages has been one of the hallmarks of Jewish diasporic identity.

Even though there are many Jewish languages, Hebrew deserves pride of place for being the most enduring, continuous and shared language in Jewish history. Literarily significant as the language of the Hebrew Bible and parts of rabbinic literature, Hebrew has been a literary and a sacred language of Jews worldwide down to the present. Hebrew is also the only example of a resurrected dead language. Modern Hebrew has been the language of speech and writing in Israel since before the founding of the modern state in 1948.

Northwestern is proud to have offered Modern Hebrew as an instructional language for over thirty-five years. Students can achieve fluency in the language and take courses that employ that fluency in the reading of Hebrew texts. Our curriculum strives to provide students with a solid foundation in grammar and vocabulary that allows both conversational fluency on the Israeli street and the linguistic command necessary to read Hebrew newspapers and works of literature.

Among Jewish languages, Yiddish deserves special attention because it has been an almost exclusively Jewish language and because it is associated with an Eastern European Jewish community that represented the majority of the world’s Jews for several centuries leading up to the twentieth century. Northwestern has offered Yiddish as part of its curriculum in the past and would like to cultivate student interest in order to offer it as part of the regular curriculum again in the near future. For now, students who are interested in studying Yiddish should contact the Director of Jewish Studies to learn about other resources for acquiring this language.