By: Sruli Fruchter  | 

Redesigned Hebrew Program for Wilf Students Beginning in Fall 2020

Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus Hebrew Department will be rolling out a new Hebrew program for students in Yeshiva College (YC) and Sy Syms School of Business (SSSB). These changes were announced to Wilf students via email on April 6 and are set to go into effect for the fall semester of 2020. 

In the current program, depending on Hebrew placement test scores given before the semester, all first-year students are placed into one of four Hebrew tracks: 1004, 1104, 1205 or 1306; the first two are three semesters, the third is two semesters and the last is only one semester. Courses in the 1004 track uniquely focus on Biblical Hebrew while the remaining three are based on modern Hebrew. The new program will replace that model with a new, three-course sequence of HEB 1010, 1020 and 1030. Students placed into either 1010, 1020 or 1030 will begin three, two or one semester(s) of Hebrew, respectively.

“Yeshiva College has had a Hebrew requirement forever. This is for good reason. Hebrew has long been the lifeblood of Jewish peoplehood, the language and symbol that bound Jews from around the world to each other and to the foundational texts of Judaism itself,” shared Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Chair of Jewish Studies Dr. Aaron Koller. “It is inconceivable that a graduate of Yeshiva University would not be competent in Hebrew.”

The new program will use the Brandeis Hebrew Series textbooks to create an organized and measurable “competence level” that students will reach upon completing HEB 1030. If a student “places out” of HEB 1030, he will be required to take one semester of advanced Hebrew, selecting one of many newly-made courses, including Hebrew literature, biblical Hebrew and Hebrew for specific professions. All students who complete HEB 1030 are eligible to enroll in an advanced Hebrew course.

These changes were developed throughout numerous conversations with SSSB Dean Noam Wasserman and Assistant Administrative Dean Debra Pine of Syms, along with Dean Karen Bacon and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Shalom Holtz of Yeshiva College, Koller told The Commentator. 

“This [new] curriculum is a near-perfect fit for our student population,” commented Holtz. “Apart from improving what will be taught, the program will be simpler to navigate, with only three sequential required courses, at most, all in a single stream. Students will be able to enter the sequence at the appropriate course, and complete the sequence from there.”

Additionally, the new program aims to fix the current program’s long-standing problem of creating scheduling conflicts for students because of the Hebrew courses’ limited time slots.

“...we were running four different programs, at five different times of the week, to accommodate all the students,” explained Koller about the current program. “Some students had to take Hebrew during lunch, others had to run from shiur to Hebrew without a moment to pause, and overall it was very taxing.” To remedy this problem, the new program will limit class sizes to 15-18 students and each course level will be offered at least four different times during the week, allowing students flexibility so they will not need to take their courses during lunchtime.

In the past, some students have tried to maneuver the placement test to place into a Hebrew level that was easier for them, rather than the Hebrew level appropriate for them. Koller explained that because of its streamlined system, the new program disincentivizes that decision and makes appropriate placement more appealing. 

According to the original email, the new placement test will first be administered online later this spring, but Hebrew Prof. Aliza Schachter began the first HEB 1030 course for Post Pesach students on Monday, April 20.

“My gut reaction is that the new system is positive and beneficial all around,” shared Yoni Mayer (SSSB ‘23), who will begin YU in the fall. “To be able to take Hebrew through a lens that you want with the many options [available] is great.”

Students in the current program who have completed 1205 or 1305 are, by the end of the semester, considered to have completed their Hebrew requirements. Those currently taking 1005 or 1105 will be able to take 1006 or 1106 in the fall. Additionally, going forward, the option of fulfilling one’s Hebrew requirement through the Rosen School/Hebrew University Hebrew online course will only be accepted if taken for full academic credit and given prior approval.

Koller added, “I hope, therefore, that these changes will not only make the required Hebrew program itself more efficient, user-friendly, and educationally effective, but will also provide a spark to breathe some life into the study of Hebrew on campus more broadly as well. And this will hopefully produce YU graduates who are not just well versed in Hebrew, but passionate about Hebrew, and can use those skills and that devotion to build a vibrant Jewish present and future.”

Photo Caption: The new Hebrew program is set to go into effect for the Fall of 2020.
Photo Credit: The Commentator