By: Rivka Bennun  | 

Everything You Need to Know About the New Hebrew Department

What is the future of the Hebrew department at YU? 

Students have been asking this question for weeks, if not months. A few articles last year broke the news that the Hebrew department plans to move some classes to asynchronous learning, but details of the new program were unknown. More recently, students on both campuses received emails describing the new Hebrew program and how it will look for students with different levels of Hebrew background. 

The Commentator sat down with Dr. Zafrira Lidovsky-Cohen, Hebrew department chair and director of Hebrew language and literature at Stern College for Women (SCW), as well as with Dr. Aaron Koller, professor of Near Eastern studies at Yeshiva College (YC) to discuss plans for the new Hebrew program. Together, Cohen and Koller were tasked with designing a new program for the Hebrew department. 

As students were previously notified, the Hebrew department is moving to an asynchronous model as of the upcoming Fall semester. Students will learn from pre-recorded classes, as opposed to sitting in a live class. “Classes are fully narrated, fully explained,” Cohen said. “Every step, every assignment — everything that’s happening in the class is happening online.” While there is no built-in class time, there will still be deadlines, “just like in any other course.”

The courses will be divided into six units throughout the semester. Each unit will contain four modules, which students may complete on their own time. However, each module will still have a deadline for completion. “Students are working on their own and independently but on a schedule where they have to make time for Hebrew,” Cohen shared. 

While students are responsible for completing the course individually, they will not be left completely alone to learn the material by themselves. “In a synchronous class, the teacher is driving the class from the front; in an asynchronous class, the teacher is driving the class from the back,” Cohen said. Thus, each class will have an assigned teacher who will oversee students’ advancement, and there will be a maximum of twenty students per class. Cohen remarked that there will be “very personalized attention to every student as needed,” but students must initiate the contact. Additionally, teachers will have virtual office hours twice a week, ensuring that “there will be human support all the time,” according to Cohen. “They’re not learning in isolation.”

The department is set to offer five different levels of Hebrew courses, as Cohen explained that “The students that are coming to Yeshiva University are coming with different levels of abilities.” Amongst the five levels of Hebrew that will be offered, the lower three will be asynchronous, and the upper two will be in-person. The first three levels are focused on building and enhancing Hebrew skills, whereas the two upper levels are more advanced. 

Cohen explained that there is a “distinction between developing one’s skills and using them.” As such, the upper levels will focus more on immersion in Hebrew language, and “using it to enrich your cultural abilities in literature or in Bible.” On Beren Campus an Advanced Bible course taught in Hebrew by Prof. Smadar Rosensweig will help fulfill the Hebrew requirement. 

The upper courses focus more on cultural enrichment and immersion, with course options such as Hebrew literature and biblical Hebrew. However, Koller noted that students will also continue developing their skills. “Studying Tanach in Hebrew — you’re both studying Tanach and improving your Hebrew,” he commented. This allows for students in the advanced courses to continue developing their skills, but that is not the primary focus. By contrast, the lower levels are “designed to get a pretty basic level of competence, so everything is in the service of competence,” Koller added. “Once you’re functional in Hebrew, we can do more interesting things.” 

The curriculum for the first three levels will be exactly the same across both campuses. “Prof. Cohen has been working incredibly hard to develop the materials for those three levels,” Koller stated. Since Cohen developed the curriculum for these levels — Hebrews 1010, 1020 and 1030 — there is “no concern that this teacher is easier, this teacher is more demanding,” he explained. “It’s all exactly the same curriculum, the same assessment materials, the same exams.” The upper courses will be slightly different across Beren and Wilf campuses, due to “slightly different administration of the advanced courses.” 

There will be some current faculty guiding the courses, with some new faculty joining. “Prof. Cohen interviewed many potential instructors and we have some really fantastic instructors coming on,” Koller shared. The entire program will be supervised by Cohen, while each level will additionally be supervised by experienced faculty members.


Photo Caption: The Hebrew department is set to change as of this Fall semester.

Photo Credit: The Commentator