The Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan offers a robust Hebrew language and literature program that allows students to concentrate on the study of Hebrew in its historical and cultural contexts. This unique program consists of up to four years of language study, according to students’ level of proficiency: from Hebrew 101, to 400-level, advanced Hebrew content courses. Students in our program learn to communicate in Hebrew on a basic, everyday level, but they also study Israeli literature, music, film, politics, and history, attaining an important cultural literacy in Hebrew. In the classroom, students forge a congenial community of Hebrew speakers, extending to other realms of their studies and life. Our program also offers courses in English, focusing on rabbinic and mystical Jewish writings, modern Hebrew literature, and Israeli culture and society.
The Hebrew language (Ivrit) has a fascinating ancient and modern history. This ancient Semitic language was used in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah prior to the destruction of the first Temple. It was the language of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and continued to be used in Jewish law, liturgy, and commentary throughout the ancient and medieval periods. As Jews dispersed across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and North Africa, Hebrew became an important diasporic language for both religious and secular culture. In the late nineteenth century, the ideology of Hebrew “revival” advocated the modernization of Hebrew and its use as a spoken idiom. “Israeli” Hebrew is the major official language of the State of Israel, and is spoken today by 9 million people worldwide. Modern Hebrew is a dynamic, constantly evolving language, shaped by the political, social, and cultural forces at play in twenty-first-century Israel.
A major or minor in Near Eastern Studies with a focus on Hebrew provides students with an advantageous skill set relevant for future graduate study, work in Israel, or professional careers in any number of international fields. Students attain both practical language skills and analytical tools for understanding the complexities of Israeli society and Jewish culture.