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 Read and Understand Hebrew

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Read and Understand Hebrew

Main target audience

Many of American Jews can read their Hebrew prayer; much less can understand what they read.

In this section of Virtual Ulpan we'll discuss the vocabulary and grammar of what we read in our weekly prayer, so we can not just read the Siddur, but also understand what it reads. We'll take a closer look on some techniques which will let us guess the meaning of words we do not exactly know.

Although I consider my main target audience being able to read Hebrew letters, I do keep in mind that many of my potential students cannot do that. That's why I include a "Latin" transcription of Hebrew words in all the lessons. Don't be afraid, start reading!

The ultimate goal is to show that studying Hebrew might be a joy, and it's not hard at all. :)

Another goal is, to show that Hebrew language is built in a very logical way: the structure of the word gives us a hint of its meaning.

And besides, there is a good reason why many vowels are written with those little marks, and not full-citizen letters. And the reason is, they are of much less importance indeed. Once you know the word, most probably you can read-and-understand it without the exact vocalization (which can vary even for the same word, for different reasons.)

Spot the Words: Verbs and Nouns

The most important step in moving toward fluent understanding of Hebrew text is recognition of verbs and nouns. A decent part of grammatic rules Semitic languages is built around verbs (if you want to learn Arabic or Aramaic, it's exactly the same.)

So, if you're not proficient with it yet, here are some tips:

  1. Hebrew verbs are present in 3 tenses: Past, Future, and Present (which is also a Particip, or might be treated similar to Gerund in English.)
  2. Verbs in Past Tense have some typical suffixes (see below), and thus can be easily recognized.
  3. Verbs in Future Tense have some typical preffixes (and sometimes suffixes too), and can be easily recognized either.
  4. Surprise:
    technically speaking, Present Tense verbs in Hebrew are build as nouns,
    and can be used as nouns. (They are somewhat reminding of the -ing form in English.)
  5. An "advanced" topic: in the ancient Hebrew, the language of Holy Scriptures (as opposite to the modern Israeli Hebrew) there is an "inversive Vav": it turns Past to Future, and  Future to Past: ויאמר means "and he said" rather than "and he will say".
  • Sounds weird, doesn't it???
  • The truth is, the above statement is a terrible simplification, just to teach you Hebrew in a quick-and-dirty way.
  • I'm about to write an article on this topic; but I wouldn't recommend it for total beginners. ;)

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