Saturday, November 25, 2023

Judaism from within - Simi Lerner Mitzvah #52

 Mitzvah #52 Abuse - The Physical, Intellectual & Emotional

Thursday Nov 09, 2023

Mitzvah #52 Abuse - The Physical, Intellectual & Emotional

Friday, November 24, 2023

Gertrude Hirschler

For 30 years I have been talking to the Creator of the universe via a translation of the Siddur and commentary on the Siddur by Rav Hirsch as translated to English by Gertrude Hirschler.

For 30 years I have been studying the Chumash largely through the translation and commentary of Rav Hirsch as translated to English by Gertrude Hirschler.

For 30 years I have absorbed the hashkafa of Rav Hirsch as expressed in his articles in the Collected Writings many of which were translated by Gertrude Hirschler. 

For many years, not quite 30, I have been studying Psalms via the commentary of Rav Hirsch via a translation by Gertrude Hirschler.

So that's a pretty important person in my life this Ms. Hirschler. And yet all these years I did not know what she looked like. Search her name on the web. You won't find a picture.

That is until now. For thanks a relative of hers I now have a photo of the incredible Gertrude Hirschler and will share it with you.

But first a few details on her life as collected from Gertrude Hirschler by Susan J. Lief Rotenberg, Jewish Women's Archive:

Gertrude Hirschler was born on August 11, 1929 in Vienna, Austria to Bernard Hirschler and Alice Dukes. She was the elder of daughters.

Her father was a successful businessman and the family lived comfortably until forced to flee the Nazis in 1939. They landed in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hirschler attended Baltimore Hebrew College, the Teachers Training School, and Johns Hopkins University night school from which she graduated with with a B.S. in 1952.

In addition to her translations of Hirsch, Hirschler translated numerous other works such as Rabbi Alexander Z. Friedman’s Wellsprings of Torah. She also penned numerous articles for encyclopedias and edited Ashkenaz: The German Jewish Heritage. 

Hirschler, who was Torah observant, passed away in 1994 and is buried in Baltimore.


Photo copyright 2017 Stengler

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

all human beings

 "The Mishnah says openly that all human beings have b'tzelm Elokim. The truth is if you take an Australian bushman, a wild fellow, Aborigine, and if you train him he can become a mentch. He can become a great man. He can become a big tzadick. As long as he's a human being, there's no limit to the greatness that he possesses within him. Hashem breathed into him a neshama and he's capable of becoming one of the greatest man who ever lived. Of course he doesn't know it and that's why he doesn't do it." 

Rabbi Avigdor Miller, #947, Skill of Silence.1:27:40

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

George Bernard Shaw

 George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright and a renowned satirist.

Here are some quotes from him

1.Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open."

2."You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"

3."A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."

4."There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."

6. "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. And socialism, it's the opposite."

7. "Marriage is an alliance between two people, one who never knows why, and the other who never knows how."

8. "Marriage is an institution that allows two people to endure together the troubles they wouldn't have had if they had remained single."

9. "Never trust a government that is afraid of its citizens."

10. "Common sense is the most widely shared thing in the world: everyone thinks they are well supplied with it."

11. "Capitalism has its drawbacks, but socialism has many more."

12. "Democracy is a system where the people are free to choose who will govern them as long as it's always the same ones."

13. "The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence."


Monday, November 20, 2023

How I spent my Sunday

I attended a funeral yesterday. The deceased was a 21-year-old soldier who was killed in Gaza. He lived 100 meters from the synagogue where I pray every morning. He prayed there sometimes. I didn’t know him well, but a friend of mine was at his bar mitzvah eight years ago. The family is from England. My friend noted how polite the boy was. “Very English,” he said.

A group of around 500 friends and neighbors gathered down the street from the family home to send them off. The mother approached on foot. She was so distraught she had to be held up by two escorts. The father was the same. They were shaking with grief.

We took 6 buses to the funeral at the military cemetery. Usually at cemeteries you see the graves of old people. 80 years old. 95 years old. Sometimes you see that of a young person. These graves had photos on the tombstones – all youth.

It gets to you. But when the pallbearers bring out the coffin, then it really gets to you. The photos of the soldiers that are getting killed every week and the photos of the victims of the Gaza pogrom as I call it and the photos of the Gazan children, it’s heartbreaking. But they are photos of the people when they were alive, usually smiling for the photographer. But when you see a coffin, you don’t picture a living person, you picture a motionless corpse inside the box. Then you start to understand what war really is. I have been running into bomb shelters for a month. My body has shaken from explosions overhead. One time I was outside with my son and we couldn’t get to a shelter so we leaned next to the wall of a health clinic. With us was a young couple with an infant child. The Iron dome projectile hit the terrorists’ missile right above our heads. It certainly felt that way. I know of numerous soldiers who are now in Gaza. I know of people who were killed in the pogrom. But this was my first glimpse of a coffin. This is for real.

The ceremony went on for two hours in the pouring freezing rain. Nobody moved. The feeling of camaraderie was extraordinary. I can’t say I ever felt anything like it before. I saw that in New York after 9/11. But this was on another level.

The speeches were heart wrenching. The father talked about what a fine boy he had – an idealistic boy who never asked for much, who was embarrassed by attention, who was helpful and funny. The mother spoke as did his younger siblings. One promised to teach her even younger siblings about their big brother. Rabbis spoke. At several points the rain came down in buckets. It may seem cliché to say, but it did feel as if heaven was crying.

The war isn’t over. There no doubt will be more like this. We are still learning more about the atrocities of October 7. And we have video. When you were a kid in school learning about Atilla the Hun you imagined things. Here, you can watch it. No imagination required. The arrogance and violence of the terrorists is something to behold. And there are 240 hostages being held by the fiends who would do such things. Among the hostages are infants and other children, several whose abduction we have on video, including that of a terrified little boy. The young man whose funeral I attended – he went into Gaza to try to rescue those people. 

Today I’ll do a shiva call to the family. I’ll appreciate that I am alive and try to figure out a few ways to be a better person. And I’ll try not to be bitter about the human race. All my friends from America that have called me over the month to express their support, and the feeling of unity around here, that surely has helped remind me that people aren’t all bad. The bad ones are bad. So I send my support back to the good ones. They need encouragement too. They need encouragement too.




Thursday, November 16, 2023

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on the parsha: Improper parenting ( e resnick

 How could Esav – a child of Yitzchak and a grandchild of Avraham – have turned out so badly?

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests (based on earlier sources) that the fault partially lies with Yitzchak and Rivkah in that they ignored “the great law of education chanoch la’naar al pi darko, ‘bring up each child in accordance with its own way’ – that each child must be treated differently with an eye to the slumbering tendencies of his nature.”

Rav Hirsch argues that Esav and Yaakov possessed very different natures and thus should have been raised differently. “To try to bring up a Yaakov and an Esav at the same school desk, make them have the same habits and hobbies, want to teach and educate them in the same way for some studious, sedate, meditative life is the surest way to court disaster,” he writes.

But isn’t there one Jewish archetype to which parents should raise their children? No, writes Rav Hirsch. “The great Jewish task in life is basically simple, one and the same for all, but in its realization is as complicated and varied as human natures and tendencies are varied.”

Rav Hirsch points out that on his deathbed, Yaakov, speaking to his 12 children, prophesied of a Jewish nation that included – yes – scholars but also merchants, farmers, and soldiers, “and he blessed all of them.”


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on the parsha: Improper parenting (

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Rav Avigdor Miller on High School English Principals


Why do they allow secular library books in the major frum yeshivas? I want to avoid loshon hara so I won’t mention the names of the yeshivas.


The trouble is that in the yeshivas, the principal of the high school should be the rosh yeshiva himself.  That’s how it should be.  The rosh yeshiva with the big white beard, he should be the principal of the high school because that’s where we need him most.  

In Frankfurt-am-Main, the frum German community had a gymnasium, a high school, and the teachers of the secular subjects were very frum Jews.

A man once told me this - many years ago he was brought up there and he said that the man who taught him algebra taught him mussar and yiras Shamayim in the algebra class.  He taught him algebra too.  

That’s how it used to be.  In Frankfurt-am-Main, together with the secular subject, they taught him Torah and mitzvos.  

You can do that.  You can show everything is connected with Torah.  It’s very important to utilize that.

But what do they do?  They take somebody who once went to the yeshiva who has a college degree.  He’s a frum Jew, but he’s shallow and he becomes a principal. He doesn’t really have the spirit of Torah in him.  And therefore, is it a surprise that sometimes he lets things get past him?  Not such good things pass his inspection.

That’s why I say that the rosh yeshiva should be in the high school office and should supervise everything. And then from the high school will go forth boys that are tzaddikim.  

You know many boys are failures in Gemara. They’re discouraged in the Gemara and therefore they turn away from the yeshivah. Even though they're in the yeshivah, they lose their idealism.  But in the secular department, you can win them back.  You can win them back in the secular department.  It’s easy because they're at home there.  And if the teachers had idealism, then they could talk yiras Shamayim always in the secular department.

TAPE # 724 (January 1989)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Lub. Rebbe on Security in Israel

  “I protested many years ago!  The government eats stinking fish, is lashed and now speaks of regret (when the mics are off and the media are out) for having signed these agreements.  Signing away valuable landholdings on the borders – cities standing guard there for a piece of paper?! Since G-d’s word is eternal, their signature means nothing!  Why absorb contempt and whippings just so that the Gentile world will smile at you?!  When in fact, their demands only grow?!” – The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 13 Tishrei 5741/1980. 

“They are grasping at floating straws! The surrender of even one inch of land (and security, Law and Order) involves danger to life and the prohibition of “not granting them favors”… Who knows how long the person upon whom peace depends will live?  This same mistake has been repeating itself since the Six Day War – and even before that in the Suez Canal.” – The Lubavitcher Rebbe , 18 Elul 5738/1978

“Indeed, I do admit that a large Arab population dwelling in the State can create a problem, but what is the better alternative? Is it better that an area be an independent Palestinian State or a Jordanian State in which there are one and a half million Arabs within firing distance, creating war against every Jewish town and village in the Land? Is it not preferable that those very same millions of Arabs be subject to the laws of the State of Israel, within her borders, even with all the problems to which this gives rise?” – The Lubavitcher Rebbe in an interview with Shmuel Katz, 1978

“If G-d Forbid, this does lead to war, we will be victorious because we are marching with the power of G-d. It is forbidden to relinquish any part of the Land of Israel; today, every city, town and village is likened to a border, safeguarding and protecting lives. When this (thinking) becomes accepted policy, ‘fear and trepidation’ will fall upon our enemies and war will not be necessary. There were times when Israel stood with all its power and took SWIFT action and war was actually prevented.  For when he sees that you rose at dawn with a show of force and are ready to strike first, he will give up – saving not only Jewish lives but even those of the enemy!” – The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Purim 1978

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Shouldn't force or push anyone into a marriage

“A union that entails the closest intimacy can thrive only if it emanates from complete free will.” ( Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch, Exodus 23:11)

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Language of the Torah and Torah Observance


The Language of the Torah and Torah Observance


By Israel Kashkin


Of all the religions, Torah observant Judaism is the most connected to a language. One doesn't need Latin to be Catholic nor Arabic to be Muslim anymore. While somewhere in those faiths there exist texts in those tongues, scholarship is not fundamental to the daily practice of the average person. The typical Christian may read the Bible, but rarely will he analyze it, parse it, or question it in any significant measure, certainly not for hours a day for years on end. It’s the same with Muslims and the Koran. Thus, translations will do just fine.

Not so Lashon HaKodesh, the holy language, and Judaism. Jewish law requires us to read the Torah parsha twice a week in Lashon HaKodesh (henceforth Hebrew) and once a week in an Aramaic translation or with the Hebrew commentary of Rashi. This can take hours for non-Hebrew speakers. The challenge is similar with the study of Gemara. This occurs in Aramaic and Hebrew. I have never seen a Daf Yomi class given with an English text.

So, too, it goes with tefillah, a Hebrew word we use even in casual conversation instead of the English word "prayer". While one can use an English or French siddur (again Hebrew), the minyan (again Hebrew) itself is conducted in Hebrew. There's no repetition of the Amidah in Russian or Spanish. Kaddish is in Aramaic, which is related to Hebrew. The tzibur sings in Hebrew. There are no hymns in English as you'll find in a church. Hallel is said aloud in Hebrew. Even the songs we sing on Simchas Torah are in Hebrew. The same goes for Shabbos z'miros. The readings of the Torah and Haftarah are in Hebrew. Megillas Esther is read twice on Purim in Hebrew, and we are instructed to listen to every word. I used thirteen Hebrew words in that paragraph which talked about everyday Jewish life.

Jewish men pray close to two hours every weekday, more on Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chanukah, and Rosh Chodesh. Good Christians go to church once a week, oftentimes for under an hour, praying in the local language. (A traditional Catholics service can take considerably more time and may contain some Latin.) Muslim men pray 5x a day, but they are quick prayers — about seven minutes each, nothing like Jewish prayer with its thick prayer book, much of which is said as a group in Hebrew.

And since half of the Jewish people and at least half of the religiously observant ones now live in the State of Israel, Hebrew has come to comprise what seems a majority of new books, articles, and parsha sheets, not to mention posters, tzedukah appeals, book approbations, and wedding and bar mitzvah invitations. Many if not most of the books are written not in the abbreviated rabbinic Hebrew of old but in flowing modern Hebrew prose.

Even classes in English are only partially given in English. I'm not even talking about the texts that most maggid shiurim (lecturers) race through — those nearly always are in Hebrew or Aramaic — but even the explanations in English are laced with Hebrew expressions. Attending a shiur in English today gives a person the chance to experience the creation of a new language, some call it Yeshivish. One gets a glimpse into history. How did Yiddish or Ladino develop? Seems to be that one started with the local tongue — German or Spanish — and added Hebrew words, Talmudic phrases, and Jewish sensibilities. New languages emerged, ones that universities teach as independent subjects. We have gotten to a point that a person needs a substantial Hebrew vocabulary to follow shiurim in English in most communities.

I'm not complaining about all the Hebrew. What I want to do is to ask emphatically why we don't teach Hebrew sufficiently in our schools?

When I refer to schools, I refer mostly to Anglo yeshivos and seminaries. I know America best. I can't speak for England even though it seems that the situation isn't any different in any Anglo country. In many Modern Orthodox schools, the teaching of Hebrew as a language is at least officially part of the curriculum. However, it is serious in only a few such as the Yeshiva of Flatbush where they engage in something called Ivrit b'Ivrit, which means teaching Torah subjects entirely in Hebrew. This is a good way to learn Hebrew, but it is not so commonly employed these days. In fact, it's rare. As Charedi schools generally spend more time on simple translation and most Modern Orthodox schools spend inadequate time on formal language study, the results are not stellar for either.

“They don't teach Hebrew,” you say? “What about those Chumash booklets with the translation?” That's called teitch, a Yiddish word for translate. It's a word for word or sentence to sentence translation. Here's a sample of that:


And these are


the descendants of


יצחק the son of אברהם

יצחק בן אברהם

אברהם gave birth to יצחק

אברהם הוליד את יצחק


This approach does not constitute rigorous language study as it relies mostly on memorization. How many words does a person have to memorize if he doesn't know basic grammar? The answer is all of them. This is particularly the case with Hebrew which attaches prepositions and definite articles to nouns as prefixes and possessive pronouns as suffixes.

Consider the following words: מגדל, במגדל, המגדל To an English-speaking child that looks like three words each beginning the different letters. If one were so daring as to look them up in a dictionary, he'd thumb through words beginning with three different letters – mem, beit, and hey. Only in the first case would he find anything. But those with some background in Hebrew grammar recognize a single noun – מגדל which means tower. It comes from a single root גדל which means grow. The three words are translated as tower, in a tower, and the tower. The middle word can also mean in the tower depending what vowel you stick under the beit. I won't go through all the rules here involving how to add definite articles and prepositions. Those who know them should understand what I'm getting at. As for those who don't, hopefully they get the point.

I could add more letters to the root גדל of these words. I can add letters to the end that indicate possession. מגדלו means his tower. I can also use the root in many forms of verbs. To grow up, to raise, and to enlarge are three different meanings of the verb depending on letter and vowel combinations. Those letter and vowel combinations can be applied to hundreds of other roots. The knowledgeable person does not have to memorize thousands of conjugated verbs. Rather, he learns a hundred or so roots, applies to them dozens of rules, and conjugates the verbs.  For example, the letters תי at the end of the root is first person past tense: I grew up or גדלתי. If I append those letters to the root כתב I get כתבתי or I wrote. This is obvious material to those who take it for granted. Those people might be shocked to learn just how many of their brethren are ignorant of these rules.

Reading Hebrew without knowledge of these rules is like doing math without multiplication. Let's say I work in a warehouse and receive 100 boxes that contain 50 books each. Using multiplication, I multiply 100 by 50 and get 5000. Without multiplication, I must open every box, pull out every book, and count until I get to 5000. Then I must replace the books and seal the boxes. How would you feel if your child went through school without learning multiplication? He would be unfit for working on a loading dock in a warehouse.

It's the same with trying to study Torah in Hebrew without knowledge of Hebrew grammar. How many yeshivos teach Hebrew grammar in a formalized manner? Not many. Some teach a bit along the way but not as a formal subject. They might tell you once or twice that a hey in front of a noun means "the". You might remember the rule. You might not. Mostly, they just translate as they go.

This continues through adulthood. I hesitate to tell you how many adults of my acquaintance cannot read Hebrew more than minimally. And when I say read, I don't mean sounding out letters. The Orthodox Jewish world is the only society I know of that defines reading as sounding letters without understanding. I remember the time I first took my child for an interview for kindergarten. I was asked, can he read? I was thinking, you think that a four-year-old can read? Then I found out that by read the principal meant sounding out letters. This is not reading. If I went to Poland and said that I can read Polish they'd assume I meant read and understand. Read. Like read a book.

I have a friend who ran an experiment. He went to the local mesivta with a simple text and asked the boys if they could translate it. All failed to translate more than fragments of it. These are frum-from-birth boys who had been in yeshivos since the age of four. A decade later they could not read (and understand).

One man reported to me that his chavrusos have been the same way. He was talking about chavrusos from the kollels that were assigned to study with him. He thought that with a kollel guy he could bring some of those more difficult Hebrew texts that he has been unable to read, and they can go through them together. The reality was disappointing. One after the next could not understand the words. They had to stick with what they learned in kollel that day.

How important is being able to translate a text? I give you the words of R’ Yaakov Weinberg (1923–1999), Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Neir Yisroel in Baltimore:


The most important thing that any school that hopes their children will go on to learn in a high school must give them — more important than Chumash, halachah, Gemara, and hashkafah — is to be able to read and translate. If they are able to read and translate they will have a future in which they can, for example, learn the Mesilas Yesharim quickly. You know that to learn Mesilas Yesharim properly you have to run through it a few times to know its totality before you can learn it slowly. But a bachur today cannot learn it that way because he is struggling with each sentence to figure out what the words mean. Therefore there is no such thing as learning through the Mesilas Yesharim or the Sha'arei Teshuvah. Baruch Hashem, today we have Artscroll and other translations. Now he can forget about reading the Sha'arei Teshuvah and learn the English, The Gates of Repentance. Beautiful! But would it not have been nice if he could learn it inside?

What will this bachur read? If he knows how to read Hebrew, there are midrashim, sefarim, and histories. If he cannot read Hebrew, he has to read English. So what is he going to read — a Western, a mystery? You are closing doors on him. The most important thing that any school can do for its children is to enable them to read lashon hakodesh. Then, when they are in the ninth grade, they will go through the Chumash and read Mishnah and be able to make a leining on Gemara, and their whole future and existence will be different.

So instead you are going to learn another parashah of Chumash and take away their whole future? Think — make a cheshbon. There is no more important thing that a school can give the children than the ability to read lashon hakodesh because it opens a whole world to him. But if he cannot read Hebrew, it is closed! Baruch Hashem, ArtScroll makes a lot more things accessible than they used to be, but, gevalt, is that the answer?[1]


He says it’s more important than Chumash, halachah, Gemara, and hashkafah. Baruch Hashem that R’ Weinberg was brave enough to say it, and yet we put so little organized effort into Hebrew. Our children must be not just familiar with our language but comfortable with it. Dare I say they must be at home with it.

Who else offers a similar message? R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888):


The indispensable basis of all is knowledge of the language, the mother tongue and the tongue of the Torah. From an early age every child in Israel should become familiar concurrently with the language of his country and with that of the writings which are to guide his life, — namely, Hebrew. In and from these writings he should derive his understanding of things and their relations, from them his ideas should be illustrated and clarified, from an early age his spiritual life should be developed by them. Anyone who realizes how a man's whole way of thinking takes its stamp and colouring from the language in which he speaks and thinks will agree with our Sages in regarding it as a matter of some consequence that the child should learn the holy language of the Scripture at an early age. With it you place in his hands the key to realizing that the Scriptures ought to be the basis and source of his life, and also to making them actually his constant companions in life. Begin, therefore, with the language, and let him first read the Torah more with a view to enriching his knowledge of the language.[2]


R' Hirsch who is the inspiration and whose students were the architects for the Bais Yaakov movement that saved Klal Yisroel tells us that our first study of Chumash should be more for the study of the language than for the content. This is the same message as that of R’ Weinberg.

The great German Jewish sage R’ Ezriel Hildesheimer (1820-1899) offers a similar message:


When it comes to religious education of girls, we must make the regular teaching of the Hebrew language, the main focus of our efforts. As soon as the child overcomes the difficulty of reading Hebrew, and even while she is overcoming it, she should be taught the basic rules of the Hebrew language, which can easily be achieved because girls mature early. Thereafter, simple and easily understandable grammar should prepare them for the translation of simple passages from the prayers and historical texts of the Holy Scriptures, followed by practice in translation and analysis. She should then proceed to active reading of selected biblical passages in the original language. The time now spent in school and at home in memorizing ’religion” and biblical history should be used for this purpose, and it is perfectly sufficient to learn religion and biblical history from the original source, from the Holy scriptures themselves. In this way, senior students are able to read the most magnificent passages from the Prophets, Psalms, proverbs, etc. but the children are spared the agony of memorization. This agony contributes not a little to the fact that in the eyes of children, religious school is considered either as unbearable, or just a necessary evil. There is no need to experiment on whether this can succeed; it has already been done with great success.  At the school of Rabbi Hirsch in Frankfurt am Main, girls are already competing with each other in reading the Holy Scriptures in the original language.[3]


R’ Hirsch in his educational program as outlined in his book Horeb lists Hebrew language instruction first among all topics:


We may therefore tabulate the general subjects of instruction for Jewish youth as follows:

(1) Hebrew language.

(2) Vernacular.

(3) Torah, Nevi'im and Kethuvim....[4]


Hebrew language is first, before Torah. And regarding Hebrew and the local tongue (items 1 and 2) he adds the following note, “Concurrently and as living languages at an early age along with general knowledge and development of the mind.” Living languages means speaking, conversation, and composition. Simple line by line translation of a text is not living a language.

R' Hirsch takes it even further. A living language is one in which you can think. Says R’ Hirsch in his book The 19 Letters:


The young saplings of our people must be reared as Jews, as sons and daughters of Judaism, which you have now recognized and understood, and have learned to respect and love as the essence of your life. They should master the language of the Tanach just as they do that of their country, and should be taught to think in both tongues.[5]


Translating from Hebrew to English certainly is not the same as being able to think in Hebrew and will not give you the same facility in Hebrew as you have in English. It's not even close.

While most people would agree on the importance of Hebrew, they deem the solution as using only Hebrew texts as if that alone will enable comfort with Hebrew. We blame Artscroll as if the existence of English translations is the source of the problem and the solution is to allow only Hebrew texts. “Break your teeth on it” is the brutish advice we give. Sometimes I think we glamorize pain as if every good thing in life comes not with pain but only because of pain. This is very primitive thinking.

The break-your-teeth-on-it method produces bored students. One little boy told me once how he dislikes davening since he understands very little of the Hebrew text. Somehow years of davening only in Hebrew didn't produce understanding. Why should it? Would sounding out letters in Russian teach you Russian? 100 years of that wouldn't teach you Russian.

Who else advocated the study of grammar? The Maharal (16th century). Biographer Yaacov Dovid Shulman explains:


One of the first things the Maharal did upon returning from Posen to Prague was to help Rabbi Yosef Heilperin of Posen publish Eim Hayeled, a Hebrew grammar for seven-year-old children. In his preface, Rabbi Heilperin wrote that the Maharal had urged him to produce this work, and the Maharal himself added a line that one is obligated to teach one's children the Holy Tongue in a clear manner, just as was done in previous generations. [6]


This is not grammar for scholars. It's not even for the average adult or yeshivah gadolah student. It's for seven-year-olds. Furthermore, it wasn't an invention by the Maharal. It is a continuation of what was done in previous generations.

Who else advocated the study of grammar? The Peri Megaden (18th century) said,The science of grammar is a cornerstone of Torah and when studying a lesson in Gemara, one should also have grammar books in front of him....”[7]

R' Chaim Fessel tells us of other authorities who advocated the study of grammar, for example the posek R' Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (1881–1973):


מִי שֶלֹא  לָמַד יְסוֹדֵי וְעִקְרֵי הַדִקְדּוּק הוּא מְשַבֵּש הַקְּרִיאָה אֲפִילוּ כְּשֶקוֹרֵא בְּסֵפֶר מְנוּקָד, וְכָל שֶכֵּן כְּשֶקוֹרֵא בְּלִי נִקּוּד וְגַם הוּא מְשַבֵּש בְּפֵירוּשּ הַמִלּוֹת וְהָעִנְיָן

One who has not studied the foundations and principles of Hebrew grammar errs in reading “even” when reading in a sefer that has נְקוּדוֹת . More so when one reads without נִקּוּד certainly errs in the translation of the words and its meaning.[8]


And then there's R' Yisroel Belsky (1938 -2016), Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah v'Daas on the importance of learning "שָרָשֵי לְשוֹן הַקֹדֶש לְשוֹן הַתּוֹרָה וְכִתְבֵי קֹדֶש":


It is our misfortune and grief that this wisdom has almost been forgotten from the curriculum of most yeshivos. They do not pay attention to the study of לְשוֹן הַקֹדֶש because of the difficulty in learning the רַשִ"י in hundreds of places that enlighten us in the interpretation of the words of the Torah.[9]


Taking this a step further, is the view that not only is grammar a cornerstone of Torah, but that it constitutes a mitzvah. According to R' Yitzchak Frank, author of Grammar for Gemara, such was the view of the Rambam (12th century) as shown in his commentary on Avos II:1. Says Rabbi Frank, “The Rambam considered the study of Hebrew a mitzvah in its own right."[10] The Mishnah:


רבי אומר איזוהי דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם כל שהיא תפארת לעושיה ותפארת לו מן האדם והוה זהיר במצווה קלה כבחמורה שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרן של מצוות והוה

 מחשב הפסד מצווה כנגד שכרה ושכר עבירה כנגד הפסדה הסתכל בשלושה דברים ואין אתה בא לידי עבירה דע מה למעלה ממך עין רואה ואוזן שומעת וכל מעשיך בספר נכתבין

The Rambam:


מבואר הוא שדרך הישרה היא הפעולות הטובות אשר בארנו בפ' הרביעי והם מהמעלות הממוצעות מפני שבהם יקנה האדם לנפשו תכונה חשובה ויהיה מנהגו טוב עם בני אדם והוא אמרו תפארת לעושה ותפארת לו מן האדם אח"כ אמר שצריך ליזהר במצוה שיחשב בה שהיא קלה כשמחת הרגל ולמידת לשון הקדש כמצוה שהתבאר לך חומרתה שהיא גדולה כמילה וציצית ושחיטת הפסח ושם סיבת זה שאין אתה יודע מתן שכרן של מצות

I purposely am leaving this untranslated to demonstrate the importance of our learning the Hebrew language.

20th century rabbinic leader R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986) also viewed the study of grammar as Limud Torah. In the words of his son R’ Nosson Kamenetsky:


With regard to grammar, I note that my revered father זצ'ל held that its study is included in the מצוה of תלמוד תורה because its knowledge is crucial for reaching correct Halakhic conclusions. He cited a grammatical error which led a well-intentioned author to propose building a מקוה in any Jewish home. Ignorance of the gender of the noun אצבע in רמב'ם הלכות ספר תורה פ'ה ה'ט had led that individual to advocate מקוואות in that were undersized and invalid; their use would have resulted in massive איסורי כרת . Knowledge of grammar is thus not  פרפראות לחכמה which the תוספות יו'ט defines as "studies undertaken to enhance knowledge" also not to be denigrated -- but גופי תורה , 'studies that affect Halakha.' [11]


In his book Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues, R' Yehuda Levi identifies numerous other authorities who agree that "grammar is basic to understanding the Torah..."  R' Avraham ibn Ezra (12th century) said, "It is beneficial for the intelligent person to acquire [knowledge] of this discipline, but not to spend all his time on it."[12] This view is echoed by the Chavos Yair zt'l.[13] Writes Levi:


  Shelah[14] considers it advisable to learn grammar while one is young, so that it will be remembered. R' Yaakov Emden[15] concurs, adding that the knowledge "is a great necessity, for even if one has learned the entire Torah [without grammar], he cannot guard against occasional misinterpretations, which can lead, God forbid, to sacrilege... . [Grammar] is a tool that serves the entire body of our holy Torah. Therefore its study takes priority in the order of learning. Nevertheless, it is beneficial only when limited in extent -- too much would waste time without corresponding benefit."[16]


Levi cites also the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) who cautioned his sons to become well-versed in the twenty-four books of scripture with their vocalization and cantillation along with the study of grammar.[17] And he cites as well the Levush (16th century),[18] the Maharal,[19] R' Pripot Duran (1350-1415),[20] and R' Menachem Mendel Kargau (1772–1842) who said, "It is unseemly for a person of stature to lack knowledge of any discipline, especially grammar, lest he speak faultily."[21] 16th century Polish scholar R' Shabthai Sofer concluded that everyone is obligated to study grammar and he brought proofs for this conclusion from Torah, Midrash, Mishnah, Targum, Sefer HaYetzriah, Zohar, and elsewhere.[22]

A biographer of the Vilna Gaon writes, “For all his vast knowledge of secular wisdom, the Gaon constantly emphasized to his students, that with the exception of Hebrew grammar, they should confine their studies to Torah.”[23]

Who else? R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993). In the 1948 meeting notes for the Maimonides school, we see the following:


Question was raised of teaching children Hebrew in Hebrew. Mrs. Soloveitchik pointed out that the Hebrew Dept. of the school stressed the religious content so that the Hebrew language had been neglected. However, for the past few years, the Rabbi [Soloveitchik] has asked the Hebrew teachers to use more Hebrew and great attention to the language and grammar is now being paid.[24]


Who else? The Lubavitcher Rebbe. R’ Nissan Mangel reports that “the Rebbe suggested that I learn Tanach, Shulchan Aruch, and also Hebrew grammar.” This was in addition to his Talmudic studies. (Dalfin, Conversations with the Rebbe, p. 121) And R’ Mangel was a natural with languages as he, although born in Czechoslovakia, translated the Chabad siddur into English. (The conversation with the Rebbe happened when R’ Mangel was a bachur, long before he engaged in professional translation.) One needs to be very good with languages to translate into a language other than his mother tongue. Nevertheless, the Rebbe advised him to study Hebrew grammar.

I'm not an expert on the worldwide Anglo yeshivah system but would say that few if any Anglo Charedi yeshivos offers ongoing, daily, substantive classes in Hebrew grammar or conversation — the kind of classes that are necessary to turn Hebrew into a living language. And as I mentioned earlier, I can name only a handful of Modern Orthodox schools that dedicate sufficient energies to language study and translation or teach Ivrit b'Ivrit.

How did we get here? One can theorize. Despite the historic teaching of grammar as noted by the Maharal, there was resistance to Hebrew classes and Torah instruction in Hebrew a few generations ago because it meant a switch from Yiddish to Hebrew and this tied into a resistance to secular Zionism.[25] Yiddish had been the language of European Jewry for more than half a millennium and switching from it was viewed most understandably as a risky proposition, particularly when Hebrew language instruction was dominated by secularists.

The use of Hebrew as a spoken language was an ideological battleground in the old Yishuv. The book Guardian of Jerusalem takes us through the history. R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld noted at the time "I write in Yiddish because one of the most destructive aspects of the secular schools is that they have made use of the Hebrew language into a cardinal principle of Judaism." As R' Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, author of the Guardian of Jerusalem explains:


  The secularists proceeded on the assumption that the Land of Israel and the Hebrew language in themselves guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people, even after all ties with the Torah and its precepts had been severed. It was in response to this contention that those adhering to the principal that G-d's holy Torah is absolute and immutable resisted the adoption of Hebrew as their daily language.[26]


Arguably, just as the early secular Zionist leaders had acquired an understanding of nation as being based on land, government, and military from the nationalist European nations in which nearly all of them were raised, they had acquired the European understanding of nation through common language as well. The study of Hebrew seems to have been a casualty in the resulting war against this secularism.

We have to be careful to withhold judgement on the battle strategy since we cannot stand in the shoes of the rabbanim of those times. Secular Zionism along with the hashkala with which it was partnered was tearing the masses of Jews from Torah observance. We live today in the aftermath where 90% of Jewry is non-practicing. Obviously, the first priority was to keep Jews in the fold and the challenge was immense. R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld reflected thoughtfully on the choice of strategy: "It was perhaps our mistake not to adopt Hebrew immediately upon our arrival in Eretz Yisrael. By doing so, we would have pre-empted the irreligious camp and robbed it of its most potent weapon ... We would then not have been forced into taking a negative stand against Hebrew being the official language, on the basis of its having been adopted and transformed it into a cardinal principle by the secularists."[27]

Notably, R' Sonnenfeld viewed the opposition to Hebrew as a temporary measure and as Guardian of Jerusalem explains he operated from the principle that "in circumstances where failure to introduce Hebrew would undermine Torah education, the Torah instruction of Jewish children certainly took precedence." The book describes several examples where old Yishuv leaders such as R' Yosef Chaim defended the use of Hebrew in certain circumstances. For example, he defended R' Moshe Porush's conducting of Torah classes in Hebrew in the farming community of Yavnael after the parents there demanded it. [28] 

R' Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish (1878-1953), also supported schools where instruction took place in Hebrew. As Guardian of Jerusalem describes it:


  Hebrew, the Chazon Ish explained, is no longer today's battlefield. Were opposition to Hebrew to be maintained, there would be a real danger that tens of thousands of pupils would leave the yeshivos and enter secular schools, where they would become completely alienated. It is literally a question of life and death and one must act in accordance with the demands of such extreme situations. The purpose of opposition to Hebrew was to strength Torah and Judaism, not weaken it.[29]


 The dangers are even greater today as our children no longer speak Yiddish, faith is not a given, the temptations from the outside world have reached ridiculous forms and proportions, and demands from schooling, including hours and years spent in yeshiva, are greater than ever. Today, we are not moving from Yiddish to Hebrew but from English to Hebrew and this can only be an improvement.

When I call for the study of grammar I'm not talking about esoteric grammar, the kind one might use to be an expert in Tanach or to determine the precise infections to apply with words that contain an ayin or aleph. I'm talking about basic grammar: how to conjugate a common verb, how to say "the", i.e., placing a definite article before a noun, how to indicate possession. Israelis may know all this naturally through natural language acquisition, but the typical Anglo, French, Russian, or Latin Jew is not going to get it unless he studies it. Of course, there will be brilliant people who can become adept at Torah and Tefillah without formal study of grammar, but they are a percentage point or two of the population. We cannot design an educational strategy for the masses based on their experience.

For baalei teshuvah and converts, the need to study Hebrew formally is particularly crucial for they may have not had any exposure to the language at all. Consider these passionate words from an interview with one such person:


...I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to learn Hebrew in a professional manner. The first time I picked up a siddur to daven, I understood what I was saying. I can pick up a Hebrew sefer, read it and understand it better than many students who have spent years learning full-time.

I think it’s absolutely crazy that baalei teshuvah should skip over acquiring this basic skill. I am convinced that by investing time in learning the language properly, the dividends will be well worth it, and everything else would become much easier.

Q: This obviously bothers you very much.

A: Yes, it bothers me a great deal. When I was living near Ohr Somayach, I spoke with many baalei teshuvah, and you have no idea of the feelings of inferiority and frustration engendered because of the deficiency in basic Hebrew reading skills. If a Jew can’t pick up a sefer and understand it, he will never feel truly at home in the Orthodox world.

I think that people tend to forget that most baalei teshuvah will not remain in yeshiva for years and years. If they are not given the basic tools – such as Hebrew and a solid foundation in Chumash – they will lack the skills necessary to become committed baalei batim later in life and will never reach their true potential. [30]


We ask ALL our children to make Torah study their lives. We push away the diversions of the world: sports, entertainment, technology, travelling, even careers, and tell our children to do Torah and Torah only. And yet we don't teach them the language that Torah is written in. Is this an act of insanity? In the words of Professor Adam Ferziger:


In Israel, the language of the Siddur, the language of the Chumash, the language of the Tanach is the lingua franca and the most secular Israeli can read Chumash with a little bit of work better than a kid who has gone to day school here [in Canada] for whatever years. A little bit of work just to get the syntax, etc. But Hebrew is — I believe this strongly — Hebrew is the key to almost everything in Judaism from a skill set perspective. If you have Hebrew — many of us grew up in an Ivrit b'Ivrit generation and that is not the case now, there's a sense of oh if I teach in Hebrew I won't be able to teach as much Gemara, I won't be able to teach the Ramban and the Rashi the same way. To me it seems like once a person has the real skills in Hebrew they'll get the other thing. It was a wrong educational turn [moving away from instruction in Hebrew], but there are reasons for that.[31]


At present, one must sit in a mixed gender class to learn Hebrew language as a serious subject. For people who are religiously opposed to mixed gender classes we have quite a predicament. And for those who don't mind it they still must find a school that teaches the subject energetically. However, these are predicaments with an easy solution and that is classes in Hebrew grammar, conversation, and composition as a staple in Jewish education in all Jewish schools. Let us follow the counsel of Ibn Ezra, Rambam, Maharal, Levush, R' Shabthai Sofer, Peri Megaden, Vilna Gaon, R' Yaakov Emden, R' Menachem Mendel Kargau, R' Samson R. Hirsch, R’ Ezriel Hildesheimer, R' Pripot Duran, R' Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, R' Yaakov Kamenetsky, R’ Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and R' Chaim Yisroel Belsky and get reacquainted with Hebrew grammar. Let us follow R' Samson Raphael Hirsch's educational prescription that Hebrew be a living language. Let us heed R' Yaakov Weinberg's exhortation that being able to translate Hebrew must precede all other study. Let us give our children the tools for success.

[1]Rabbi Doniel Frank (editor), Rav Weinberg talks about chinuch (Southfield, MI: Targum Press, 2006) 36a. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg (1923-1999).

[2] R' Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), Horeb (New York:  Soncino Press, 1994) 551.

[3] Marc Shapiro, “R. Esriel Hildesheimer on Torah Study for Women,” Tradition, Summer 2022 Issue 54.3, p. 142.

[4] R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 552.

[5] R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, "The Nineteen Letters," Letter Eighteen as cited in The Hirsch Anthology (Nanuet, NY: Feldheim, 2017) p. 127.

[6] Yaacov Dovid Shulman, The Maharal of Prague (New York: CIS Publishers, 1992) p. 211. R' Judah Loew ben Bezalel (d. 1609).

[7] R' Joseph ben Meir Teomim (1727–1792), Peri Megaden, Introduction, paragraph 16, cited in Yitzchak Frank, Grammar for Gemara Preface to 1st Edition (Jerusalem: Ariel Institute, 2003); Peri Megaden, Introduction to the ט"ז, Orach Chaim, Letter 1 as cited in Kol Hamikra, "Additional מאמרי חז'ל" <>).

[8] R' Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (1881-1973), "עֵדוּת לְיִשרָאֵל" page 156, [אות נ"ט] cited in R' Chaim Fessel, Kol Hamikra "Sources and Citations"  <>.

[9] R' Chaim Fessel, Kol Hamikra, "Sources and Citations">.

[10] Yitzchak Frank, Grammar for Gemara, Preface to 1st Edition. See also Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:3 and Tosfos Yom Tov on Avos 3:8, d'h: takufos.

[11] R' Nathan Kamenetsky, Approbation for Grammar for Gemara, Yitzchak Frank. R' Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986).

[12] Ibn Ezra (1092-1167), Yesod Mora, part 1, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) pp. 204-5.

[13] R' Yair Bacharach (1639-1702), Chavos Yair 124 cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) pp. 204-5.

[14] R' Isaiah ben Abraham Horowitz (1555-1630), Shelah, Shavu'oth, beginning, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[15] R' Yaakov Emden (1697-1776), Migdal 'Oz, fol. 16d, 17a, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[16] Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) pp. 204-5.

[17] R' Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797), Vilna Gaon, Introduction to commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 205.

[18] R' Mordecai ben Avraham Yoffe (1530-1612), Levush, approbation to Eim HaYeled, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[19] R' Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1512-1609), Maharal, approbation to Eim HaYeled, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[20] R' Pripot Duran, Ma'aseh Ephod, introduction, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[21] R' Menachem Mendel Kargau (1772–1842, Germany), Responsa Giduley Taharah 7, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 205. Levi notes that Kargau might have been referring to the local language.

[22] R' Shabthai Sofer (16th century, Poland), Teshuvoth HaGeonim, Amsterdam edition, 5467, cited in Yehuda Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues (New York: Feldheim, 2002) p. 204.

[23] Betzalel Landau, The Vilna Gaon, Brooklyn, NY: Artscroll, 1995, pp. 156-7.

[24] Minutes book of the Maimonides School, May 29, 1948, p. 16 in Farber, An American Orthodox Dreamer, p. 116.

[25] See Reuven Klein, Lashon Kodesh (Mosaica Press: 2014) pp. 140-1.

[26] R' Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, Guardian of Jerusalem (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002) p. 323. R' Yosef Chaim Sonnefeld (1848-1932)

[27] R' Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, Guardian of Jerusalem, p. 322.

[28] R' Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, Guardian of Jerusalem, pp. 324-5

[29] R' Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, Guardian of Jerusalem, p. 326. R' Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (1878-1953)

[30] Ben Ami as interviewed by Sara Soester. A Jew Returns Home, pp. 75-6.

[31] Professor Adam Ferziger, “Between East and West Israeli Religious Zionism and American Modern Orthodoxy,” 9:06, Audio lecture at Torah In Motion, <>.