Forward Thinking

Greek and Latin, Yes. Hebrew, No.

By Liam Hoare

  • Print
  • Share Share

Ancient Greek and Latin, yes. Hebrew, no.

That’s the headline from a new British government proposal that excludes Hebrew from plans to encourage primary school children to learn a second language. The plan, which remains under discussion and would come into effect in September 2014 if implemented, would mandate that pupils aged 7 to 11 learn one of either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Latin or ancient Greek, as to “make foreign languages a key part of every child’s education, and to stop the slide in standards and take-up.”

In response to further enquires, a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) told the Forward: “We want to give young people the skills they need to compete in a global jobs market. This is why we introduced the Foreign Languages Plan, which will ensure that every primary school child has a good grasp of a language by age 11.

“Whilst French, German and Spanish were the modern languages identified by respondents to the consultation as the most popular choices, we have been clear that primary schools will be free to teach any other language.”

The DfE’s consultation document indicates the government hopes the latter is not the case and aims to prevent “any potential proliferation of very low take-up languages, and would focus schools’ attention on a sample of important languages.”

The seven languages the DfE identified reflects this: France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are close neighbours, large trading partners, and members of the European Union; China is projected to become the world’s largest economy before too long; while Latin and ancient Greek are the genesis tongues upon which modern English is constructed, along with French and German.

It is not unreasonable for the government to think about the broader economic picture, particularly at a time when cutbacks are hitting all departments hard including Education. But their consultation reveals a rather pinched and crabbed interpretation of the usefulness of other languages, for surely Hebrew is as critical as ancient Greek in terms of its historic contribution to English and indeed British national culture, in particular in the realms of faith and literature.

Matthew Schmitz highlighted this morning in First Things that John Milton utilised rabbinical texts in writing “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”, for example. Moreover, the King James Bible, arguably the national book of England, gave multitudinous phrases to modern English, all of which were translated by committee from the original Hebrew.

In addition, such narrow-mindedness would undercut cultural diversity, and potentially further undermine Jewish education in the U.K. Just as the teaching of Jewish studies in primary schools is currently compromised by a necessary adherence to the national curriculum which directs hours devoted to literary, numeracy, and science, so too would the study of Hebrew — both classical and modern — by squeezed out by a need to learn French, Mandarin, or ancient Greek.

To place curbs the hours devoted to Hebrew in Jewish primary schools would weaken community ties to the canonical texts that bind Jews through the generations, but a failure to grasp the modern tongue would loosen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jews in London, Manchester, and throughout the country.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: language, jewish, hebrew, britain

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.