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!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • 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.