My Life with Hebrew

When people find out that I teach Hebrew literature, they invariably remark, “Oh, you must be fluent.” I’ve now been working hard at it for many decades, and I’m still not there.

A Hebrew teacher at the Jewish School in Whitechapel, London in 1952. John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Getty Images.

A Hebrew teacher at the Jewish School in Whitechapel, London in 1952. John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Getty Images.

Observation
April 13 2017
About the author

Alan Mintz is the Chana Kekst professor of Hebrew literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary. His Ancestral Tales: Reading the Buczacz Stories of S.Y. Agnon will be published by Stanford in June. The present essay, in somewhat different form, will appear in What We Talk About When We Talk About Hebrew, edited by Naomi B. Sokoloff and Nancy E. Berg (forthcoming from University of Washington Press).


In my third year as a graduate student in English at Columbia University, I came to a life-changing conclusion: as much as I enjoyed studying Victorian literature, I couldn’t see myself devoting my life to it. My real passion lay instead with the study of Jewish and Hebraic culture. After finishing my Columbia doctorate in the late 1970s and sampling different sub-specialties in Jewish studies—midrash, medieval Hebrew poetry, and others—I settled on modern Hebrew literature.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew, History & Ideas, Jewish language