Samain Joe and SeoAh Moon
I’m taking Hebrew. It’s hard. For me. Even after several years of studying Latin I only achieved a modest level of proficiency. Can I learn a language? Yes, I proved that to myself with Latin study with Greg Membrez. Is it really %$!&ing hard? Oh, yeah. So, is it worth it? Again. Oh, yeah.
Why? Well, in the instance of Latin it allowed me to peek behind the curtain of translation, see the alchemy that has to occur when converting something written in one language into another. It also allowed me, and this was my primary goal, to embed the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses deeply into my psyche. As I grappled with Latin and translated the stories of Medea, Lycaon, Baucus and Philemon, Diana and Actaeon, I learned Ovid’s version of these myths word by word, conjugation by conjugation.
Studying Hebrew is different in purpose for me, but one thing remains constant. I want to challenge my capacity to learn, to move outside my comfort zone. And, I’m well outside my comfort zone here. So what’s the point? Well, as I continue to immerse myself in mussar, a Jewish system of thought for character development and kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and attend shabbat services and holiday services, I encounter lots and lots of Hebrew.
Studying the language and, right now, its alphabet, will allow me to recognize Hebrew words, not having them blur together as odd squiggles and shapes. This is the level at which I’m learning right now. I already recognize many Hebrew words in transliteration: chesed=loving kindness, ohr=light, hochmah=understanding, keter=crown and many others, but I would not recognize these words when written using the Hebrew alphabet. That’s a first step.
A second step will be to peek past the curtain of translation, though in admittedly modest ways. Because much of the focus of adult Hebrew instruction is for reading the prayer book and from the Torah scrolls, the first emphasis is on pronunciation, but even in those instances there will be a certain amount of learning about how translators of Hebrew into English tend to think. This loops especially back to the kabbalists who, it turns out, were very influential in shaping the Jewish ritual tradition.