I would not be surprised if this has changed but afaik, kids prepared for Bat or Bar Mitzvah by memorizing sounds without learning mean whatsoever -- I wasted years of afternoons reciting, an attempt to achieve "perfectly smooth reading" but if I remember correctly, I did not learn a single word of the language?

Could I be remembering rightly? If so, why was this done? And has it changed?

I feel like later experience in college and high school showed that I could learn languages pretty well, but key for me was understanding the meanings of words -- that's what language is for.

Is is a deliberate challenge? Because anyone, I feel, of normal intelligence who already does speak his or her own language, especially at 9 thru 13, can easily pick up a second language but no one learns language by preparing for a Bar Mitzvah the way I did.

One can learn the basic vocabulary of a language (800 words or so) with a few months, a year at the outside. Not 4 years of Tuesday afternoons when I had already had a day of normal school already.

My kids go to Chinese school which I allow and encourage so they can learn not just their mother's language but an important language, Mandarin. They complain about stroke order in writing but as they have gotten older the even appreciate calligraphy. And I think the really like speaking Mandarin -- but no way they would had they been taught like I had been in Hebrew school.

  • Hi, releseabe, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! Thanks for the interesting question. Of course it is ideal and proper for a Bar Mitzva student to understand the Hebrew, but, as a practical matter, it is necessary for the student to be able to correctly pronounce the words in order to lead the prayers or the Torah reading. Perhaps, given the time constraints often involved in the lessons, that is why teachers will often focus on pronunciation.
    – Fred
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 23:20
  • 2
    The assumption in religious communities is that a 13-year-old is already comfortable reading and understanding Hebrew. For someone who hasn't learned the fundamentals of Jewish study and practice, I would agree that learning how to pronounce your Torah portion is putting the cart before the horse, especially since the practice is only ceremonial in nature.
    – shmosel
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 23:24
  • chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4597543/jewish/…
    – shmosel
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 23:32
  • @shmosel: it was well know that in the reform temple in which I went to "sunday school" (which was the sort of cultural/historical part of Jewish education, quite interesting) the Hebrew language, ironically taught there as opposed to Hebrew school, was less than minimal -- no one thought we knew Hebrew already. Not remotely. It was just a torture, frankly to spend hours in the afternoons doing the Bar Mitzvah prep and my kids will not definitely learn Hebrew if I decide on them being Bar/Bat Mitzvahed.
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 0:14
  • 1
    There's nothing in Judaism that prescribes using a bad method of teaching. Not sure what else there is to say. If you went to a school that used this method, they must have thought it was the best they could do under the circumstances to achieve the goals they were being payed for.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 1:34


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