I'm curious to hear from those who grew up in a community where Hebrew literacy was valued what progression of study enabled you to read Torah in Hebrew (with understanding)? I have found through my own experiences and talking with others that even after studying grammar for some time and gaining a basic vocabulary reading is a very laborious task, which regardless is to be expected. Are there any methodologies out there that help to apply that effort efficiently for the purposes of learning necessary vocabulary and gaining skill at quickly parsing grammatical forms? Perhaps it is simply of issue of time applied but I'd like to hear if anyone has advice on this topic.

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    "reading is a very laborious task" - It most certainly is! That explains why thousands of people of all ages spend 18 hours (or more!) EVERY day in study halls, doesn't it? – DanF Nov 2 '16 at 16:08
  • This question seems mostly off topic here, and much better suited to languagelearning.stackexchange.com. – mevaqesh Nov 2 '16 at 18:55
  • Biblical Hebrew??? Not your standard language. – Hashamyim Nov 2 '16 at 19:05
  • @Hashamyim Is that site limited to standard languages? I didn't know that. – Double AA Nov 3 '16 at 20:32
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    Whether a question could on-topic elsewhere or not is irrelevant to whether it's on-topic here. Torah study and the methodologies used therein are on-topic here. – Isaac Moses Nov 4 '16 at 15:37

I have no "magic" solution, and I don't think you will find a quick one, yourself.

I learned in a yeshiva elementary school decades ago. Hebrew was taught for about 4 hours 5 days / week. We had to speak Hebrew to our classmates and the teacher for about 4 hours. I started with reading and writing the letters, words, sentences, etc. - much in the same way that anyone would learn any new language. But, one huge advantage was that when we learned Torah, the Biblical Hebrew was translated into "simpler" Hebrew. We red the commentary (mainly Rash"i) in Hebrew. There was no Art Scroll around at that time. There were English translated linear Bibles, and I used these occasionally at home when I had trouble. But, they were forbidden in the classroom, because it was important to keep a Hebrew only (mostly) environment.

This method, sadly, is not being followed as much these days. I also must admit, that young kids learn things much more quickly than adults do. That's not bias, it is a scientific fact. So, I'm sorry that age may be going against a lot of the "magic" you may be seeking.

The point is, that becoming fluent and an expert requires serious diligence. Biblical Hebrew is much different from modern Hebrew, but I don't think it takes much to master it once you have a decent command of the Hebrew language. While I can't think of any offhand, I'm sure that are books and various online resources that can explain the mechanics of Biblical grammar. There aren't that many rules.

Having said this, what you will get is a literal translation. If you want to understand the Torah, you will need to view some commentaries. For example, when you read "An eye for an eye", you would probably think that if someone knocks out your eye, you should knock out that person's eye. That's not what it means. You wouldn't know that unless you read a commentary that explains that this means you pay monetary compensation. Again, if you have a somewhat decent command of Hebrew, you can understand most of Rash"i and other commentators. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using an English translation for any of these - I do this, myself when I need to, and my Hebrew is quite good!

Talmud is a whole other story. Most of it is written in Aramaic. There are vocabulary books , sheets and online resources that explain some of the most frequent terms used in the Talmud. That can help, on some level. But, I would recommend a basic book such as Steinzalt's introduction to the Talmud, or something similar. Technically, you can delve into a Talmudic page and go through the "mechanics" of understanding the Aramaic. But, I feel that as a beginner, you would greatly appreciate the Talmud if you have a foundation of understanding how the Talmud, overall, operates. There is a methodology to it.

Of particular importance is to understand the purpose of a Talmud tractate. When you open the first page of any tractate, there is an assumption that you understand what the topic is about and why such a tractate exists. For example, the first page of tractate Brachot asks when is the time to recite the nighttime "Shema"? Very nice! What if you never heard of the term "Shema"? WHat if you have no idea that there is any requirement for Jews to say this thing called "Shema"? I think you'd be immediately lost, bored, or confused. It would be a lot better if you had a general idea of what is discussed in this tractate, and review the Torah areas that comprise the key discussions in the tractate before delving into it.

Those are a few ideas. In short, it will require much patience and diligence. No magic short cuts. If you're willing to put in the effort, you will receive many rewards.

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  • The classes I've been through make it challenging to get into the text of the Torah. Parsing grammatical forms isn't the most difficult thing, I think vocabulary is. In my experience, as I start working my way through a block of pasukim I'm having to frequently stop and look up a word. Do you remember any approach your teachers took to cover the vocabulary necessary more efficiently? – Hashamyim Nov 2 '16 at 16:07
  • Also I hope that my comment of magic sauce doesn't come across as belittling of the effort required and necessary that many have invested. I'm speaking more to the methodology used to bring a student to greater levels of fluency with the most efficiency. Perhaps efficiency isn't the primary issue vs simply applying the necessary time. – Hashamyim Nov 2 '16 at 16:12
  • In elementary school, I got mimeographed vocabulary sheets each week. (Sorry if I am dating myself by mentioning "mimeographs". If you don't know what these are ... afraid I can't help you :-) Some had a list of the most common words. Others were focused on words from the weekly Torah portion. We had to memorize them and we had quizzes and tests. I disliked these as a child, but, obviously, it was a good if not sometimes rigid system. Stopping to look up a word is fine. I recommend, perhaps, that when you do, compile your own list and review these words. Then, you will build a good vocab. – DanF Nov 2 '16 at 16:14
  • The "magic sauce" is a bit belittling, but I get the reasoning, so I'm not offended, personally. Your last sentence is your own answer. You do have to devote the necessary time. But, you do need to be efficient, as well. "Efficiency" means using the time to produce the CORRECT results. Otherwise, you're wasting your time, right? I've offered some ideas and just a few methods. Hopefully, others will respond, here. – DanF Nov 2 '16 at 16:18

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