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The First Hebrew Primer

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The First Hebrew Primer

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The First Hebrew Primer
Third Edition, Revised with New Explanatory Notes
The Adult Beginner's Path to Biblical Hebrew
By Ethelyn Simon, Irene Resnikoff, and Linda Motzkin
EKS Publishing Co., 2010
ISBN: 978-0-939144-15-0

OR, Order directly from: EKS Publishing Company

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - December 2, 2011

Wow! Every once in a while you come across a textbook that simply blows you away due to its ability to make a complex subject easy to understand and enjoyable to study. The First Hebrew Primer by Ethelyn Simon, Irene Resnikoff, and Linda Motzkin is one such textbook. This grammar-based textbook assumes no prior knowledge of Hebrew, yet within the span of thirty lessons, it will not only teach you how to read Biblical Hebrew, but will also have you translating passages with relative ease, although you may need to use a dictionary on occasion.

Designed for use by adult learners, this book is suited for use in both college, synagogue, and seminary classes, as well as by independent learners. Motivated high school students will also find this text accessible and exciting. The lessons stress basic Hebrew grammar, building a solid foundation for both the study of Biblical and Prayerbook Hebrew, as well as Modern Hebrew. (Sephardic pronunciation is used throughout - which is the form of Hebrew used in Israel.) The lessons guide you step-by-step through the fascinating world of Biblical Hebrew, and the vocabulary used in the textbook concentrates on the most commonly found words in the Bible - most of which occur at least two-hundred times or more.

The lessons begin with the very basics - how Hebrew is written, what the letters of the alphabet look like, and how they sound. In the first three lessons of this book, you'll learn to pronounce and visually recognize all the Hebrew letters and vowels, and then you move right on to learning basic noun and verb forms such as masculine, feminine, and plural forms. You also learn to read and construct basic Hebrew sentences and you begin to 'grow' your Hebrew vocabulary. Other topics that you'll learn in this book include using the direct object, the perfect and imperfect tenses, sentences without verbs, adjectives, possessive endings, prepositions, participles, commands, numbers, infinitives, basic verb patterns, how to use a dictionary, and much more.

Throughout the grammatical lessons are presented using easy to understand terms, with plenty of examples, making the lessons both encouraging and accessible to those who do not have a solid grasp of English grammar. In addition ample reading exercises, oral reviews, and written exercises are provided. Be sure to do all the exercises in each chapter. The key to learning any language is repetition rather than rote memorization, and this is the tack taken in The First Hebrew Primer. As you work through the exercises, the information imparted in each lesson will become ingrained in your mind without you being consciously aware of it and as you do the exercises and review the grammatical concepts that you have already learned, you will find that you are thinking in Hebrew, rather than actively translating something from Hebrew to English or the reverse. While you will find yourself effortless picking up some of the vocabulary, you will still need to practice (and should I say it, memorize) the vocabulary introduced in each chapter. Flash cards, either homemade or purchased, are ideal for this task. While this textbook presents Biblical Hebrew in an easy to follow format, it will still take work on your part to master the material - but it is work that will reward you with a firm foundation in Biblical Hebrew that will serve you well in all your future studies.

For those using this textbook on their own, or in a classroom setting, you'll be pleased to know that it has several companion parts that when combined, constitute a complete course (one that can be completed in a college semester or over the course of a year in classes that meet only once a week). In addition to the main textbook, which was recently revised to include new, more detailed (and optional) explanatory notes on various grammatical concepts, there is also a companion audio set, a complete answer guide (a must-have for independent learners), and a set of flash cards that is keyed to the vocabulary in the The First Hebrew Primer.

Special Features
This textbook includes several 'special features' that help to make it a truly remarkable and edifying textbook to use, and to teach from. One of these is the guided readings from the Book of Ruth that begins in the tenth lesson. At this point you have already learned enough Hebrew to start reading actual text from the Bible, and the authors have selected the Book of Ruth as your introduction. This textbook also includes a nice selection of Tall Tales. The Tall Tales are adapted from common stories such as This is the House that Jack Built and Rumpelstiltskin. The stories have been adapted into Hebrew and reworked so that they adhere to the vocabulary and grammar that you have already learned, and to reinforce concepts that you have already studied. English translations of the Tall Tales can be found in the Answer Book. Another nice feature of this textbook is the inclusion of verb and noun charts that allow you see how words are written in the various forms that they can take.

Answer Book
The Answer Book for The First Hebrew Primer is a must have item for those studying this textbook on their own. It is also a valuable aid for those using this book in a classroom. Answers to all the exercises are included in this book, with the exception of translations of Biblical quotes. When using the answer book, be aware that there is not a direct one to one translation of Hebrew into English, so your answers may vary from those in the book - but should be close enough that you can judge if you have a firm grasp of the material - or not. In addition, the last lesson also includes a final exam, keyed to the previous lessons in the book. If you have trouble with any of the translations in this exam (the answers are included in the answer book), you will know what chapters, if any, that you need to review.

Audio Companion CD Set
The Audio Companion CD Set is another must-have item if you are studying The First Hebrew Primer on your own, and it is a valuable asset for teachers and their students. This nine-CD set, which is read by Debby Graudenz and Reuven Trabin will introduce you to the sounds of the Hebrew alphabet and it includes readings of all the Oral Reviews, Vocabulary Lists, Guided Readings of the Book of Ruth, and the Tale Tales Told in Biblical Hebrew, that are included in this textbook. Throughout, Sephardic pronunciation is used, making this audio set useful to students of both Biblical and Modern Hebrew.

Master set of Bible Flashcards
Flash cards are an important tool for learning a foreign language as they provide you with the opportunity to drill yourself on the vocabulary, basically anytime or any place you want. You can easily make your own set of flash cards, or you can purchase a set of Bible Flashcards. The set produced by EKS Publishing includes 335 cards that are keyed to the vocabulary in The First Hebrew Primer. Most of the words contained in this flashcard set appear in the Bible at least 200 times, and some more than 500 times! On the front side of these quality flash cards, you'll find, in large print, a vocabulary word or base form of a verb form. On the reverse side of the cards, in smaller print, you'll find the English translation, the part of speech that the word belongs to, and the word in Hebrew. As you advance through the card set, the reverse of many of the flash cards also includes variations of the vocabulary word under study - such as its singular and plural form, or verb form variations. In short, a practical study aid! The flash cards are also as an iPhone app (from iTunes), and as an interactive flashcard set for PC computers.

In Conclusion

For independent learners, the combination of the The First Hebrew Primer textbook, the Answer Book, the audio companion CD set, and the flashcard set, serve as a complete first course in Biblical Hebrew. For those using this textbook in a classroom settings, the companion materials are useful, but not compulsory study aids. No matter how you choose to study this textbook, you'll find that once you have mastered the material in the book that you will be able to decipher most Biblical passages, with the aid of a dictionary. You will also find that you are well prepared to continue your Hebrew studies. A perfect next-step is EKS Publishing's, The First Hebrew Reader. This book includes guided reading selections from throughout the Tanach (Hebrew Bible including the Five Books of Moses [Torah], the Prophets [Nevi'im], and the Writings [Kesuvim]).

I highly recommend The First Hebrew Primer to adult students without any previous knowledge of Hebrew who are interested in learning the foundations of Biblical Hebrew.

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