We Need the Hebrew Department

By HILLEL BOARD

Recently, Tamar Mayer, the head of the Hebrew Department, was denied her second request to hire a new Hebrew professor for next year. There is currently only one professor in the department, Oz Aloni, and his contract ends this semester. After Aloni’s departure, students currently enrolled in Hebrew will not be able to continue with their studies and students who planned to minor in the language will not be able to do so. The lack of additional professors will affect all current and future Hebrew students; it will effectively end the Hebrew Department on this campus. As such, the administration’s refusal to hire another professor would be an egregious error.

First and foremost, the Hebrew language department is central to Jewish life on campus. The Hebrew language is an integral part of the Jewish faith, and many students use the language to enrich their spiritual practice or as an entry point to exploring their Judaism. The inclusion of Hebrew within the Middlebury language program makes Jewish students feel welcome and seen in the community. Hebrew allows students to connect meaningfully and academically with a language that is part of their cultural identity. In fact, many Jewish students cite Middlebury’s inclusion of a Hebrew program as a deciding factor in their college search as it represents the vitality of Jewish life on a campus. The decision not to hire another Hebrew professor would indicate to all current and prospective Jewish students where Middlebury’s true priorities lie.

Many Jewish students cite Middlebury’s inclusion of a Hebrew program as a deciding factor in their college search”

Outside of Hebrew’s importance to Jewish students, Hebrew is a rich, fascinating language that deserves to be studied at the top language school in the country. Hebrew is part of the campus’ lively interdisciplinary discourse, and its absence will not go unnoticed. Hebrew is inextricably linked to International & Global Studies (IGS), religious studies and comparative literature, among other fields. How can we offer a Middle Eastern focus in IGS without Hebrew? These crucial academic facets rely on the inclusion of the language.

Some “creative solutions” have been suggested, such as online satellite learning and the Hebrew summer school, but none will replace an in-person experience with a professor. Middlebury, which prides itself on being a language school, cannot claim to include a Hebrew program in its robust language curriculum and then force students to video-call a professor from a different university. Nor should it rely on its remarkable summer language programs; students who are already paying tuition should not have to pay additional tuition or forfeit earning a summer income to attend the Hebrew summer school, especially when they would not have the opportunity to practice their skills during the academic year. This is not an appropriate method for students to acquire the language, and it disadvantages students who want Hebrew to be a part of their year-long academic experience.

It is clear that this decision ultimately comes down to Middlebury’s budget. We argue that the importance of Hebrew cannot be decided by numbers alone. Middlebury is an academic institution; this title implies a commitment to academic excellence above all else and a responsibility to make the campus inclusive to all students. Refusing to fill this position in the Hebrew Department would be a failure on both counts.

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