We Need the Hebrew Department


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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3 Responses to “We Need the Hebrew Department”

  1. Cheryl Price on March 23rd, 2019 6:10 pm

    How utterly incomprehensible! And talk about an injustice to the students? It is well known that the language school in the summer has not once but several versions of Hebrew because it is that in demand. How could it be that a school that prides itself on language learning could pull the rug out from under its very own students engaged in the language? What can we do about this? Who do we write to? I’m a concerned parent of a newly admitted Feb, she’s having a great experience and I don’t even want to tell her about this it’s reckless and seems to be politically motivated. Is this something to be brought up to the Board of Directors?

  2. Alum '09 on March 24th, 2019 10:29 am

    What do enrollment numbers for the courses look like? A professorship is expensive. If only a handful of students enroll in the courses, it seems that it would be fiscally irresponsible to continue funding that position. Why should a handful of students benefit from funds that could be more equitably spent elsewhere?

    If the course does truly matter to students, they can choose to take it in the alternate ways Middlebury is making available.

    The reputation of Middlebury College as a language school is not affected… Hebrew is still offered at the language school.

    The fact is Hebrew was never offered at Middlebury–language school or otherwise– when Middlebury’s reputation as a leading language institute was established. I suspect Hebrew was given priority thanks to President Liebowitz’ stewardship. And just like McCardell’s house system is being dismantled because it doesn’t fit with the student body’s needs, Hebrew offerings are being scaled back because not enough students took the class.

  3. A Middlebury Worker on April 9th, 2019 11:51 am

    I think students should still be able to have Hebrew as a minor…that’s lame if that can’t happen after Aloni leaves.

    Vardit Ringvald’s School of Hebrew has been soaking up all the money for Hebrew language education at Middlebury, it seems. I think she came from Brandeis under Liebowitz to build out the School. (And now Liebowitz is at Brandeis…hmm..fancy that.)

    I’m pretty grossed out by the entitlement and incestuousness of special interests in higher education in general, and especially at Middlebury. It is such a self-serving, back-slapping institution where wealthy elites come to throw money down to have their pet projects created and maintained. Laurie Patton and Jess Cason probably spend at least 50 percent of their time courting millionaires and billionaires to set up their pet projects here.

    It’s amazing how we spend our short time on this rock…

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We Need the Hebrew Department