The Jewish Daily Forward reports that British schools will be required to offer at least one of seven foreign languages, excluding Hebrew:

LONDON — The British government reportedly is planning to exclude Hebrew from a list of recognized foreign languages in the national education system . . . .

Education Minister Elizabeth Truss announced plans last month to make it compulsory, from September 2014, to teach a foreign language to children ages seven to 11. Schools would be required to offer at least one of only seven recognized languages, which excludes Hebrew, the newspaper reported.

Many Jewish primary schools, which have to fit in Jewish studies alongside the national curriculum, currently offer Hebrew as the only foreign language. According to the Board of Deputies, the schools would find it impossible to continue teaching Hebrew if compelled to offer another foreign language as well.

Board Senior Vice-President Laura Marks told the Jewish Chronicle that the government proposal could be “extremely detrimental to our community’s identity.” Language, including modern and classical Hebrew, is “a vital ingredient to understanding our faith and culture,” she said, and urged the government “to reject the idea of stipulating just a narrow range of languages.”

Aside from the obvious problem it poses to Jewish schools, this seems a bad decision for English culture. Hebrew is not just a “vital ingredient to understanding” Jewish faith and culture, but also Christian—-and especially English—-faith and culture.

Hebrew’s importance to to the history of English literature is perhaps best exemplified by John Milton, who learned the language as a boy. His knowledge of rabbinic texts later informed such works as “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in which he cites the opinions of “Kimchi, and the two other Rabbies” as well as that of Maimonides.

We can see this exclusion then (which perhaps will be reversed) as resulting not just from inattention to the concerns of the Jewish community but also from indifference to the religious and textual concerns that once stood at the heart of English life.

Articles by Matthew Schmitz


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