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Study your aleph-bet, because then you'll be able to do anything!

01/27/2021 11:39:36 AM


Ellen Gersh and Julia Gross Alexander

Hebrew is the ancient language of the Jewish people, but by the time of the Talmud, it was no longer the common language of the people. When the Torah was written down, and when the prayer service was shaped, most people spoke Aramaic. Perhaps you, like our B-mitzvah students, will be reassured to consider that most people through Jewish history have had to wrestle with an unfamiliar language in order to understand Torah and prayers!

Do you have an interest in Jewish musical traditions and practices?  Would you like to deepen your connection to Torah? A set of symbols, called trope, above and below a Hebrew text indicates how to pronounce its words. The beauty of the melody embellishes the story.  The practice goes back to the time of Ezra. When the Jewish people returned from their Babylonian exile, following the destruction of the first Temple (about 510 B.C.E.), Ezra would go to the market on Mondays and Thursdays and read from the Torah. Ezra stood in the marketplace surrounded by squawking chickens, braying animals, and unruly children, and competed with the sounds of life. Exaggerating the highs, lows, and cadences of normal speech, Ezra projected the holy texts in a style caught somewhere between speaking and full-blown singing.

Cantor Ellen is offering a Torah trope class for adults. During each session, we will be learning a phrase of trope. We will take those musical phrases and put them to the words of Torah. We will take a look at the portion of the week and have a bit of learning before beginning the trope study. I am proud of our B-Mitzvah kids, who, in just a short time, can put the trope notes to any of the sentences of the Torah. They are excited to learn and proud, as am I, of their accomplishments. Knowledge of the Aleph Bet is required. 

If this sounds interesting to you, join Cantor Ellen on Thursday evenings, beginning February 11th from 7:00-8:00 p.m. on zoom.  You can register here.

If you would like to participate in the class, but don’t feel confident in your knowledge of the aleph-bet, Cantor Ellen and Education Director Julia Gross Alexander can help you! Be in touch with us to schedule a few refresher sessions!

Are you feeling intimidated by the idea of reading Hebrew? Perhaps you’ll be inspired by this interview with one of our Masa students. Asha Marcus chose to learn to decode written Hebrew by tackling a passage of Talmud. Each week, we reviewed the aleph-bet and then got to work. Talmud does not have vowel markers on the letters, so it was particularly challenging. 

We approached the text by examining each word to figure out the possible three-letter root, looking up the root, and using what we knew about Hebrew to determine what the passage meant. Asha demonstrated incredible patience and persistence! It took us about three months, meeting once a week, to get through the twenty-seven words of the passage. You can view Asha’s translation of the text on Sefaria.

Here is a short interview with Asha about her experience learning Talmud, and her advice for adults who are interested in learning to read in Hebrew.

How much Hebrew did you know when we began? Basically none. I had learned a little bit. I knew the vowels, but I didn’t know any of the meanings of the words, or how to read it out loud. I learned the sounds of my letters a lot more than just knowing the aleph-bet [as we studied Talmud together].

What made you choose to study Talmud? I knew a little bit about the Talmud. I knew that it sounds like there are all these people from different times having a conversation with each other, which sounds really cool in my opinion. I thought it would be cool to study and hear.

How did it feel to study Talmud? It felt really cool, because it made me realize that you just need to know your letters and your vowels, and you can really read anything if you set your mind to it!

Should adults study Talmud? Definitely! I think it would be helpful to study Talmud if you’re an adult, or if you’re a child, too, because it does some pretty cool stuff in there.

Do you have one piece of advice about learning Talmud to share with our community? Just really try to study your aleph-bet, memorize it, anything you can do aleph-bet wise, because then you’ll be able to do anything!

If you have any questions, please contact Cantor Ellen at or Julia at 

We are excited to study with you!

Ellen and Julia

Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyyar 5784