Basic Resources for Biblical Hebrew

There are many resources out there for learning Hebrew and related topics that purport to be “free.” Those below have been recommended by one or more members of Tzedek Chicago’s Hebrew Club/Learning Community and so have been filtered to avoid — or at least identify — some common pitfalls of “free” Jewish stuff.

ALEF-BET

On-line Alef-Bet Course

R’ Tamar Kamionkowski offers a free alef-bet course on-line through her Kamionkowski Beit Midrash at Teachable. The course is clear, encouraging, progress-at-your-own-pace, and remains accessible without time limit. The course assumes no particular relationship to any denomination, the state of Israel, or other corner of the Jewish world. Course stands alone without any hidden costs: no trying to sell you something now that you’ve had a free taste; no begging you to donate to this or that; no sharing your information so others can market to you or beg donations. Also, as a fellow Tzedek Chicago Hebrew Club member notes: It includes puppies!

R’ Kamionkowski is a professor at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and an author whose book on Leviticus has come up in Tzedek Chicago Torah study. See below for her recommendations on Biblical Hebrew textbooks.


SVARA Alef-Bet

SVARA: The Traditionally Radical Yeshiva now offers an alef-bet course once each term. At the time of this writing the next course begins in February 2022. There are also one-day workshops and other opportunities to learn alef-bet with SVARA. In addition, their website offers a few additional, free alternatives for learning Alef-Bet:

  • One is the Kamionkowski Beit Midrash, listed above;
  • MemRise requires creating an account, so I didn’t check it out thoroughly, but I’m sure SVARA did; and I don’t need another such right now;
  • Quizlet also requires an account, but looks to be useful;
  • LinguaJunkie helps you learn to WRITE the letters in block and script!! (more below on this)

Writing and Script

Writing alef-bet in some form is a crucial skill for note-taking. So the LinguaJunkie site above or something like can be helpful. At any stage, a list of the letters in order in their block and script forms, along with their names, is an enormous help. The sighted among us might want to keep something like the graphic below in study materials, propped up somewhere, or taped to a wall.

Image description: alef-bet in block and script letters with letter names below

NOTE: Block and script graphic UPDATED 12/6/21 with colored blocks as reading aid. PDF version prints OK in B/W.

Learning script AND block letters may seem an insurmountable extra hill to climb, but the extra, physical step of learning to write in some form can help in mastery…. Also consider: teachers in many settings use script letters, so reading them will be a big help eventually, and producing script letters is so much easier in the long run.

Here are some handy resources for learning and practice:

  • Cursive instructions from SVARA (5-page PDF) — includes Rashi script, which can be left for another time;
  • Cursive practice sheet from an unknown website supporting teachers (3-page PDF)

On-line Alef-Bet Practice

Univ. of Texas has some free on-line resources, including some practice for alef-bet. Mostly the site is meant for modern Hebrew. But they have some Biblical Hebrew, too. This graphic helps in distinguishing letters that look similar (PDF).


Slow Motion Alef-Bet Song

This version of Debbie Friedman’s tune was recommended by Tzedek Chicago Hebrew Club member because it is slow, especially on repeats. More reasons to appreciate it: graphics are clear and not childish.


Biblical Hebrew

Textbook Comparison

Discussion of pros/cons of five Biblical Hebrew textbooks from R’ Kamionkowski (see above), 2019… don’t think anything new has been published since. If anyone knows of a newer resource, please advise.


Audio Biblical Hebrew

Bible in Hebrew — spoken, not chanted — mp3s for each chapter (“clearly pronounced in Sephardic-style Hebrew”)


Hebrew bible reading sites

Mechon-Mamre (site link) offers Hebrew, English (and a few other languages), and bilingual Bible presentations — on-line, downloadable, or audio versions (also downloadable). NO TROPE MARKS, which makes for cleaner reading and copying in many cases (but means look elsewhere if that’s what you seek). Uses “Old JPS, i.e., 1917 translation by Jewish Publication Society, which is in the PUBLIC DOMAIN. That means that it is free from copyright for the purposes of re-use. This site pre-dates Sefaria by about 12 years (and includes palm-pilot versions of some materials!).

Sefaria (site link) offers Hebrew, English, or bilingual Bible presentations — look for “Tanakh” — with interactive commentary and dictionary functions plus a tool for adding materials to a “sheet” that you can keep for your own studies or use to share resources with others. The site has so many other resources and is preparing to launch some networking and study opportunities. The Bible translation is “New JPS” (1985). When Sefaria first started, the license JPS offered DID NOT PERMIT re-copying the translation for use in other publications. Not sure if that license has been amended; so be cautious of rights when sharing for publication.

Bible Hub (site link) offers two dozen English translations, from the original King James to contemporary, as well as tools that permit reading in Hebrew and accessing concordances, dictionary, and other resources from the site. Do please note that this is a Christian site, and translations and commentaries reflect that orientation.


Dictionaries

BROWN-DRIVER-BRIGGS. BDB is the go-to dictionary for Biblical Hebrew. Here’s the wikipedia page with more general details. The 1906 edition, originally published by Clarendon Press, is in the public domain. Download the whole clunky PDF from Academia.edu or find it at The Archive. A newer version is in print as a book and available new and used. There is an app for phones that works OK. Another way to access BDB is through BibleHub.com (see above). One member of Tzedek Hebrew Club suggests this free, on-line version: “I like that you can navigate by clicking, without using Hebrew letters.”

JASTROW. Jastrow is THE dictionary for Talmud study. It’s another one that is about 100 years old and in the public domain. It is also useful for Bible study, but it’s important to keep in mind that entries reflect usage from post-Biblical eras, i.e., Mishnaic Hebrew and Aramaic. Jastrow in available these days in print in one volume, and many people really rely on this. Text is small and probably requires a magnifying glass for many readers. You can access Jastrow through Sefaria — type in Jastrow and then browse by letter or use the little keyboard to type in a few letters and find a specific word. Free of charge and plenty of hyperlinks to jump to related words.

Klein. Sefaria also has the newer Klein dictionary, which mixes modern and ancient meanings, available for free.

“Do It In Hebrew.” Dictionary/translation site. For Modern Hebrew but still useful.

More information including some additional dictionaries and a discussion of how to use and how to choose at this anonymous Hebrew Bible Scholar.


Concordances

Strong’s Concordance is built into BibleHub as are a few others. Check out that site for details.

Even-Shoshan Concordance. According to this thorough overview, there is an English version. Here, for basic reference, is a glimpse into the Hebrew version (1998 edition). Each instance of a word’s appearance is listed with a few words from the verse that includes the words; entries are grouped with those instances having the same prefixes or suffixes together. An on-line tool, like the built-in Strong’s provided by Bible Hub, is very powerful. There is a different power in seeing all the verses in Hebrew this way….once that is even part-way accessible. (No first-hand knowledge of the English version.)

Image Description: two-page spread of Even-Shoshan Concordance with a few added annotations. Key bits: There are 547 instances of AVAR and dozens more with different vowels, a total of five pages of entries related to AVAR,

Miscellany

LexiLogos virtual Hebrew keyboard — vowels and cantillation as well as letters!

Digital flashcard software (genuinely free, not “basic features, more costs $$”)

Animated Hebrew verb flashcards CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE

Conjugation site. For Modern Hebrew but still useful for Biblical language

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