Hebrew-Only Language Policy in Religious Education

By Sharon Avni


This article ethnographically analyzes the everyday negotiations of a language policy at a private religious educational institution whose explicit educative mission is the transmission of religious beliefs, values, and practices. Specifically, it explores a Hebrew-only language policy at a Jewish day school located in New York City, and focuses on two interrelated questions: (1) how do students and teachers enact and challenge the Hebrew-only policy in daily classroom practices; and (2) how does this policy become a cultural practice in the classroom, and to what effect? The analysis of this enacted policy underscores the paradoxical nature of religious language policy. While the students and teachers agree that Hebrew language policy is critical to the educative mission of instilling Jewish identity, in practice, the policy presents challenges to teachers and students due to the variance in Hebrew proficiency among students and their teachers, and the complex reality of teaching a language that is not widely known or used. This tension between ideology and enactment produces classroom practices that result in questionable linguistic achievements, but that are also paradoxically successful in meeting the school's mission. The article concludes with a discussion about the complexity of defining and implementing religious language educational policy.

This is an author's draft, a later version of which was published in the journal Language Policy, vol. 11 no. 2, p. 169-188, December 2011.

Topic: Language, Pedagogy, Hebrew, Education, Religious Schools

Page Number(s): 169-188

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Genre: Article

Coverage: New York, New York

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Avni, Sharon. Hebrew-Only Language Policy in Religious Education. 2011: 169-188. http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=14264


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