Course handbook: Hebrew

Oxford has been an important centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies since the sixteenth century. Outstanding scholars have held a number of different positions in Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the University and students from all over the world come to Oxford for both undergraduate and graduate studies. We boast unrivalled collections of Hebrew manuscripts and printed books in the Bodleian Library. The Leopold Muller Memorial Library of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, housed in the Clarendon Institute Building, also contains invaluable Hebraic and Judaica collections. Additionally, the archaeology and material culture of the land of Israel are strongly represented in the Ashmolean Museum.

Over the centuries the study of Hebrew has evolved to take account of new developments, most obviously the growth of literature in Modern Hebrew and major discoveries such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Our courses therefore cover all the main phases in the long history of the Hebrew language in its historical, literary and cultural contexts. (It is also possible to study for a separate BA in Jewish Studies.) As the disciplines of Hebrew and Jewish Studies have developed, different approaches and fields of study have evolved, from the study of classical Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible to all other aspects of medieval and modern Jewish culture and society. The University's posts in the Faculty of Oriental Studies reflect that diversity, with expertise ranging from the study of Classical Hebrew, the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple and early Rabbinic periods, through rabbinical literature and medieval to early modern history and literature, to modern Hebrew and other Jewish literatures and modern Jewish history.

The undergraduate course in Hebrew Studies at Oxford embraces the study of the Hebrew language in all its major phases (Classical, Rabbinic and Medieval, and Modern).  Some of the most important texts are studied in detail with attention not only to language but also to their literary, historical and religious significance.  In order to set all this in context, students may choose also to study one or more periods of Israelite or Jewish history and further to take papers on such wider literary topics as Biblical narrative or prophecy, Jewish Bible interpretation, medieval Hebrew poetry or prose, and modern Hebrew literature. 

In recent years the particular interests of those who have taken the course have included Biblical studies, Jewish literature, modern Israel, the Ancient Near East, the New Testament and early Christianity, Semitic languages, and Rabbinic thought. The flexibility of the course can accommodate a wide range of interests and one of the hallmarks of the course is the individual attention that students receive. 


 Teaching Staff


First year (First Public Examination)

For those taking Hebrew or Jewish Studies, the first three terms of the course comprise intensive class instruction in the Hebrew language in all its main periods.  The aim is to cover basic grammar in the first term and to consolidate this information in the second and third terms, when simple texts in each form of the language are also taught.  This demanding objective is essential in order to achieve a level of reading proficiency that will stand you in good stead for the rest of the course.  There are three class hours a week in both Classical (Biblical) and Modern Hebrew. Readings in Rabbinic, Medieval and Modern Hebrew texts are introduced in the second and third terms. .

Students also prepare for a general paper which provides an introductory framework for the rest of the course.  Outline surveys are given in lectures through the year, but the main form of teaching is in tutorials, for which there is recommended reading and an essay to be written.

Four papers are set for Prelims, taken at the end of the third term. 

  1. Hebrew Texts I: Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew.
  2. Hebrew Texts II: Medieval and Modern Hebrew.
  3. Grammar and Translation into Hebrew.
  4. General Paper.

Candidates who perform exceptionally well in Biblical Hebrew in Prelims are eligible for the Junior Pusey and Ellerton Prize.  In the unlikely event of failure, it is possible to resit the paper(s) in question later on.  You must pass Prelims in order to proceed to Finals.

All examinations are held at the end of Trinity Term.  


Second Year: Course I and Course II (Year Abroad)

There are two Hebrew courses: a three-year course (Course I) or a four-year course (Course II), with the third year to be spent on a prescribed course of study at a university in Israel.

Candidates for Course I are required to offer seven papers and a dissertation. Candidates for Course II are required to offer seven papers, a dissertation, and an oral examination. Please refer to course syllabus below.  They will be expected to carry out during their year abroad such work as the Board of the Faculty of Oriental Studies may require.

For guidance about preparing for the year abroad, consult with the acting year abroad coordinator.

Second and Third (Course 1) or Third and Fourth Year (Course 2)

(Final Honour School) 

Upon completing your Prelims, it is necessary to make a final choice about whether you wish to study Hebrew or Jewish Studies.  If you are still unsure about which choice to make, any member of the teaching staff will be happy to provide guidance.. 

Those who choose to do Hebrew must also decide whether to take it on its own or in combination with a ‘subsidiary’ language.   

Important Deadlines



Hebrew with a subsidiary language

1. (for Course I): Hebrew composition and unprepared translation. (for Course II): Essay in modern Hebrew and unprepared translation.
2. Prepared texts I: Biblical texts
3. Prepared texts II: Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew texts
4. Prepared texts III: Modern Hebrew literature
5. History, Culture and Society
6. and 7. One of the papers in Jewish Studies paper c. Not more than one paper from Section V. 

8. (for Course II) Oral.
9. Dissertation




1. (for Course I): Hebrew composition and unprepared translation. (for Course II): Essay in modern Hebrew and unprepared translation.
2. Prepared texts I: Biblical texts
3. Prepared texts II: Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew texts
4. Prepared texts III: Modern Hebrew literature
5. History, Culture and Society
6, 7, 8. One Subsidiary Language from the list:




Aramaic and Syriac

Classics (in the Honour School of Classics and Oriental Studies) Egyptology


NOTE: the examination regulations relating to all Oriental Studies courses are available at . If there is a conflict between information in any of the faculty handbooks and the exam regulations, you should always follow the exam regulations. If you have any concerns please contact The information in this handbook is accurate as at 1st October 2016, however it may be necessary for changes to be made in certain circumstances, as explained at . If such changes are made the department will publish a new version of this handbook together with a list of the changes. Students will also be informed.


Teaching Staff

Undergraduates are taught by a large circle of specialists, university post-holders in closely related subjects, or post-doctoral researchers who may be in Oxford for a number of years. Those principally involved with teaching for the undergraduate course at present are:

Dr Miri Freud-Kandel, Lecturer in Modern Judaism (Wolfson College)

Professor Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Studies (Wolfson College)

Dr Sara Hirschhorn, University Research Lecturer in Israel Studies (Wolfson College)

Dr Adriana X. Jacobs, Associate Professor and Cowley Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Literature (St. Cross College)

Professor Jan Joosten, Regius Professor of Hebrew (Christ Church)

Professor David Rechter, Professor of Modern Jewish Studies (St. Antony’s College)

Professor Alison Salvesen, Professor of Early Judaism and Christianity (Mansfield College)

Dr David Taylor, Associate Professor in Aramaic and Syriac (Wolfson College)

Professor Joanna Weinberg, Professor of Early Modern Jewish History and Rabbinics (Exeter College)

Mr Gil Zahavi, Instructor in Modern Hebrew

Compulsory Subjects


Hebrew Texts I: Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew and Hebrew Texts II: Medieval and Modern Hebrew

Course description:

For both these papers there will be passages for translation from the specified texts (all of which will have been taught in classes).  There may also be some questions that ask for comment on or explanation of aspects of the language and related matters arising from the texts.

The list of set texts approved for examination in the following academic year will be published on this  webpage by Friday of 3rd week, Hilary term.


Grammar and Translation into Hebrew

Course description:

In this paper, in which all questions must be attempted, there will be

(i)    Five questions on specific grammatical topics in Biblical Hebrew

(ii)   One passage for translation from English into pointed Biblical Hebrew

(iii)   One passage for translation from Modern Hebrew into English


General Paper

Course description:

This will be an essay paper on Israelite and Jewish history and other related topics.  You will be required to answer questions on different historical periods, though there will be a wide choice within each section.



Hebrew composition and unprepared translation

Course description:

In this paper you must translate one passage into Hebrew and two from Hebrew into English.  For the first question you can choose whether to tackle a passage for translation into Biblical or Modern Hebrew.  For the second, there are passages in Biblical, Rabbinic and Modern Hebrew, and you must choose two out of these three for translation into English.

Teaching for the Biblical Hebrew option is provided in graded weekly classes throughout the course and students would do well to attend, whatever their ultimate choice proves to be.  For the other periods, teaching will be provided in tutorials if requested.


Prepared Texts I: Biblical texts

Course description:

The list of set texts approved for examination in the current academic year will be published on this webpage by Friday of 3rd week, Hilary Term.

You should make sure that you have the list relevant to the year in which you will sit your examinations, as changes are sometimes introduced.  It is advisable to check this with your teachers.

To gain a good knowledge of Biblical Hebrew two things are required: extensive reading, ideally of the whole Hebrew Bible and analytical study of the texts, which will include textual criticism, comparative philology, historical criticism and literary analysis. While the in-depth analysis will be taught in lectures, students will be expected to read a certain amount of chapters on their own or with a tutor. The examination will include: a) Hebrew texts for translation (with brief comments); b) Hebrew texts for translation with detailed comments on textual and philological matters; c) a short essay on a more general topic arising from the texts.


Prepared Texts II: Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew texts

Course description:

The development of Hebrew in the post-biblical period is complex and variegated. We will read and analyse a selection of texts (legal, philosophical, historical, and exegetical) from the rich field of Hebrew literature of  the post-Biblical/pre-modern period.

Students normally begin studying these texts in their third term, when they have mastered the fundamentals of biblical Hebrew grammar and have acquired a basic working vocabulary.

All texts are taught in lectures where they are examined with attention not only to grammar and translation but also to their style, content and historical background.  One tutorial hour is also arranged for each text so that students have the opportunity to explore the relevant literary and intellectual context.  The examination includes passages for translation and comment as well as essays on more general topics arising from the texts.

Recommended reading:

M. Fishbane, Judaism: Revelations and Traditions, New York 1987.

H. Maccoby, Early Rabbinic Writings, Cambridge 1998.

Normon Solomon, The Talmud. A Selection, New York 2009.

J.R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: a Source-Book, 315-1791 with introduction and updated bibliographies by Marc Saperstein, Cincinnati 1999.

P. Cole, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, Princeton 2007.

G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, New York (1941) 1974.

Y.H. Yerushalmi, Zachor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Washington (1982) 1996.


Prepared Texts III: Modern Hebrew literature

Course description:

The Hebrew literary texts for this paper range from the late 19th century to the present, and include fiction, poetry and essays.  These texts are read and analysed as literature rather than used as language exercises, although their language is discussed as well.  The majority of the texts are taught in class but you will be expected to prepare others, predominantly poetry, on your own, with tutorial help if necessary, as with your biblical texts.  The historical and cultural background of the texts is also discussed, together with relevant critical and theoretical works.  Your examination will consist of passages for translation from some of your literary texts, and essays on the texts and on the history and development of modern Hebrew literature.

Recommended reading:

Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt, eds., The Great Transition: The Recovery of the Lost Centers of Modern Hebrew Literature (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld 1985)

Benjamin Harshav,  Language in Time of Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)

Simon Halkin, Modern Hebrew Literature, From the Enlightenment to the Birth of the State of Israel: Trends and Values (New York: Schocken Books, 1950/1970)

Gudrun Krämer, A History of Palestine (Princeton University Press, 2005)

Ariel Hirschfeld, 'Locus and Language: Hebrew Culture in Israel, 1890-1990,' in David Biale, ed. Cultures of the Jews: A New History (NY: Schocken, 2002): 1011-1061.


History, Culture and Society

Course description:

The aim of this paper is to draw together the whole course in Hebrew studies, giving you the chance to relate one aspect of the subject to another and/or to reflect on wider issues arising from the detailed study of the particular periods which interest you most.

The paper is currently in four sections (ancient, medieval, modern, and a final section which cuts across all periods), with about six questions in each section.  You are required to answer four questions, selecting questions from at least two sections.


Commenting on Biblical Texts: A Brief Guide

(FHS Papers 2 and 6; subsidiary Hebrew, papers 2 and 3)

1)  ‘Translate with full annotation’

Detailed annotation deals with all aspects of a text — background, literary context, literary form, language, textual criticism, and so on.  Only texts from group (a) will be set.  (NB In subsidiary Hebrew, the texts are not divided into groups; any text can be examined under any of the three rubrics described here.)

2)  ‘Translate with comments where necessary’

Necessary comments are directly concerned with the translation of a text; they do not include general background information or discussion of the literary context and form of a text.  They should discuss briefly specific problems of text or language where there is sufficient doubt for your translation to require some form of justification — for instance, where there is doubt about the meaning of a word or phrase, or where there are major textual variants, especially if you adopt them yourself.  (Even if you do not, you should remember that sometimes other scholars do because they find some problem in the biblical text, and so this itself may require explanation.) Free translations of phrases that cannot be translated literally into normal English may be annotated with a literal translation. Texts may be set from any of those prescribed, (a) or (b).

3)  ‘Comments on textual and linguistic problems’

Textual and linguistic comments deal with short passages that contain significant textual and/or linguistic problems.  They do not include general background information or other general discussions unless these are directly relevant to textual and linguistic problems.  Students may translate the passage if this is helpful in discussing the problems, but translation is not required.  Passages from group (a) only will be set.

In all types of exercise, where variant readings or emendations are adopted, a translation of the MT should be given in a footnote, with an explanation of why the variant reading is preferred.  Remember that you will often tell an examiner more about your knowledge of Hebrew by setting out what is the problem with the text than by remembering a proposed emendation.  Standard abbreviations (e.g. MT, LXX) are perfectly acceptable.


Prepared Texts IV

Course description:

This paper is in two parts.  The first, which is compulsory, is on Jewish Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew and important both for Biblical studies (because of the early translations of the Bible in the Targums) and for Judaism in all periods, since it was the language of much important religious literature.  In the exam, there are questions based on specified texts, most of which are taught in classes, and a related essay question (for which preparation is in tutorials).

The other half of the paper is further specified texts in either Biblical, Rabbinic and Medieval, or Modern Hebrew.  You choose which period you will offer, and teaching is provided to help you prepare.  This enables you to gain a wider knowledge of the literature of the period of your special interest.  The style of examination is the same as for papers 2-4 above.

For guidance on commenting on biblical texts, please refer to the brief guide to commenting on biblical texts in Prepared Texts I: Biblical Texts. 




Optional Subject from Jewish Studies

Course description:

You can take two papers from the list of options here: Jewish Studies c. The list is Section C of the Final Honour School (Second and Third Year) of the BA in Jewish Studies. Not more than one paper from Section V may be taken.



Course description:

The subject of your dissertation must be submitted for approval very early at the start of your third year, so that in practice it is sensible to discuss it with your teachers from the middle of the second year. Some tutorial guidance is available, but you should research and write up a topic that you find to be of particular interest; you are required to sign a statement indicating that it is your own work.  The dissertation should not be longer than 15,000 words, and copies need to be submitted by the end of 10th week (i.e. two weeks after teaching finishes) of Hilary term in your final year.  The detailed regulations about how and where to do this are included in the Examination Regulations. Remember to write your candidate number and not your name on the dissertation.  Also refer to the dissertation section in the General Handbook. 


An Optional Special Subject

Course description:

You may offer an optional 3-hour paper on a special subject. The subject must be approved at the start of your final year. Provided your choice of subject falls within the broad range of Hebrew and Jewish studies, no reasonable proposal is likely to be refused.  If you are considering this, please discuss it with your teachers during the previous year. They will also make suggestions as to how you can use the summer vacation to do some of the necessary reading and research. Tutorial teaching will be made available to help you prepare.


Important Deadlines

Monday Wk 9 of Trinity  Term

Year 1

Provisional start date of the First Public Examinations.

Monday Wk 0 of Hilary Term

Year 3/4

Deadline for applications for approval of dissertation titles, special subjects for paper 8 (as in Examination Regulations). Forms available here.


12 noon, Friday Wk 10 of Hilary Term


Year 3/4

Deadline for submission of dissertation. 


Wk 0 of Trinity Term

Year 3/4

Oral examinations for Hebrew language (Course II only).  Timetables available about 5 weeks before the oral exams.


Monday Wk 7 of Trinity  Term

Year 3/4

Provisional start date of the Final Honour School examinations.