The study of languages is highly valued at the University of Tennessee, with a large Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures as well as a Department of Classics. However, languages that relate to Jewish Studies are not included in either department. This is most unfortunate, as it is impossible to study a complex civilization like Judaism without knowledge of the requisite languages. Both Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew were being taught at this institution before there was a Judaic Studies Program, but in a very idiosyncratic way. Biblical Hebrew was taught as an upper-level companion course and as an overload by the professor who taught Hebrew Bible in the Department of Religious Studies. After the faculty member's retirement, Biblical Hebrew was not taught for about a decade. In 2012, we were fortunate that the spouse of a new colleague offered to teach Biblical Hebrew. Religious Studies revamped Biblical Hebrew in line with other language courses (levels I and II) and it now fulfills the Arts and Sciences language requirement.
A Modern Hebrew tape program has existed at the University of Tennessee for more than twenty years. At this university, Modern Hebrew is known as a less commonly taught language and is located in Asian Studies, an interdisciplinary program like Judaic Studies. Students study in the language lab with the assistance of a tutor. Modern Hebrew fulfills the Arts and Sciences language requirement. In 2008 I was able to convince a donor to help fund a real teacher of Modern Hebrew. Now in its sixth year, the uncertainty of future funding necessitates our making conservative promises to potential hires, which in turn inhibits efforts to aggressively grow this course of study.
It is urgent for the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies, now in its third decade, to secure permanent funding for Hebrew language instruction and to rethink the Judaic Studies curriculum so that Hebrew will become an integral part of our course of study.