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MODHEB 406 A: Hebrew Poems and Prayers

Meeting Time: 
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm
MGH 284
Professor Naomi Sokoloff
Naomi B. Sokoloff

Syllabus Description:





 Hebrew Poems and Prayers


Spring 2019

5 Credits

TTh 3:30-5:20

Mary Gates Hall 284


Professor Naomi Sokoloff

220C Denny Hall

(206) 543-7145

Office hours: W 1:30-3:00 or by appointment


This course examines modern Hebrew poems side by side with texts from the traditional Jewish liturgy, analyzing how contemporary writers have drawn on classical sources to reflect on matters of faith and the language of religion.


Hebrew -- an ancient, sacred tongue -- has been renewed and revitalized in the past 150 years as a modern, secular vernacular. Understanding the contemporary poetry requires familiarity with the language of Jewish prayers.  This class presents to students some outstanding modern writers while also fostering appreciation for some of the many historical layers of the Hebrew language.  In addition, the class provides advanced work in Hebrew, offering students an opportunity to improve grammar, dictionary skills, and vocabulary.


Prerequisites: MODHEB 203 or permission of instructor.





Required readings:


Texts available on Canvas


Students should expect to consult dictionaries. The Alcalay Hebrew-English dictionary is a good choice; pocket dictionaries and the Multidictionary are not sufficient. A free electronic dictionary is available at and the English-Hebrew function is very useful when it comes time to write compositions.


Students are expected to complete required readings, attend class regularly, and participate in class discussion. Assignments will include two tests and three 2-4 page essays (750-1250 words each, in Hebrew). Students are expected to revise and rewrite essays after receiving feedback from the instructor. Final grades will be determined as follows:


Test 1                                                                          20%

Test 2                                                                          20%

Essays                                                                        45%

Class participation                                                      15%



Grading scale:


98-100   = 4.0

96-97     = 3.9

94-95     = 3.8  

92-93     = 3.7

91          = 3.6

90          = 3.5

89          = 3.4

88           =3.3


Revision of an essay will raise the grade 1- 3.5 points; for example, a composition that receives an 88 (3.3) may, in revised form, go up as high as a 91.5 (3.7).




*******ATTENDANCE POLICY**********


Attendance and class participation are important to the learning process. However, if you have symptoms of contagious illness – such as sniffles, sneezes, a cough, a sore throat, or a fever – please do not come to class. We will figure out a way to cover the material so that your learning and your grades will not suffer.  


*It is understood that some students may miss class for observance of religious holidays, and that they will be able to make up missed work due to such absences.


*Any student who wishes to do additional work on a topic related to this course may discuss the possibility of registering with the instructor for 1 or 2 credits of independent study (HEBR 490).


*If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924 (  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the instructor and discuss the accommodations you might need for class.


* Students should keep a copy of each graded assignment. This is very useful if for any reason students have questions about the calculation of grades or if an instructor’s records get lost or damaged. Protect yourself and keep your work.


*Please turn off all distracting electronic devices during class. Use of electronic devices to further class discussion is, of course, welcomed

*In cases of academic misconduct, such as plagiarism, copying someone’s homework, getting inappropriate help with compositions, or cheating on quizzes or exams, the offending student will be penalized in accordance with the policy of the College of Arts and Sciences.


It is important that we take care of ourselves inside and outside of class by learning how to care for our body, mind and spirit. Toward that end, there are many different kinds of support services on campus, including the Counseling Center, Hall Health, and the IMA. If you are concerned about yourself or a friend who is struggling, Safecampus, at 1-800-685-7233, is a very helpful resource to learn more about how to access campus-based support services. Please save the number for Safecampus, 1-800-685-7233, into your cell phones."




Unit I 


From morning prayers:

Birkhot hashahar, Shma, Yigdal, 13 ‘ikarim, Eyn keloheynu


Avraham Shlonsky, “Amal

Esther Raab, “Shirat Ishah

Dan Pagis “‘Edut

Yehudah Amichai, “Elim mithalfim, tefilot nish’arot la‘ad” #2,  #11, #17, #20, #27

Eliaz Cohen, Shema Adonai

Hava Pinhas Cohen, Shema

Ruchama Weiss, Shiri Hamotzi



Unit II  



Memorial prayers and mourning:

El male rahamim, Kadish yatom


Yehudah Amichai, “El male harahamim”  (p. 53-54)

Asher Reich, “Kakh et mahshavotai” (p. 107-108)

Hava Pinhas-Cohen, “Kadish yatomah” (p. 169-170)

Kobi Oz




Unit III


Prayers for the Days of Awe:

Avinu Malkenu, Ashamnu, portions of Ne‘ilah and the Torah service


Yehuda Amichai, “Yerushalayim 1967

Yehudah Amichai, “Avinu malkenu” ; “Avi malki

Asher Reich, “Ne‘ilah” (p. 112)

Chava Pinhas-Cohen, “Mul She‘arav” 

Ruvik Rosenthal, “Al Het”



Unit IV


Psalms 82 and 145 (Ashrei), Piyut


Yehudah Amichai, “Vehi tehilatekha

Admiel Kosman, “Shir shel yom,” “Piyut” 



Individual reading assignments are subject to change.





#1 Summary of one poem from Unit 1.


#2 Compare two poems which refer to the same original source and comment on how the poets develop material from the source text. Or read a new poem and interpret.


 #3 In class we cover portions of of Amichai’s long poem “Elim mithalfim…” Read the remaining sections, identify the sources, and discuss. OR translate and discuss a poem of your choosing.


Recommended Secondary Reading


David Jacobson, Creator, Are You Listening?

Lawrence Hoffman, ed. My People’s Prayerbook,

Lawrence Hoffman, The Way into Jewish Prayer

Alan Mintz, “Prayer and the Prayerbook,” in Back to the Sources, ed. Barry Holtz

Adin Steinsalz, Guide to Jewish Prayer

Hayim Halevy Donin, To Pray as a Jew

Reuven Hammer, Entering the High Holy Days

  1. Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy

Jules Harlow, Pray Tell: A Hadassah Guide to Prayer

Stanley Burnshaw, et al. The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself

Anne Lapidus Lerner, “A Woman’s Song: The Poetry of Esther Raab” in Gender and Text in Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature

Marc Brettler, Biblical Hebrew for Students of Modern Israeli Hebrew

Wendy Zierler, in My People’s Prayerbook: Kabbalat Shabbat








Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to traditional Jewish prayers and examines Modern Hebrew poems that draw on these classical sources and reframe or reimagine the language of faith. Topics to be converged include: blessings, synagogue prayer services, High holiday prayers, the Sabbath, prayers of mourning, and debate over gender and prayer. Prerequisite: MODHEB 203.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:21pm