10 Hebrew Words for Education

Sun | May 16

10 Hebrew Words for Education

The average Jewish educator knows at least some of these words. But what about the linguistic stories behind them – where they come from, how they connect to other words? Let’s unpack ten Hebrew words about education. 
1. חִינּוּךְ
– education
Whereas in English there’s upbringing and there’s education, in Hebrew there’s one word for both – חינוך
. That’s because in Jewish culture, education begins in the home and entails not just history, science and literature, but also morals, manners and values.
– the noun form of the פיעל verb לחנך
– is related to חנוכה
, which is not just the Festival of Lights but actually means dedication or inauguration: when we educate children, we inaugurate them as members of human society.
2. חוֹנֵךְ, חוֹנֶכֶת
– mentor
– to dedicate, to inaugurate – is a grammatically
simple verb. In Modern Hebrew, it also means to mentor, giving us חונך
and חונכת
, as in:
כשהיא הייתה סטודנטית היא עבדה בתור חונכת לילדה יתומה.
When she was a student she worked as a mentor for an orphan girl.
We might think of education – חינוך
– as a more intensive form of mentoring: it derives from the
פיעל verb לחנך
and gives us מחנך
and מחנכת
– educator (also “homeroom teacher”).
3. חָנִיךְ, חֲנִיכָה
– cadet, apprentice, “camper”
The one receiving mentorship or guidance is a חניך
(a male) or חניכה
(a female). You may have heard this word at Jewish summer camp referring to a camper. חניכה
and חניך
also mean cadet or apprentice.
4. בֵּית סֵפֶר
– school
The nations of the world know the Jewish People as עם הספר
– the People of the Book. Which book? The Bible, of course. Likewise, בית ספר
– meaning literally “house of a book” and today referring to a school for kids or a profession – referred to a place for Bible study when the term was first used in Mishnaic times.
When a child would graduate to Talmudic study, he went to בית תלמוד
, a term that has since been replaced by ישיבה
– yeshiva.
5. תַּלְמִיד, תַּלְמִידָה
– student
In the example above about mentoring, “student” appears as סטודנטית
. But what about תלמידה
? Doesn’t that mean “student”? 
Whereas תלמידה
(or her male counterpart תלמיד
) refers to a student in general, סטודנטית
and סטודנט
refer to someone attending an institution of higher education. תלמידה
and תלמיד
come from the root ל.מ.ד
which means learning or studying.
6. הַשְׂכָּלָה
– (higher) education
Speaking of higher education, in Hebrew we call this השכלה גבוהה
. Why not חינוך גבוה
? Because while חינוך
means not just intellectual education but also value-instillment, השכלה
refers exclusively to academic learning and development – which is what university is all about (at least in theory). After all, the three-letter root of השכלה
is שׂ.כ.ל
– intellect.
7. מוֹרֶה, מוֹרָה
– teacher
The root of מורה
– teacher – is י.ר.י
, the same as that of תורה
– Torah. What’s the connection? י.ר.י
means instruction: a teacher is an instructor, and the תורה
is the book of instruction.
So how do you say “to instruct”? That’s the הפעיל verb להורות
8. מִכְלָלָה
– college
While the Hebrew word for אוניברסיטה
borrows from the foreign “university”, college is מכללה
, a proper Hebrew word. Eliezer Ben Yehuda coined this term, basing it on the root כ.ל.ל
meaning “all” or “general.”
9. שִׁיעוּר
– lesson
means not only “lesson” but also “size”, “portion” and “rate”. What does a lesson have to do with all these? Instead of delivering an entire course in one shot, instructors divide their material into manageable portions – lessons or שיעורים
10. מַדְרִיךְ, מַדְרִיכָה
– guide
Now, מורה
refers to someone teaching in a formal setting. What about informal educators – or “guides”? There the words are מדריכה
for a female and מדריך
for a male, which are gerunds of להדריך
– the הפעיל verb meaning “to guide”. Likewise, “guidance” is הדרכה
These words derive from the root ד.ר.כ
meaning path or way: a guide is someone who shows the way.

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