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.
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.
, 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
– to dedicate, to inaugurate – is a grammatically simple verb. In Modern Hebrew, it also means to mentor, giving us חונך
, 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
– 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
also mean cadet or apprentice.
4. בֵּית סֵפֶר
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, a term that has since been replaced by ישיבה
5. תַּלְמִיד, תַּלְמִידָה
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
refer to someone attending an institution of higher education. תלמידה
come from the root ל.מ.ד
which means learning or studying.
– (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
7. מוֹרֶה, מוֹרָה
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
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.”
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
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.