Hebrew & Yiddish

Mora Rissien and a Hebrew student converse and look over a paper together in a classroom.

To learn Hebrew at KU is to become a part of the Jewish continuum, amplifying the voices of the Jewish people.


The Hebrew language offers a unique gateway between the past and the present. It is the voice of the Jewish people, surviving for centuries through religious texts but it is also a living language, connecting Jews worldwide.

After thousands of years of silence, Hebrew was revived. Modern Hebrew is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide and is one of the last remaining spoken languages with deep roots in ancient history. The Hebrew language has been and continues to be the language of the Jewish people. Hebrew fluency offers opportunities to thrive in a multilingual world.

All students new to the Hebrew language program and who seek Hebrew instruction at a level beyond elementary Hebrew (HEBR 110) are required to take a placement exam.

Students must consult the Hebrew Program Coordinator, Shelley Rissien (srissien@ku.edu) before enrolling to obtain the exam.

Students may not register for courses at levels equal to or below their present competence. The placement exam is to be taken prior to registration and/or the first day of classes, and consists of a written component, an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), and an interview with the Hebrew Program Coordinator.

Hebrew Courses:



Yiddish is the erstwhile lingua franca of East-European (Ashkenazi) Jews and now spoken by Hasidic Jews and some traditional communities in Israel and elsewhere. Prior to the Holocaust and among 17 million Jews worldwide, 11 million were speakers of Yiddish. The language of the Eastern European or Ashkenazic Jews, Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet and was the shared language among Eastern European Jews prior to World War II. Today there are less than 600,000 speakers of Yiddish. Despite the dwindling numbers, many young scholars are inspired to be a part of its revival, keeping the language alive as part of the Jewish tradition. 

Linguists find Yiddish a particularly interesting language to study because of its blended nature: its lexicon is made up primarily of German, Hebrew, and Aramaic components, but it also has structural characteristics that reveal commonalities with Romance and Slavic languages. 

Learning Yiddish is fun because it is the language of an ethnic group whose humor and musical sensibilities are inseparable from the language itself. Any course in Yiddish inevitably includes songs, jokes, riddles, and insults that reflect the essential elements of everyday discourse and life in Yiddishkeit. 

Yiddish courses are generally not offered as part of the standard semester curriculum, but instead are offered on an individual basis. Please contact  the Jewish Studies Program (jewishstudies@ku.edu) to make arrangements.  

Yiddish Courses: