2 questions for Jews regarding Hebrew


I hope it’s okay to post 2 questions on a single thread.

  1. Do most Jews know Hebrew? I’m curious regarding the comparison of Jews/Hebrew to Catholics/Latin. In other words, Latin is no longer the universal language used in the Mass. Now it is in the local language. Therefore almost no Catholic laypeople, and apparently not all priests, speak Latin any more. Did the same thing happen to the Hebrew language in the synagogue?

  2. As posted on another thread, my son has been invited to someone’s home for a seder. I thought it would be polite and maybe a little fun if he knew a simple Hebrew phrase to greet his hosts with. Nothing fancy – maybe just “Thank you for inviting me,” or whatever you recommend. (And please, no jokes to get him in trouble!:smiley: )

  1. Hebrew is the language spoken in Israel so I guess you could say that a lot of Jewish people still speak Hebrew.

  2. Shalom is Hebrew for peace. Jewish people would use this as a greeting at a seder.


Sorry, I guess I should have clarified. I meant do most Jews worldwide still speak Hebrew, or has it gone the way of Latin in the Catholic Church?

  1. Shalom is Hebrew for peace. Jewish people would use this as a greeting at a seder.

Again, my apologies for not clarifying my question. I was looking for a sentence of several words. I knew about “shalom”. That brings up another question though. When I was in Israel on a business trip years ago, our representative ended phone calls with “Shalom, todah” (don’t know if I’m spelling that correctly). I never asked him what it meant, but I assumed it meant “good bye.”


I would say that most Jews in the U.S do not speak Hebrew. I think the amount of Hebrew one would know / use would depend on what kind of temple they attend. Orthodox Jews would speak and use Hebrew. Conservative / Reform Jews would vary on how much Hebrew they use. I guess the confusion is that you can’t really compare Hebrew to Latin since nobody speaks Latin as a main language anymore. I think all real Rabbis can read, write, and speak Hebrew. How much Hebrew they use in their service depends. Thus, how much Hebrew a person living in a non Hebrew nation can speak and understand varies.

Oh yeah, shalom is used as hello and goodbye as well but I don’t know any cool phrases.


Afraid I’m not Jewish, but if I remember correctly, the situation’s like this:

The revived version of Hebrew known as Modern Hebrew is spoken widely as a native language in Israel, but resembles the idiom of the older Biblical books about as much as Modern Greek resembles the language of Homer. In other words, they’re related but mutually unintelligible languages, hugely different both in grammar and phonology.

One gets the impression that the Biblical variety of Hebrew is roughly as well known among Jews as Latin is among Catholics. I also hear that Modern Hebrew pronunciation rules are often applied when Biblical Hebrew is read aloud.


Latin is still the universal language of the Church. All official documentation within the Church is issued in Latin and then translated into the vernacular languages.

The Second Vatican Council didn’t do away with Latin. It simply allowed the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, while retaining and encouraging the use of Latin.

Unfortunately, many interprepted that directive to mean no Latin whatsoever.

Fortunately, the latest documents from the Holy See have reminded our bishops and clergy to encourage the use of Latin during Mass, particularly during the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. In fact, they’ve gone so far as to ask that Masses for large international congregations only use the vernacular for the readings and the homily, to forge the sense of a universal language amongst those attending from different nations.


I’m aware of this. I was just trying to draw a comparison between the usage of Latin and Hebrew among the faithful/laypeople in the Church and synagogues.


We grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, so did my children. The kind of area where synagogues were many because they were close enough to walk to, in obedience with Jewish law. We went to Catholic parochial school, our Jewish neighbors went to Hebrew school. Some went all day, as we did, for academic as well as religious instruction. In Catholic school we took 2-4 years of Latin, our Jewish friends learned Hebrew, and the reason for this instruction was so that we would learn to fully participate in our respective modes of worship.
Those who attended public school went after school or on weekends to their Catholic parish or synagogue for religious instruction, including Latin or Hebrew.

Even our Jewish friends from more liberal traditons attended “Hebrew school” to be instructed in sufficient Hebrew for worship and especially for learning their “Torah portion” which they would memorize and read for their Bar Mitzvah ceremony.

For that matter, our friends in Greek Catholic or Orthodox parishes attended Greek school for the same purpose. Since the Eastern Catholics had been fully initiated at Baptism, their clergy and parents felt religious instruction, including Greek without which they could not participate in Divine Liturgy, was essential. Many but not all also had parochial schools for academics as well.

So yes, many Jews do learn Hebrew, at least enough to properly read scripture and participate in worship.


The great majority of Israeli Jews know Hebrew. I don’t know what the percentage is of AMerican Jews. But I would think it is higher than religious christians who know latin. For example, I don’t know Hebrew but I sent all three of my children to Hebrew day school and they all know it.

Hebrew is still, generally, the language used in our services. Sme shuls will use the language of the host country. But all Torah readings, which form a part of services (except for Friday evenings), are read in Hebrew.

Say Chag Sameach [Sa may ah] (Happy Holiday Greeting)

The “CH” sound is a bit like you are clearing your throat.


Todah means thank you.


That’s what I like to hear – parents ensuring that their children are exposed to the language of their ancestors. My wife is Mexican-American, and it was tough-going, but I think our children know a reasonable amount of Spanish. As for me, I’m told I have a mixture of Scottish, Cherokee, Black Dutch (I still don’t know what that means!) and probably others. I don’t know a word from any of those heritages.

Say Chag Sameach [Sa may ah] (Happy Holiday Greeting)

The “CH” sound is a bit like you are clearing your throat.

Thanks, I’ll remember that for the future. Unfortunately, by the time I got this, my son had already left.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.