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The sanctity of decoding: Reframing Hebrew literacy in the United States and Europe


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Aims and Objectives:
This article explores the challenges Jewish children face in educational programs teaching about Judaism and Jewish culture located in the United States and Europe. Students learn to decode Hebrew but not to read for comprehension, which conflicts with other types of literacy learning they encounter throughout their education in school and at home.
The study is based on long-term participant observation at two religious education programs, one in the United States and one in Luxembourg.
Data and Analysis:
A language socialization lens was applied to coded fieldnotes to bring findings into conversation with each other.
Following initial frustrations stemming from a mismatch between American and European schooled literacy expectations and Hebrew decoding, students came to understand Hebrew as a distinctive sacred language. This allowed them to reconceptualize decoding as a successful and meaningful form of literacy and to see themselves as competent Hebrew users and members of a broader Jewish community.
Existing studies primarily focus on sacred languages and literacies oriented around supporting connections with the divine. This study contributes to the existing body of work by illustrating religious literacy education aimed at cultivating communal and religious identification.
This study provides evidence that decoding of sacred texts without comprehension of lexico-semantic content can be a meaningful form of literacy that enables religious members to affirm and do community without explicit reference to divine relations. It argues for a distinctive form of bilingualism in which the sacred language and talk about it work together to create meaningful religious learning.



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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).

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Bibliographic Information

Badder, Anastasia, Avni, Sharon The sanctity of decoding: Reframing Hebrew literacy in the United States and Europe. International Journal of Bilingualism. 2024:  https://archive.jpr.org.uk/10.1177/13670069241233389