As a young Christian in middle America, Brayden Waller had his first encounter with Hebrew when his mother Sherri read him the story of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
Ben-Yehuda was born in the mid-19th century and is credited with reviving Hebrew as a spoken language. Although Hebrew has always been used in Torah scholarship, it ceased to be commonly spoken after the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people.
Six decades later, there was an attempt by Bar Kochba, who led the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in Israel (132-135 CE), to restore Hebrew as the official language of the Jews. Bar Kochba failed, and spoken Hebrew was all but dead, until Eliezer ben-Yehuda began his work.
Waller told Breaking Israel News that learning about Eliezer Ben-Yehuda “was the beginning of my passion to learn Hebrew.” At 18, he came to Israel and observed ordinary people speaking Hebrew on the street. “Seeing the fruition of Ben-Yehuda’s work really impacted me. By the time I was 20, I was spending five hours a day learning Hebrew on my own.”
A few years later and newly-married, Waller and his wife Tali enrolled in a full-time Hebrew language program in Jerusalem. Today, he serves as the Hebrew School Director for HaYovel, an organization that works to “educate the Christian world about the unique role of the Jewish people and their position in the nation of Israel.”
Waller explained to Breaking Israel News why some Christians are motivated to learn Hebrew. “It connects them to the Torah and the Prophets, which were written in Hebrew. Even 1st century Christians spoke Hebrew.” He mentioned a verse from the prophet Zefania, which Jews commonly understand as a reference to the Hebrew language.
For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, So that they all invoke Hashem by name And serve Him with one accord. Zephaniah 3:9
Regarding this verse, The Israel Bible comments that, “In future times the whole world will begin to learn Hebrew, the language of Creation… This verse is another incredible example of an obscure prophecy that has come to prominent fruition in our generation, as millions of people all over the world, both Jews and gentiles, are learning Hebrew in order to speak lashon hakodesh (the holy language).”
Waller said, “There is excitement about being part of the revolution, being able to praise God in the original language of the Psalms.
“I think there’s a growing understanding that a restoration of Hebrew is connected to the End Times. People are appreciating the roots of where they come from. Christians are realizing we have this rich heritage of faith and worship and learning Hebrew really connects us to that reality. Learning Hebrew gives us a closer connection to the roots of our faith.”
Waller, whose Hebrew proficiency allows him to speak comfortably with Israelis and read the Bible in its original language, wanted to share his Hebrew knowledge with other Christians.
Describing himself as “a natural teacher,” he was moved “to be part of something that God is doing, [to be] participating in something God was restoring. That was the driving force. I can be a part of something God is doing in my generation and help others be a part of it as well.”
In 2013, Waller created the annual HaYovel Hebrew courses, which begin again on December 2, 2018 and run for six weeks.
HaYovel offers intensive Hebrew classes on their campus in Patterson, Missouri. On-campus study allows students to immerse themselves in Hebrew. In addition to morning classes, there are evening activities, such as Hebrew films, plays and opportunities to sing Hebrew songs.
In addition, there is a theme for each week, and studies center around that theme, culminating in a role-play in which students are encouraged to use the Hebrew they have been learning. For example, when the theme for the week is transportation, Waller and his staff simulate boarding an airplane with all Hebrew-speaking staff. “We make every effort possible to make it engaging and fun,” Waller noted.
According to Waller, about 10% of each class is Biblical Hebrew, “to make the connection, because the Bible is written in Hebrew,” he explained. The rest of class time focuses on Modern Hebrew.
Understanding that not everyone can travel to Missouri for weeks at a time, Waller created an online version. Beginning Hebrew will meet online two hours a day, five days a week, for the same six weeks as the on-campus class. The online course is significantly more affordable than the on-campus courses and HaYovel is offering free tuition for additional family members if two other family members enroll. Tuition for the online course is also free for children eight and under with a parent’s enrollment.
Any Christian, regardless of where they live, can enroll in the online class which includes the same playful spirit as the on-campus courses. The only prerequisite is knowing the Hebrew letters and vowels.
For those who cannot not yet identify Hebrew letters, Yeshiva for the Nations, an online academy that offers authentic Torah classes designed for non-Jews, offers HEBR 101 – Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet and Hebrew Reading that is perfect preparation for HaYovel’s Beginning Hebrew class.
In an interesting parallel to growing Christian awareness of the importance of Hebrew, just last week, Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency, announced a renewed effort to teach Hebrew to Jews in the Diaspora, calling the Hebrew language, “a Jewish national value and birthright privilege.”