Modern Hebrew Language and Literature

Advanced education and scholarship on Hebrew has been an integral part of the University of Chicago since its founding in 1892.  The first president of the University, William Rainey Harper was a distinguished scholar of the Hebrew Bible, and the first faculty included Emil Gustav Hirsch, a scholar of rabbinics and classical Hebrew literature. Today, Modern Hebrew Language and Literature is taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and graduate students can draw on the programming, courses and resources offered through the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH), the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), the Divinity School (DIV),  and other units at the university. The College also runs a study-abroad program in Jerusalem, offering graduate students unique and exciting opportunities to work as teaching assistants and program coordinators.

The University is home to Regenstein Library, which holds a substantial collection of Hebrew materials as well as special collections such as the Ludwig Rosenberger Collection of Judaica, a major journal (Journal of Near Eastern Studies), and a Hebrew Circle.

General Program OverviewStudents entering NELC with a primary focus in Hebrew Language and Literature must meet all of the same requirements as other Ph.D. fields within NELC.  These requirements include the following (for further details about each requirement, please see the NELC  rules and requirementsand the Timeline).  Student progress toward these requirements is periodically reviewed, especially at the end of year one and again at the end of year two before approval is given for continuation in the Ph.D.

1)       successful completion of at least 27 courses, which will normally amount to 3 years of coursework under our quarter system (Rules & Requirements §§  2 and 6 through 12);

2)       grade of high-pass in two European language reading examinations (normally French and German), one by the end of the first year, and the other by the end of the second year of coursework (Rules & Requirements §§  14 and 15); 

3)      completion of an acceptable M.A. thesis paper (Rules & Requirements §§  16-20) in Spring of the second year.  Students who successfully complete the second-year review will receive an MA degree and be continued forward to the Ph.D. degree.

4)      completion of 5 units of teaching in the university, as language assistant, course assistant and/or lecturer, from year three through year five (normally one unit in year three, and 2 units in each of years 4 and 5);

5)      successful completion of comprehensive exams by the end of year 4 (Rules & Requirements §§  24-34);

6)      preparation of a dissertation proposal by the end of year 5 (Rules & Requirements §§  35-39);

7)      successful defense of the dissertation within seven years of the successful dissertation proposal (Rules & Requirements §§  40-48).


Language RequirementsStudents in all of the Islamic and Modern Middle Eastern fields, including Hebrew language and literature, must achieve competence in at least two Near Eastern Languages.   Students in the Modern Hebrew Language and Literature program will naturally have Hebrew as their primary language, and will also declare a secondary Near Eastern language, in consultation with their advisor (Arabic, Turkish, Persian, pre-Modern Hebrew).

In cases where the student’s academic interests warrant a change to the standard language requirements, he or she may, with the approval of the advisor and the Graduate Counselor for the Islamic/Modern fields, petition the Student Affairs Committee to substitute a related language taught in another department (such as Yiddish, Russian, Amharic or Polish) for one of the required European languages or for the secondary Near Eastern Language.  

Before taking comprehensive examinations, students in the Hebrew L&L program must reach advanced level competency in Hebrew, and intermediate level competency (or better) in their secondary language.   Advanced level competency in Hebrew is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of at least four years of Hebrew, or the equivalent of two years of coursework (six quarters) in Hebrew courses, beyond the usual intermediate-level (second-year) language course.  Intermediate level competency is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of the intermediate-level (second-year) language course.

Coursework Students in the Hebrew Language and Literature program of NELC are expected to take 27 courses, as follows, in consultation with their adviser.  In cases where there is a compelling reason for substitutions, this may be approved with the adviser and by petition to the Student Affairs Committee:

1)       At least one course per quarter (for a total of at least 9 courses) in Modern Hebrew literature and Jewish thought, literature and history and history of the Modern Middle East.

2)      The year-long sequence (3 courses) in Jewish thought and literature

3)      at least 4 courses in medieval or modern history of  Judaism; history and culture of the Modern Middle East, Jewish philosophy or political thought, Jewish literature and culture etc., which involve use of Hebrew-language sources. 

4)      at least 6 courses in the secondary language to establish, beyond the basic language requirements, a degree of proficiency in using primary and secondary sources in that language.

5)      5 additional elective courses may be chosen, with the consent of the adviser, for a total of 27. 

Comprehensive Examinations The comprehensive examinations in Hebrew Language and Literature consist of the four following subjects:

1) Major Field:  a written exam of four hours in Modern Hebrew Literature.

2) Minor Field:  a written exam of four hours in a subject chosen from the list below.


3) Methodology:  assesses the student's ability to work with primary materials in Hebrew and the secondary language (usually a text or texts of a kind familiar to the student) and to utilize those materials in the production of scholarship--e.g., by being asked to prepare a translation or summary of the text, a commentary on it, and/or to write an essay on an assigned topic or topics using the text as part of the evidence. The student is given 8 hours to complete the assignment, during which he/she may consult any working aids (dictionaries, encyclopedias, notes, etc.) that may be deemed useful.

4) History and Civilization (Oral exam; 2 hours maximum). Depending on the chosen course of study, this exam may focus on the history of Jewish thought and literature, on the Modern Middle East or on other topics selected in consultation with the main advisor and approved by petition to the Student Affairs Committee.


The Minor Examination Fields: Fields for the Major and Minor Field Examinations are to be chosen from the following list of approved fields; examinations are intended to test the student's comprehensive knowledge of the given fields. Students should select fields for their examinations in consultation with their advisor.

Exam Fields normally offered to NELC students in the Islamic and Modern fields are:

·         Islamic Art

·         Islamic Archaeology

·         Early Islamic History (ca. 500-1200 C.E.)

·         Middle Periods Islamic History (ca. 1000-1700 C.E.)

·         Modern Middle Eastern History (ca. 1500-Present)

·         Pre-Modern Arabic Literature

·         Modern Arabic Literature

·         Pre-Modern Persian Literature

·         Modern Persian Literature

·         Pre-Modern Turkish Literature

·         Modern Turkish Literature

·         Pre-Modern Hebrew Literature

·         Modern Hebrew Literature

·         Philology (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew)

·         Linguistics (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, or Comparative Semitics)

·         Islamic Philosophy

·         Islamic Theology

·         Islamic Law

·         Qur'anic Studies

·         Hadith

·         Islamic Political Thought

·         Sufism

With the approval of his/her advisor and the Graduate Counselor, a student may choose a minor field in the Ancient section of NELC, or outside the Department, if relevant to his or her research interests; for example: Biblical Hebrew language and literature; Medieval Hebrew language and literature; Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Jewish languages (e.g. Judeo Arabic, Judeo Persian, Ladino); Modern Jewish Philosophy and Political Thought; Comparative Literature; Germanic Literatures; Slavic Literatures; History of Religions Methodology; Linguistics; Medieval European History; Modern European History;  Romance Languages and Literatures; Sociology of Religion; generally, any relevant Humanities or Social Sciences fields.

Dissertation Proposal.After passing the Comprehensive Examinations, the student will select a dissertation advisor, and will - in consultation with the Graduate Counselor, the Chairman of the Department, and the advisor - set up a faculty committee of three or more members to supervise the dissertation. The advisor, who is the chairman of this committee, must be a faculty member of NELC. The proposal must be submitted within one year after completing the Comprehensive Examination. Once the proposal has been approved by the Department's faculty, the student shall be formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree (see the Department's Rules and Requirements, § 33).

The Dissertation and Final Oral Examination.After approval of the dissertation proposal, the student will conduct dissertation research, keeping in close touch with his or her advisor and the members of his or her dissertation committee.  The finished dissertation must meet all University and Departmental requirements (see Rules and Requirements §§ 39-41) and should be submitted within seven years of the dissertation proposal and admission to candidacy for the Ph.D.