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Hebrew Roots, Jewish Routes

A cultural, linguistic, and anthropological look at the connection between Hebrew and Jewish culture.
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Why does Hebrew matter?

In answering this question, Hebrew Roots, Jewish Routes addresses the many ways engagement with Hebrew enriches Jewishness—culturally, religiously, ethnically.

Whether you know Hebrew or not, linguist and cultural anthropologist Jeremy Benstein takes us on a journey into the deeper significance of Hebrew in the life of Jews and Judaism.

With fluency a distant goal for so many, Benstein provides another approach: engaging with Hebrew by focusing on the three-letter Hebrew roots – the “nuggets of knowledge” -- that are the building blocks of the language.

For instance, tzedakah, usually translated as “charity,” actually relates to notions of justice (tzedek) and responsibility, not acts of generosity, thus encapsulating an entire economic world view. With many examples throughout the book, and in nineteen innovative "Wordshops," Benstein shows us both why and how to connect to Hebrew, as a vehicle to enrich our connection to Judaism and its values.

More than just a book about a language, this is a book about the Jewish people and the challenges we face as seen through our shared language, Hebrew.


Dr. Jeremy Benstein is an educator, author, and Hebrew lover. He holds a BA in linguistics from Harvard University, a master's degree in Judaic studies from the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, and a PhD in cultural anthropology from the Hebrew University. Born in Detroit and raised in Ohio, he has lived in Israel since 1983. Along the way, he helped found the Heschel Center for Sustainability in Tel Aviv. He lives in Zichron Yaakov with his wife, five children, two cats, and many books.    

Read a sample here.

For more information about the author and upcoming appearances, click here.


Hebrew Roots is a combination of valentine, cri de coeur and docent tour of one of the world's most richly documented and utterly unusual languages. Showing Hebrew as so much more than something Jewish kids learn a little of to get through their bar/bat mitzvahs and seders, Benstein revels in Hebrew's genius and beauty as the vehicle of a majestic history, in both its liturgical Biblical form and its bustling modern Israeli one.”

- John McWhorter, professor of linguistics at Columbia University; author of Words on the Move and Power of Babel

"Hebrew Roots, Jewish Routes is a tour de force. It's witty and readable yet profound and unforgettable. Benstein emerges as a modern-day Eliezer Ben-Yehuda—with touches of Henry Higgins and the Pied Piper thrown in—championing the Hebrew language as the “key to Jewish identity and culture.” Highly recommended for all, but especially for teachers ready to launch a grassroots revolution bringing Jews back to their language and culture."

-- Gil Troy, professor of History at McGill University, author, The Zionist Ideas

"In this delightful romp through the cultural history of the Hebrew language and Jewish literary creativity, Benstein compellingly demonstrates how a basic understanding of Hebrew can enrich our Jewish lives."

-- Ilana Kurshan, author of If All the Seas Were Ink, winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature 


“Humor, history, personalities and wisdom: Jeremy Benstein offers all of these in great big doses as he leads us on a wondrous tour of the Hebrew language and the ways it has shaped the contours of our culture in every age and place Jews have wandered. In the process, Hebrew has given voice to our aspirations, our longings, and our determination. Hebrew Roots is a book to savor — at times funny, at times serious, but always offering a window into the delicate dance of a people, its homes, and its language.”

-- Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson, Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies

“Just as children learn about music or art, Hebrew appreciation should be a subject in every Jewish school. This is the textbook. It shows how Hebrew connects Jews around the world to each other and to our sacred texts, values, and state. And it highlights linguistic connections – between ancient and modern Hebrew, between Hebrew and other languages, and among diverse Hebrew words that share three-consonant roots. As its title implies, Hebrew Roots, Jewish Routes demonstrates the centrality of Hebrew for the Jewish past, present, and future, and it does so using profound metaphor and whimsical wordplay in both Hebrew and English. Scholars, educators, and anyone with an interest in Judaism, language, or society will find this book delightfully enriching.”

--Sarah Bunin Benor, professor of Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College, co-author of Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps