A Steady Course of Complaints over YU’s Hebrew Program

By: Emily Goldberg  |  November 20, 2023

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor

In recent months, students have voiced growing concern over one of Stern College for Women’s  Hebrew curriculum choices. 

The asynchronous Hebrew course was introduced to Stern’s curriculum during the Fall 2022 semester. The structure of this class provides students with pre-recorded video lessons accompanied by assignments as opposed to scheduled in-class meetings. 

Dean Deena Rabinovitch, Chair of the Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies, explained that, “During COVID, the Hebrew faculty had successful experiences teaching online, some asynchronously.” She further explained that this formed “the basis for thinking about moving to an online program.”

In a document obtained from the Hebrew Department, the course is described as being “designed to accommodate a wide variety of students’ learning styles and preferences.” The document accentuates the advantages of the asynchronous format, including the allowance for “flexibility,” self pacing, the development of “self-reliance” skills, and “individualized guidance” from the faculty.

However, one Yeshiva University administrator with knowledge of the department declined to comment on whether teaching Hebrew online instead of in person is saving the school money. 

Many students at Stern College are unsatisfied with the course. “I didn’t realize when I got to Stern that it would be online,” said Gabriella Gomperts (SCW ’26). Like Gabriella, these students do not think that the asynchronous structure of the course provides them with the same opportunities that an in-person format would. Dean Shoshana Schechter, Associate Dean of Torah Studies, emphasized that many students, especially her Mechina students, “needed that face to face interaction and conversation” a classroom setting provides. 

Several students feel that the assignments embedded within the course are not conducive to their learning. Hannah Lewin (SCW ’25) did not like the structure of the course modules because “none of them ever connected to each other.” She also thought that “there was not enough repetition” of the material taught. Hannah also expressed frustration over the fact that the course’s many tedious assignments barely counted towards the final grade, even though they took a lot of time and dedication to complete. 

Numerous students are disappointed with the impact of the final exam on their grades. “The final was a huge percentage of the grade, which put a lot of pressure on the final for a class which is asynchronous, and a language, which is already challenging, in and of itself,” stated Allison Warren (SCW ’25).  

Additionally, many students express frustration with the quizzes at the end of each unit. Allison stated that “the quiz questions were always significantly more challenging than any of the practice examples given in the modules.” Gabriella also emphasized that the quizzes were “a bunch of grammar and a bunch of the little things about language” that are not highlighted in the curriculum. Many express that studying all of the material from the lessons did not prepare them adequately for the quizzes. 

Many students have similar complaints about the final. Even after studying exactly what her teacher told her to study, Gabriella was upset with the exam, stating, “I got there and I felt completely blind sided” by the questions asked. Multiple students feel that having clearer guidance on preparation for the final and even a review sheet would have helped them study.

Several students also convey frustrations with the teacher-to-student communication and assistance, noting that when they relayed struggles with the course to their instructors, they were simply referred back to the modules without any additional guidance. 

The online format of the program also poses many technical difficulties for the students. The Hebrew class utilizes Proctorio, an online application that regulates cheating, for all of its formal exams. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, relayed that “The quizzes that were supposed to take me ten minutes always took me thirty minutes because I always had to contact them.” Students constantly have to delete and redownload Proctorio because it asks for an access code that the teachers do not have. Multiple students complain that these technical circumstances beyond their control prevent them from submitting assignments which result in poor grades. 

Some students also feel that Proctorio does not do its job regulating cheating. “I know for a fact that a bunch of people in my class cheated and that wasn’t fair because it affected the curve” on many assignments, stated one frustrated student. 

Many students admit that the asynchronous course is convenient because it allows for them to complete the course work on their own time. At the same time, it is clear that this advantage does not outweigh all of the negative aspects of the course. “I just know that many students are unhappy with it, especially my mechina students who are coming in with a very limited background,” stated Dean Shechter.

However, a student who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that the problem has a lot to do with the attitude of the YU Student population instead of the course itself. “Some people simply hate on the Hebrew program solely because it isn’t an easy A,” said this student. They continued, “YU students, in all honesty, they don’t like putting in work.”

Allison, on the other hand, found many aspects of the course, including the structure of the modules and the assessments, both helpful and fair. She even liked that, in the online format, “you could expand your writing skills because instead of standing up and speaking and having a teacher offhandedly correcting you mid presentation, you could write an answer to a prompt about the story, have it marked and corrected by the teacher, and then you could really look at what the marks were.”At the same time, Allison continued, “While in the moment I definitely feel like I learned a lot, a full semester later, I don’t necessarily feel like I retained a lot of it really well.”

In contrast to Allison’s outlook, the majority of students believe that the only real way to advance their Hebrew fluency is to learn in a setting that allows for real time conversation and interaction. “I spent the summer in Israel and I feel like I learned so much more being in Israel than I ever did in the program” at Stern College, said Gabriella.  

Students like Gabriella feel let down that Yeshiva University, a Modern Orthodox Jewish institution, is not able to develop a program to teach its students this language. Gabriella relayed that, “I am at a place in my life where I would want to someday live in Israel, and learning the Hebrew language is very important as a Jew and as a Zionist.”