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 Bar Mitzvah Readiness: Learning Hebrew & Torah Reading
Orthodox Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

Learning Hebrew and the Torah Reading

Hebrew is decidedly easier to read than English – once you know it. In English “the” looks like it should sound like “ta-ha-eh,” and “enough” would logically be sounded out like “ee-ne-oo-ga-ha,” all the strange exceptions in English turn it into a confusing language. Hebrew is almost completely phonetic. Combine the letter and its vowel sound together, and you’ve got it.

Hebrew vowels are a little tougher. In English, vowels fit into the word itself, like “bat mitzvah” has the “a,” “i,” and “a” inside the word. Using the Hebrew vowel structure, the word would like more like this “BaT MITZVaH.” Vowels are dots and dashes written underneath and above the letters. No vowels appear in the Torah. It’s a little hard, but definitely doable.

A special book, called a Tikkun, is available with the verses as they appear in the Torah and the same words in regular Hebrew type with vowels – side by side. Practicing in a Tikkun helps readers get ready for the vowel-free Torah.

A few weeks before the big day, schedule a viewing of the portion in the actual scroll to get even more comfortable with how the words look and their layout. If the reading will take place on Shabbat, practice with the shorter Monday or Thursday morning Torah reading.

The Trop – Torah Tune
You’ll notice that the Torah is not just read, it’s chanted. The tune is ancient and is indicated by dots, dashes, jagged zigzags, horseshoe shapes, and v-marks above and below the words. These don’t appear in the Torah scroll itself, but they are in the Tikkun and the Chumash, where the Torah text is printed in book form.

Private Tutors
To learn the trop, it is sometimes necessary to study one to one with a tutor. Pick a good one. A good tutor can add depth and enthusiasm to the whole preparation process. One essential difference between a good and a bad tutor is patience. Learning the trop can be frustrating. Select a tutor who can offer corrections without criticism.

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