By Published: April 20, 2019

Lior GrossIn Hebrew, it's harder than you'd think to write "student" in a gender-neutral way. A CU Duo changed that.

When Lior Gross (Ecol, EvoBio’18) enrolled in a Hebrew course at CU, Jewish Studies instructor Eyal Rivlin foresaw a challenge. Gross identifies as gender nonbinary — neither male nor female — and uses the English personal pronouns they/them/their. But standard Hebrew requires masculine or feminine identifiers for many words.

The sentence “I am a good student,” for example, requires Hebrew speakers to assign gender to both “good” and “student.”

“If you don’t have a word to conceptualize your experience, then you can’t connect to others and you feel really isolated about it,” said Gross, who graduated in December and plans to become a rabbi.

Hebrew lettersSo, student and teacher drafted new gender-inclusive Hebrew language rules and introduced the Nonbinary Hebrew Project, which they describe as “a third-gender grammar systematics for Hebrew.”

The project essentially creates a third gender category by adding the suffix “-eh” to most words, and can be used for both nonbinary individuals and mixed-gender groups, which previously were referred to using the masculine plural.

“It was probably either really hard or maybe even impossible within Hebrew to identify as nonbinary,” said Rivlin, an Israeli army veteran who also is a professional recording and touring musician.

The new rules are useful for Hebrew, he said, and “also for educating students about diversity."

Gross and Rivlin have received positive reviews from the nonbinary community and others eager to spread their approach, they said. Some people have introduced it to their own universities and congregations.

Gross sees the project as a natural continuation of traditional Jewish teachings.

“One of the biggest things that resonates with me about Judaism,” they said, “is the encouragement of doubting and questioning and pushing back and holding multiple right answers.” 

Read more about the project at here.

Photo by Patrick Campbell