Our Projects in Holy Land

Polis (Jerusalem)

What is POLIS?

Polis, The Jerusalem Institute of Languages and Humanities, is an educational initiative of a group of researchers and teachers – specialists in linguistics and pedagogy, historians and scholars of classical languages – whose main goal is to contribute to bridging the gaps that the lack of understanding between cultures has created. We believe that languages are much more than communicational tools: they act as doorkeepers between cultures. Knowing the language of “the other” helps not just to understand what he is expressing, but also to understand him, his background and worldview.

The Polis Institute began its activities by organizing spoken Koine Greek and Hebrew language courses in Jerusalem and Rome. Encouraged by the positive reception of the method and its success it was decided to apply it also to the teaching of Arabic. To satisfy the increasing demand and to have a long-lasting impact on the revival of classical languages, an academic institution that is dedicated to spreading the usage of this method was born: Polis–The Jerusalem Institute of Languages and Humanities. Polis is now providing regular language instruction for a number of languages, developing teaching manuals, forming teachers and encouraging translations of texts with special cultural relevance.

The Institute is located in Musrara, a neighborhood in Jerusalem which is very close to the seam line dividing the Western and Eastern part of the city. The location also expresses the ethos which Polis imbues: building bridges and seeking dialogue between cultures.

Because of its strategic location, Musrara is a place where all people in Jerusalem – Jews, Arabs and foreigners – can easily access. In this regard, we’re proud to say that the Polis Institute is working tirelessly in order to improve the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. Our courses and activities foster a mutual understanding among the different cultures in the Region by something as easy as improving their knowledge of the “other’s” language. During the academic year our 12 courses of spoken Arabic and modern Hebrew gather together in the same place (in addition to our international students) a good number of citizens of Jerusalem who want to know better the language of their neighbors. Among our students, as well as among our staff, one can meet Jews, Muslims and Christians united together for one cause: to delve deeper in the knowledge of each other’s cultures and to build bridges of mutual understanding.

The POLIS Method

The Polis teaching method takes inspiration from two models of language pedagogy that have proved themselves in the past:

– The Ulpan Method for learning Modern Hebrew, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of recent immigrants to master in record time a language known to be difficult. The system achieves a total immersion in the new language by constantly involving the student in the learning process.

– The Total Physical Response method, according to which learning foreign languages should follow the physical and oral process by which a mother tongue is acquired – a process in which stages of passive learning precede those of active learning. Just as children communicate with their parents physically before they can do so verbally, adults learning a foreign language are encouraged to demonstrate by actions, as well as by words, their understanding of what is being said.

Through various teaching techniques (TPR Storytelling, Story building, conversational pair and small group work, etc.), Polis courses quickly develop functional spoken vocabulary and grammar through constant communicative exchange between the instructor and the students. After two years (four semesters), students have learned to think in the ancient language and understand it on its own terms, without needing a modern language to stand in between them and the text. From this unique starting point, they may proceed gradually to master the extant literature in their language of choice and even discuss this literature with their fellow classmates and instructors in that very language. Students may also cover the equivalent of one year of study in one of our intensive summer courses.

The Method was originally developed for the teaching of Koine Greek by Prof. Christophe Rico (Director of the Institute) and took form in the Polis Manual published in French (Cerf Editions). Thanks to its success it has been translated to German (Helmut Buske Press) and Italian (San Paolo Press). Editions are also being prepared in English and Spanish. The method has opened wide new possibilities and has been enthusiastically received by many researchers who have discovered its significant advantages. Thanks to its reception it is being adapted for teaching Biblical Hebrew (Salem Manual), Latin (Forum Manual) and Spoken Arabic.


Polis provides language instructions with regular courses along the year and intensive summer courses organized in Jerusalem and other cities.

  • Classical Languages

    • Modern Hebrew
    • Spoken Arabic
  • Modern Languages

    • Biblical Hebrew
    • Koine Greek
    • Latin
    • Aramaic
    • Classical Syriac

Polis has decided to place a special emphasis on the teaching of Arabic. Sadly, very few institutions in Israel teach Arabic as a second language, deepening the division between Jews and Arabs. The available courses are based on old fashioned methods that have proved ineffective. Moreover Arabic instructors – even though they are fluent in the language – usually have neither the necessary pedagogical background nor a systematically developed method which they can use. The Arabic department of Polis intends not just to teach students but also to form capable teachers providing them with modern pedagogical tools and a well-defined method. The Arabic Method which has been designed by a team of experts has 6 levels corresponding to six semesters of study.

The Previous Academic Year

During the last academic year (2012-2013), Polis organized in Jerusalem 22 courses for 244 students in the following languages: Biblical Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, Ancient Greek, Spoken Arabic, Standard Arabic and Classical Syriac. These courses took place in three sessions: Fall semester, spring semester and summer. In addition to the courses in Jerusalem, during the year 2013 Polis organized intensive courses in Hebrew, Greek and Latin in Rome, Florida, Lima and Manila. A total number of 184 students took part in them. Also this is the breakdown of the students that studied in Polis during the last 12 months:

– M.A. Program in Ancient Philology: 10 students (coming from 8 different countries)

– Guest students coming from partner institutions: 46 students

– Language courses: 188 students.

Below is a pie chart which displays the percentage of our students who come from the following places: 

 Every year, Polis also organizes an interdisciplinary conference on a subject in Humanities. Last February, a two-day interdisciplinary conference on the origins of the Alphabet brought together some of the world’s leading professors on this topic who discussed the subject from different points of view (linguistics, paleography, history and psychology).

Master’s Programs

Last September, Polis started a Master’s program in ancient philology. It aims at giving the students real linguistic tools for understanding ancient literature. Professors from the University of Strasbourg, the Free University of Berlin and the Hebrew University work together to provide quality teaching to ten international students.

Why a Master in Ancient Philology?

Strange as it may seem, most of the writings from Ancient and Medieval times can only be read in the original: Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew or Arabic. They have never been translated into any modern language. Furthermore, many a specialist in Humanities lacks a real command of Ancient languages. It becomes increasingly difficult to find translators of ancient texts or even a scientific article where the author produces in a modern language a text from Antiquity that has never been translated before.

Hence, the 21st century individual finds herself or himself estranged from her or his cultural roots. Polis, the Jerusalem Institute of Languages and Humanities, comes to fulfill this need. With a large and varied Master’s program, offered by worldwide renowned professors from European and American universities, the Polis Institute is so far the only place in the world where students can study the main literary Ancient languages (Greek, Latin, Biblical Hebrew and Classical Syriac) as living ones. Thus, our Master’s program in Ancient Philology could be the gateway to the renewal of Humanities.

Partnerships and International Activities

Polis has agreements of cooperation with the University of the Holy Cross in Rome (our main partner), the Universidad de Piura (Lima, Peru), the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) and the Universidad Católica de Argentina (Buenos Aires, Argentina).

In addition, Polis is conducting language programs with the Al Mowafaqa Institute (Rabat, Morocco) and Ave Maria University (Florida, USA).

Furthermore several cooperation agreements are being persured. which would establish partnerships with Université de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France) and, Université de la Sorbonne (Paris, France).

The cooperation with these institutions provides Polis with a wide platform to organize intensive summer courses in different cities around the globe. So far, intensive courses have been taught in Rome, Lima, Florida, Rabat and Manila. Language courses in Barcelona have been programmed for 2014.

Looking to the future: Our projects…

Teaching Manuals

Following the success of the Polis Method of Koine Greek the Institute started encouraging similar methods for Biblical Hebrew (Salem Manual) and Latin (Forum Manual) being developed by experts in France, Israel and the United States. Polis is also developing a full method for Palestinian Arabic in six levels. The course starts with spoken coloquial Arabic while gradually transitioning to higher levels i.e. the modern standard literary language used as lingua franca in the Arabic speaking world.

New Testament Translation Project

Polis is working in cooperation with Tel Aviv University Press in a new scientific translation of the New Testament in modern-day Hebrew. The Hebrew speaking population in Israel is largely unfamiliar with Christianity in general and with this fundamental book, which is so highly embedded in the Jewish culture and in the Land of Israel. A new scientific translation could enable Israeli readers to become more easily acquainted with this part of the Christian Holy Scriptures and thus contribute both to the inter-religious dialogue between Judaism and Christianity and to the current cultural discourse in Israel. Moreover, such an edition could also be very useful for the Hebrew speaking Christian communities in Israel.

New Master’s Programs

In the near future, we plan to open other programs: a Master’s program in translation theory, an M.A. in Semitic Languages and another M.A. in Holy Places and the History of Pilgrimages. In addition, in order to help pilgrims understand better the significance of the Holy Places, Polis is studying the possibility of developing an Intensive Course for Tourists’ Guides.

…Our needs

The Polis Institute is a nonprofit association. In order to reach our financial needs we are dependent upon two main sources of funding. The first one is the registration fee of the students. As it happens in too many Academic Institutions the price of the courses could never cover all the expenses because the students can’t afford such a cost. The second source of funds comes from our generous donors. The donations can be done in different ways, and given to any of our projects. A very important help could be to give a Scholarship to a student in our Master’s Programs. A full grant, (including lodging, scholar fees and books) would need to reach 10,000 € per academic year, for 2 years (not including food, and other necessities). Thank you for your time and for any support help or partnerships which you can offer.

Students of the 1st year of our Master’s Program in Ancient Philology during a trip to the Mount of Olives