Biblical rhapsody and regret
Israeli journalists are embarrassed by the Bible’s popularity. They’re petrified that so many people feel that the Bible is relevant.
Torah scroll. Photo: Stockbyte
The annual Herzog College Bible study seminar at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon
Shvut – attended recently by over 6,000 men and women, young and old, religious
and secular – is a magnificent enterprise, an intellectual treat, and an
exhilarating spiritual experience. Yet the Israeli press regularly ignores this
uplifting event, year after year. The military censor itself couldn’t have done
a better job of blocking news of the conference.
Why? Probably because
Israeli journalists are embarrassed by the Bible’s popularity. They’re
petrified that so many people feel that the Bible is relevant.
College Bible studies seminar was founded 20 years ago by its parent
institution, the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva in Alon Shvut. The seminar offers a
choice of 200 lectures across five days, ranging from biblical archeology to
hermeneutics; linguistics; poetry; prophecy; politics; theology; history;
geography; translation; cosmology and creationism; mysticism; midrash; and law,
covering all 24 books of the Bible.
The classes are both academic and
traditional, incorporating 21st century scholarship and Talmudic interpretation
and creative readings alongside conventional approaches. Dozens of books with
contemporary analysis of the Bible are published every year by the college. The
lecture days are nearly always sold out, as is an additional day of biblical
Herzog College lecturers are yeshiva deans and university
professors, men and women, scholarly giants such as Rabbis Yoel Bin Nun, Yaakov
Medan, Elhanan Samet and Menachem Liebtag – who have birthed the critical study
of Bible within the yeshiva world – along with academic stars like Professors
Uriel Simon, Amos Frisch, Yonatan Grossman and Yael Ziegler.
names mean nothing to the average Israeli.
To understand my frustration,
consider this: Were five staid old professors of literature to gather at Ben
Gurion University for a half-day seminar to mark the publication of a new novel
by Amos Oz – the whole country would know about it!
Each of those aged academics
would be interviewed several dozen times by Israeli television and radio and
every self-respecting newspaper. The media would be awash in celebration of the
wisdom and wit spilling forth from the pen of a favorite literary oracle. The
feting would go on for weeks. Such high culture! Were it a new AB Yehoshua
novel, even The New York Times and Le Monde would join the festivities. In fact,
Oz and Yehoshua might get knighted for their new books, and the five
bespectacled, balding professors who professionally study their works would all
get Israel Prizes – and yet more media attention.
Happily, the Bible
seminar’s growing popularity suggests that many Israelis indeed feel that the
Bible is relevant to modern Israel. The Bible is relevant because it roots our
identity in this land and inspires us to build-up the land of Israel. The Bible
is relevant because it fleshes out the mistakes of our past and prescribes fixes
for the future. Because it demands of us loyalty to God and to high moral
principles. Because it teaches personal responsibility and public
accountability. Because it insists on social justice and social
Every year, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow and Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau use
their Herzog College bully pulpits to exhort about the need for greater social
justice in Israeli society, drawing instruction from the prophets Isaiah, Micha
and others. “Zion shall be redeemed with justice and righteousness” (Isaiah
But since the theological imperatives of the Bible are considered
of no consequence by today’s elites and yuppies, the social impulses of the
Bible get thrown out with the Divine bathwater. That’s really too
The writer is the director of public affairs at Bar-Ilan
University’s Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.