Herzog College: Bible study days inspire and connect on campus, online

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes: “Every profession has its annual conference, and the Yemei Iyun B’Tanach is where Tanach teachers come from all over the globe for inspiration and mentorship.”

 Part of the crowd at Herzog College’s Yemei Iyun.  (photo credit: AVIDAN HEYMAN)
Part of the crowd at Herzog College’s Yemei Iyun.
(photo credit: AVIDAN HEYMAN)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

“Even before making aliyah eight years ago, I made sure that my summer vacation in Israel coincided with the Tanach Yemei Iyun (Bible study days),” says 81-year-old Paula Weber, originally from Long Beach, New York.

Weber spent her whole career teaching Tanach, and recognizes the importance of dedicating time to serious biblical study.

“The exposure you get here to serious textual analysis and an understanding of what the commentaries are saying and why is unparalleled,” she says. “There’s a special buzz in the air at these Yemei Iyun, which I love. Each year, I come back and re-acquaint with friends and fellow learners.”

Tanach Yemei Iyun: The Tanach teachers' annual conference

The Tanach Yemei Iyun takes place each year in the week leading up to Tisha Be’av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar that commemorates the destruction of the Temples, at the Herzog Teachers College on the campus of Yeshivat Har Etzion, in the stunning Alon Shvut settlement on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

 Rabbi Moshe Taragin (credit: AVIDAN HEYMAN) Rabbi Moshe Taragin (credit: AVIDAN HEYMAN)

Over the course of the week, thousands of participants of all ages from Israel and around the world – academics, educators and layman alike – take part in lectures, discussions and more informal hikes and trips, all aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the Tanach and its contemporary message and relevance.

Taking place for more than 25 years, the original concept was to offer professional development and enrichment for Tanach teachers, but grassroots interest from the wider public led to more offerings and opening them to all interested parties.

Every profession has its annual conference, and the Yemei Iyun B’Tanach is where Tanach teachers come from all over the globe for inspiration and mentorship,” says Herzog College President Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes. “Established in 1973, Herzog College constantly aims to improve the way we, as teachers, present biblical texts so that they are engaging and relevant. The unique atmosphere that the Yemei Iyun generates echoes around the world in our online lectures and Tanach website.”

“Established in 1973, Herzog College constantly aims to improve the way we, as teachers, present biblical texts so that they are engaging and relevant. The unique atmosphere that the Yemei Iyun generates echoes around the world in our online lectures and Tanach website.”

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes

Rabbi Eli Weber, director of the overseas program at Yeshivat Har Etzion (and Paula’s son), says that “the Yemei Iyun is the grandfather of all Tanach programs. Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the founding rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, passionately believed that Tanach study should be taken seriously as a discipline in itself, rather than seen just as a break from learning Talmud. The methodology at Herzog College is predicated on the centrality of textual analysis, and predicting what the commentaries ask and explain based on deep analysis of the primary source – the Tanach.”

Rabbi Dr. Shalom Berger, who runs the English program at the Yemei Iyun, says that “in pre-corona times, thousands of people made their way to Alon Shvut for the Yemei Iyun, which feature not only top-level classes from many of the most popular lecturers in Israel, but also offer an opportunity to connect with old and new friends and participate in a significant Torah ‘happening.’”

“In 2020, COVID forced Herzog to move the entire program online, and it was watched by 10,000 people around the world. The online program has become a permanent fixture, with some of the Hebrew-language lectures live-streamed for people who prefer to participate from their homes, and pre-recorded lectures in English.

“Aside from frontal lectures, the program also offers on-site (virtual) visits to museums and on-location lectures. These programs, in English, Hebrew and French, are available on-demand from anywhere in the world, not only during the week of the Yemei Iyun but afterward as well.”

Dr. Berger says that the Yemei Iyun draws a large crowd “because they offer a number of unique elements. The approach to the study of Torah that has been nurtured by Herzog College views the words of the Torah as exquisite jewels that need to be closely examined and carefully valued, even as they are grounded in the Land of Israel that our generation is so fortunate to live in. The mix of serious text study and discovering the facts of Tanach in the stones and vistas of the Land of Israel is a powerful religious experience for any religious person.”

Among the speakers this year were faculty members from Herzog College, and Yeshivat Har Etzion and its sister school, Migdal Oz. Guest speakers from the United States included Rabbi David Fohrman of Aleph Beta, and Rabbi Dr. J.J. Schacter from Yeshiva University.

Dr. Yael Ziegler, who lectures at Herzog College and is rosh batei midrash and academic director of Matan, says that “all year I look forward to the Yemei Iyun, which brings thousands of students and teachers of Tanach from around the world to Alon Shvut.

“The excitement is palpable, everyone rushing from class to class holding their Tanach, discussing their previous classes and exchanging information about the upcoming ones. These days give me, as a Tanach teacher, fresh ideas about different Tanach topics, but more importantly, renewed excitement and passion to continue learning and teaching.”

Rabbi Moshe Taragin, who taught this year at the Yemei Iyun, says that “with our return to Israel, we have also returned to the book of our history and of our land. Tanach study, which had been neglected for centuries, has experienced a spectacular renaissance. The Tanach conference is a celebration of this important revival of Torah.

“It is powerfully symbolic that during the nine days when we mourn for the Mikdash and dream of redemption, over 5,000 people immerse themselves in the Book of Prophecy and Jewish history.”

Stacey Goldman from Philadelphia, who teaches Tanach at Kohelet Yeshiva High School, says that it was “my first time attending the Herzog Yemei Iyun. It was lovely! So many happy people gathered in one place to learn and teach Torah. I think it is especially meaningful during the nine days to focus our thoughts on Torah. My husband and I discussed the different classes we took the entire ride home, and I was also privileged to be there with two of my sons. Thank you for allowing me to reflect on the day!”

Nachum Krasnopolsky from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, is currently studying at Yeshiva University and spending the summer in Israel.

“One only needs to attend the Yemei Iyun to understand the impact Yeshivat Har Etzion and Herzog College have had on the revival of Tanakh study in the Orthodox world,” he said. “Each and every lecture, in conversation with the earlier commentators and midrashim, presents a new, fresh perspective on the Tanach. Many relate to previously unnoted literary features of the text, while others focus on more historical questions.

“The common denominator among all of the lectures is the search for interpretation that captures the deeper meaning of the text. We are not primarily interested in problem-solving; the questions that arise in reading the Tanach are opportunities to be mined for deeper understanding of the entire story.

“I listened to Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein speaking about the dynamic that prevails between Yosef and his brothers, and Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, teaching the story of Dinah in Shechem (Nablus). Each presentation was marked by a clear focus on the broader questions that emerge from the narrative. What is more important: truth or peace? Faced with a conflict between the providential plan and human failings, how should we respond? These are the sorts of questions that are dealt with at the Yemei Iyun.

“Beyond any given shiur (lesson), the experience of joining people from all over the world to study the words of the Tanach in the land in which its prophets prophesied and wrote is without parallel. I have no doubt that sages like the Ramban (Nachmanides) and the Abarbanel (Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel) would be at the Yemei Iyun if they were alive today!” ■