Thirty Years of Bible Study
Almost three decades ago, our congregant, Harriet Reichman initiated, a Thursday night Bible Study Group at our synagogue. The group’s mandate was to read every word of the Tanak aloud beginning with Genesis and ending with Second Chronicles. Members would meet weekly to read together for the first hour, after which one of the rabbis would be called on to answer questions raised in the reading. “What do we do now?” was the final question raised when the last words were read nine years later. “Let’s do it again beginning with ‘in the beginning . . .’” was the consensus of the group. And so we did.
More than fifteen years later, we have finished reading the second third of the Hebrew Bible, the section called “Prophets.” Still on Thursday nights, the seminar now meets every other week, all of us together for the full session. I have heard from colleagues and from our rabbinic interns that the group is unique. Since traditional Judaism is based on the Talmud and subsequent rabbinic codes, it is rare that traditional Jews and even rabbinical students read through the complete biblical text. But it’s not only what we read, it’s how we read it that sets our seminar apart. Ours is a critical reading of the text divorced from how it came to be interpreted, understanding that the text is a product of human redaction. We examine the text within the historical context of the writer or writers. In reading the text, we transport ourselves back in time to the period of the composition of the material, freeing ourselves, as best we can, from our twenty-first century considerations in order to understand the ancient Jewish mindset.
As you might imagine this pathway through the Bible has not always been easy. When dealing with a text that that is, at some points, more than 3000 years old, finding clarity and meaning can be challenging. But the stalwart members of the seminar have pushed ahead. And on February 19, we will begin reading the Book of Psalms, the first collection of the last third of the Tanak. It should take us another decade to reach the very end, God willing. And so I wish my fellow travelers strength as we move forever forward into our People’s past.
With respect and admiration, I am, warmly,
P.S. New participants are always welcome. No previous experience is required. Attendance is always on a ‘whenever’ basis.