Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bibi’s Bible Study

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
It is the Jewish people’s most unique national symbol, our constant anchor for 3,300 years, the foundation of Jewish tradition, culture and nationhood itself. It is the Torah.
So imagine my dismay every time an Israeli leader acts in an official capacity with seeming disregard for the Torah’s dictates. How I yearn to see an Israeli prime minister stand before heads of state while donning a kippah – as if to simply say: I am representing the Jewish people.
And imagine my pleasure to hear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a weekly Bible study session at his home, joined by a few dozen rabbis, academics, archeologists and linguists.
Netanyahu knows a thing about Bible study. His father and father-in-law were both noted scholars, and in 2010, Netanyahu's 15-year-old son Avner won Israel's National Bible Quiz, beating out 12,000 other students.

At the start of the first Bible study session, Netanyahu said:
“The Bible is the foundation of our existence. It unites the Jewish people, as it has throughout the generations. It also serves not only as a foundation but also as a map and compass. The Bible is always relevant vis-à-vis today's problems and challenges. It inspires, it is a source of life for our people and it is important to expand Bible study and love of the Bible among all parts of the nation."

When it comes to Israeli Prime Ministers showing regard for the Torah, Netanyahu has good precedent in Menachem Begin. During his tenure from 1977-83, Begin held Torah study sessions at his home every Saturday night. At auspicious occasions Begin would remove a kippah from his pocket and recite Psalms, as he did in March 1979 when signing the Camp David peace accords on the White House lawn.

A tale is told that one Saturday evening Begin was studying the weekly Torah portion with his group, when a call came in from the White House. U.S. president Jimmy Carter was on the line. Begin is said to have replied that he was in the middle of studying verses from Deuteronomy, and that Carter should call back in a couple of hours.

Apocryphal or not, the story sends a message that certain things are important, like calls from the U.S. president, and other things are even more so.

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