The world’s largest Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) conference began on Sunday and will run through Thursday.
The conference, which is being held in Gush Etzion on the campus of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, is a project of the Yeshiva's Herzog College. It attracts more and more participants from all over the country every year, who come by organized bus transportation, private vehicles or even stay over in the area for several days. Many have been coming for years.
This year, a record 4300 participants are attending, many of them well known Israeli educational figures, and there is a palpable feeling of joy in the air as they rush towards classes, meet old friends, discuss the lectures, purchase books at the fair held in the main lobby, enjoy the assorted fair booths outside and the beverages and pastries given at no cost during breaks.
This year’s conference, organized down to the finest detail, will touch on various aspects of Tanakh study such as art, film, poetry, literature, fiction, history, philosophy, gender, geography, fashion, archeology and education.
Education Minister Gideon Saar attended on Monday and delivered a lecture on Rechavam, son of King Solomon, and the catastrophic results of his accepting the advice of his wet-behind-the-ears young friends instead of listening to the elders who told him how to deal with the people's complaints when he assumed the throne after his father's death. Some people thought Saar might just be alluding to the student tent protestors' economic advice to the Prime Minister, Treasury Minister, Bank of Israel head Stanley Fischer...but who knows?
“These are days of making the world of Tanakh come alive to wider and wider audiences ,” said Rabbi Prof. Yitzchak Kraus, head of the Herzog College Men's Department. “It’s not a festival, it’s people coming for in depth study of the Tanakh.”
The conference, which began 20 years ago, used to be only for teachers but has grown and is now open to the entire population.
“People come just to study Tanakh from our best teachers,” said Rabbi Prof. Kraus, adding that the target audience is not just religious people. In fact, he said, many people who are non-religious attend the study days.
“Our wish is that a lot of people will come, whether with a kippah or without a kippah, because the Tanakh belongs to all the people of Israel.
“I believe that these days we must connect all of the people of Israel to Tanakh,” he added. “Now in the non-religious schools they have a new Tanakh program which combines trips, and thanks to Education Minister Gideon Saar they have trips to Jerusalem and to Hevron, because we need to be connected to our land.”
Rabbi Prof. Kraus noted that many lessons from the Tanakh can be applied to what we see and experience today, even the social protests.
“We have to know and see how Moses, under the guidance of G-d, answered the social protests of that time period. For example, when the people of Israel in the desert wanted meat, they got meat. But we have to know how to combine what the nation wants with making your point even if you give them what they want.”
For those who want to study Tanakh in English, Herzog College has an English program as well.
“Three years ago, we started holding classes in English,” said Rabbi Prof. Kraus. “We have a lot of good English-speaking teachers and we have three days during which we hold English classes for the entire day.”