Source: The Times of Israel
In the beginning — November 2014 — Benny Lau, a Modern Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem, taught the first chapter of Genesis. More than three years and 929 chapters later, he’s starting it all again on Sunday. But this time in English as well. “I want to give the Bible back to the people,” Lau told The Times of Israel recently. “For too long it has been held captive by the yeshivas and universities. It was lost from the rest of the nation and I want to return it to them.”
The 929 project — named for the number of chapters in the Hebrew Bible comprising the Torah, Prophets and Writings, from Genesis to the end of II Chronicles — provides a framework for anyone who wants to participate by learning one chapter of the Bible a day, five days a week. “The first time through was a trial run,” said Lau with his trademark warm smile. “Now is when it really happens.”
Even though he calls it a trial run, the first cycle was tremendously successful. He said that over a quarter of a million people were active participants in the learning program — 75 percent of them nonreligious. He and hundreds of others give classes on each week’s chapters all around the country; there are written materials, audio and video lessons, all found on the program’s website or via its app, as well as a weekly radio show with 40,000 listeners.
Lau stressed that the best way to learn is in groups, and he urged people to register via the website to participate in weekly classes or joint study sessions.
The people who contributed to 929 span the breadth of Israeli religious and secular society. In addition to educators, academics and rabbis there are politicians, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Education Minister Naftali Bennett who leads the Jewish Home party, and Labor leader Avi Gabbay; musicians such as Neshama Carlebach, Kobi Oz and David Peretz; journalists including Lucy Aharish, Ilana Dayan and Gideon Levy; and former army chiefs Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon.
The beauty of Lau’s method of teaching, and one of the goals of the 929 learning program, is that it makes the Bible relevant to today. For him the Biblical prophets are modern-day journalists, the kings our politicians, the false prophets — fake news.
The program takes its cue from the Daf Yomi program, in which participants learn one page of Talmud every day. However, in 929, new chapters are learned only five days a week — Sunday to Thursday — and on Friday and Saturday participants have the opportunity to catch up, review or study in greater depth.
The overall head of the English 929 program is former UK chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who spoke of the power and beauty of the project.
At a time of fraught and sometimes stormy relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry over such issues as conversion and Western Wall prayer, the organizers of 929 said one of the goals of the program is to build collaborative bridges between English-speaking Jews and Israeli Jews through an honest, thoughtful dialogue based on the shared heritage of the Bible.
Lau said the English cycle also has a separate 929 North America section because the program is “not about language but also about culture, which is something else entirely.” The writers, the dialogues, the nuances will be tailor-made for an American audience, which Lau said is very different from an Israeli one. 929 North America is headed by Rabbi Adam Mintz, a Modern Orthodox rabbi from New York City who teaches Jewish history, law and thought in university, yeshiva and synagogue settings.
Read more at The Times of Israel.