Some two hundred and thirty years ago, the French philosopher Voltaire noted that “The Bible is more famous than known,” which would be accurate even today.

The fact is that we Jews know very little about our foundation literature.

Sometimes, the little we have been taught has been so grossly misrepresented through outlandish and apologetic interpretations to further alienate us from it.

The result is not only our ignorance but also the reason for many of the identity problems that presently tax the creative forces of our communities.

Though the rabbis brought out the idea that the study of the Torah is a supreme mitzvah, they mean that what it should be read are the accepted commentaries by which they advance their self-serving agendas. In traditional Jewish circles, the TaNaKh enjoys not much more than an honorable status, and at best, it is considered a liturgical and homiletical literature; Halakhah and Midrash are considered superior.



The Hebrew Scriptures -Israel’s Foundational Literature- is a collection of 24 books composed over a thousand years by many authors and editors.

Despite its anthological character, the Hebrew Scriptures are considered a coherent unity in Judaism.

For technical reasons, to refer to its different parts, the 24 books are classified into three sections:

Torah (‘Teaching,’ also known as the Five Books of Moses), 

Nevi’im (’Prophets’), and 

Ketuvim (’Writings’).

The first Hebrew letter of the three traditional subdivisions forms the acronym TaNaKh.


“It is one book, for one basic theme, unites all the stories and songs, saying and prophecies contained within it.” (Martin Buber: BUBER, MARTIN: On the Bible: Eighteen Studies)

Every book of the TaNaKh, in turn, is divided into chapters, and every chapter into verses.

The study program of the synagogue divided the five books of the Torah into fifty-four sections to organize an annual weekly study of the first part of the TaNaKh, the Torah.

Until very recently, non-medieval commentaries, that is, understandings of our millenary foundational literature based on what archaeology, comparative studies, history, and theology found out, were the almost exclusive domain of non-Jewish scholars.

Maybe that’s what prompted A. J. Heschel, one of last century’s most eminent Jewish thinkers, to ask: “We say that we have given the Bible to the world. Have we not given it away?”

In large part because of the energy that Zionism has reawakened, Jewish scholars in universities in Israel and the United States are closing the gap between non-Jewish and Jewish biblical scholars. Their insight, however, is not found in the synagogue’s “devar Torah, and certainly not in the yeshivot, which trains many of the teachers who teach in Jewish schools worldwide.

To help escape the predicament into which Judaism has boxed itself, instead of using solely apologetic medieval commentaries, TaNaKh study programs should use the present state of academic research on Biblical Literature, Jewish Philosophy, and Theology. This should help to find a way for those who, like me, believe that Judaism is not defined exclusively by rabbinic tradition nor that the only other option is breaking with our roots and becoming ignorant of who we are. I am a firm believer that without the TaNaKh, there is no Judaism possible.

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