Monday, 15 August 2016

Yemei Iyun Be-Tanakh 2016

I recently had the opportunity to attend Herzog College's annual Tanach Conference, Yemei Iyun Be-Tanakh. The conference takes place on the Herzog/Har Etzion campus in Alon Shvut over five days, and had 7000 attendees this year. Each day has five time slots, with seven parallel lecture tracks for a total of 175 lectures!(As you might imagine, just choosing what to sign-up for was a somewhat daunting task) The lectures are given by teachers at the college, as well as by prominent Israeli Tanach scholars. In any case, I'm only going to summarize the 10 lectures I attended over the course of two days.


המבנה והמסר של הספר השני בתהלים, חטא דוד ותיקונו, ד"ר גזונדהייט בני

Dr. Benny Gezundheit has a passion for structure and a love of visual aids. His lecture on the structure of the 2nd book of Tehilim came with 7 colored handouts summarizing the structure of the book at large, as well as a more detailed look at books 2, 3 and psalm 51. He argues, quite convincingly, that the second section of Davidic psalms, appearing in chapter 2, is arranged to tell an aggadic story of David's path from the sin of Bat Sheva to repentance and redemption. He also identifies a chiastic structure by which this section is surrounded by psalms of the Levitical authors, Assaf and the descendants of Korach, thus suggesting the physical layout of the Temple.

דוד, יונתן ומפיבושת: הטרגדיה מאחורי אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר, הרב בזק אמנון

Rav Amnon Bazak read us through the passages where David interacts with Yonatan and his son Mephiboshet. He points out the text's repeated emphasis of Yonatan's returning to his father's house. This suggests a tragic reading whereby Yonatan is torn between his love of David and his familial affiliation, ending in his death beside his father. This explains David's anger at the loyal Mephiboshet at not following him, and his strange decision to divide Mephiboshet's inheiritance with Ziba, as an expression of David's disappointment with Yonatan's mixed-loyalties. My favorite moment from the Yemei Iyun was when Rav Bazak read the passage where David rescinds Mephiboshet's inheritance- there was an audible gasp from the audience at this emotionally loaded passage.

כיצד מונים את המצוות?, הרב סבתו חיים

Rav Sabato takes us through the history of medieval exegetes and their efforts to count the 613 mitzvot. He points out the Ramban's ambivalence about the number 613, based solely on Rav Shimlai's statement in the gemara.

משנולד יוסף נולד שטנו של עשו – צאצאי רחל נלחמים בעמלק, שלוסברג יעל

A review of biblical conflict between Yaakov and Eisav and their descendants. She pointed out some very suggestive patterns in these passages, noting that Yosef tends to attack directly while Binyamin schemes. She concludes that Shaul's mistake with Amalek was that he is a descendant of Binyamin yet he attacked them directly. This argument did not sit well with me. It smacks of mysticism and doesn't really gel with the story, as far as I can tell(Shaul's direct attack works fine, it's the aftermath in which he fails.)

יצחק ורבקה יעקב ועשיו, הרב מדן יעקב

Rav Yakov Medan asks if scripture is consistent with Chazal's characterization of Esau as wicked. He points out that no explicit sin is mentioned regarding Esau, though his attitude towards the bechora is disappointing. Not only that, but Yitzchak's love of Esau the hunter seems justified since food  for the wandering household is scarce, and the treaty Avimelech and Phichol is likely the result of Esau's raids. Rav Medan argues that Yitzchak actually intended to give Yaacov the blessing of Abraham while Esau was to be the military leader. Rivka misunderstands, thinking that Yitzchak intends to give both roles to Esau, resulting tragically in Esau's exclusion and the eternal enmity between the brothers' descendants.


בכיו של נביא – אלישע בדמשק, הרב סמט אלחנן

Rav Elchanan Samet  points out the curious story of Elisha's prophecy to Hazael. Why is the prophet in Damascus? Why does he break down and cry mid-prophecy? Why does he reveal so much to Hazael? Rav Samet answers these question by pointing out that the worst of Elisha's prophecy was not actually inflicted on Israel. Elisha used his prophecy to build his reputation among the Aramean elites. As a result, they tempered their approach to Israel and the harsh prophecy was only partially fulfilled.

ערכה של יוזמה אנושית בספר שופטים, הרב מרקוס יוסף

Rav Yosef Marcus points out that the six judges in the book of Shoftim are not listed in chronological order, rather in order of descending spiritual level, a well established reading of the book. He adds that there is an additional point here in that they also descend in regard to the amount of personal initiative they take in their service of God, thus estabelishing personal initiative as the central value of the book of Judges:
  1. Otniel is Caleb's son-in-law/partner, paragons of bravery and initiative
  2. Ehud is also quite proactive and inventive in his strategy to overcome Moav
  3. Devora/Barak are already a step down. Devora takes the initiative, but Barak needs a good deal of convincing and his honor is passed-on to a woman as a result
  4. Gidon doesn't take initiative, but follows an Angel's instructions
  5. Yiftach only saves Israel on the condition that he is granted permanent leadership status
  6. Shimshon helps Israel not out of his own will, but providentially as he pursues his own agenda
This was a great shiur and I'll just take a moment to add my own twist on Sefi's idea. Many organizations go through a similar life-cycle. They are founded by highly motivated individuals, but as they grow and mature, they take on a more corporate structure, manned with by professionals who do things in a more careful, organized fashion. Perhaps the judges' descending initiative is not the result of their descending spiritual level, but rather is a separate track. Perhaps the point being made here is that, while the young nation can be founded by Otniels, the mature nation requires a more organized form of government, otherwise, the spiritual momentum cannot be maintained. In this way, Judges makes the argument for the appointing of King Shaul that follows in the book of Shmuel.

איך נראתה "יהדות" בתקופת השופטים?, ד"ר משגב חגי

Hagai Misgav asks how Jewish ritual/law looked in the days of the Judges, long before the codification of Jewish practice based on the discussions of the sages recorded in the Talmud. He points to a number of interesting text that give us hints:
  1. Yibum and inheritance laws in sefer Ruth differ markedly from scripture and our accepted understanding of it
  2. Shoftim mentions a number of holidays unknown to us today
    1. The Shiloh Holiday
    2. The Festival of Yiftach's Daughter
    3. Zevach Mishpacha
    4. Rosh Chodesh feast, pilgrimage to the prophet

מגילת אסתר כסיפור קומי, ד"ר ורדיגר תמר

Tamar Vardiger claims that, while the Tanach contains many humorous passages, such as the story of Bilaaam, Megillat Esther is unique in that the entire work is a comedy. She argues that Esther, Ahasueros, and Haman embody the comedy archetypes of the Trickster, the Fool, and the Villain. She details how nearly every scene in the Megilla acts to undermine our expectations of what will happen next, and how Ahasueros, Haman, and the Persian Legal System are humorously undermined time and again. In light of this reading, Dr. Vardiger argues that the Megilla's purpose is to temper the great Chillul Hashem of the Persian exile by showing that those who appear to be in charge rule, in truth, at the mercy of the one true God.

ניסי אלישע - מה באו ללמדנו?, הרב מדן יעקב

In this lecture, Rav Medan draws attention to the abundance and variety of miracles performed by the prophet Elisha. What is the purpose of this uncharacteristic focus on minor wonders? The Rav's answer is to point out that the 45 year period of Aram's domination of Israel, a domination facilitated by Elisha's own actions, was a terrible time. Jewish men were routinely slaughtered, their woman and children sold into slavery, while those who remained suffered from decimated crops and starvation. During this difficult time, Elisha wandered the land, performing miracles and giving the people hope for the coming redemption.

Online Resources

So, as you can see from this sampling, Yemei Iyun had a really impressive selection of lectures. You can see some more of the conference's lectures at
(Note that only the lectures that took place in the Alon Shvut synagogue were filmed)

We were also given a demo of Tanakh Herzog, the college's new online tanach learning platform
It makes for a very respectable alternative to