Celebrating the Torah, but differently

Dr. Dafna Schreiber | 07.10.2020 | Photo: Unsplash, Tamar Abadi

On Simchat Torah we celebrate finishing one cycle of Torah reading and beginning the next.

Some books are the product of historical circumstances while others shape history themselves. Such is the Bible, the Book of Books. Throughout the history of humanity, the Bible has served as a guide and compass. Leaders and common folk, warriors and legislators, lived by it and sought to shape their lives and environments in accordance with its insights and lessons. Individuals and societies studied it and created worlds.

For more than two decades the “Opening the Week” lecture series operated at the VLJI, reflecting the cyclical nature of Torah study: on the one hand we return to the same canonical text again and again, and on the other hand we find new and varied insights, ideas and aspects in it every time. The weekly series included lectures by some of Israel's best lecturers, who discussed that week's portion while giving it their original, progressive and challenging readings.

Since it was founded in the 1990s, the series set off a revolution by taking the traditional study of the portion of the week out of the confines of the synagogue and religious world to the secular and public sphere. At the same time it also went back to the original custom of reading Torah not only on the Sabbath but also on Mondays and Thursdays, the market days of the ancient world. In those days reading the Torah was perceived not only as an act of worship and prayer, not only as an expression of religion, but also as an intellectual pursuit. Everyone hears the same verses, but each understands it and interprets it their own way. The same is true for this series.

The lecture series established the “portion of the week” as part of Israeli and Jewish culture as a whole, and encouraged the perception that every man and woman has a place in studying and interpreting the Torah, regardless of their sectorial affiliation.

Over the years, the Opening the Week series presented a wide, original and diverse spectrum of interpretations and commentaries on the Five Books of Moses.

Today, in honor of the holiday of Simchat Torah, we are happy to present the entire array of lectures that were given over the years in that fascinating series:

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