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  • Deborah Hurn

    October 20, 2021 at 6:57 am

    This may be the best place for this Jerusalem Post article:

    Dropping Bible studies is highly problematic – opinion

    Ben Gurion University closed the Bible department this academic year
    without making a public announcement.



    The Talmudic maxim: “He who desires to acquire knowledge should turn
    to the south” (Baba Batra 25b) no longer rings true, at least not
    concerning the study of the Bible. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
    has closed its Department of Bible, as of this new academic year.

    Because there was no formal announcement by the university of this
    closure, I found it hard to believe the rumor that at the institution
    that proudly bears the name of the person who personified the
    centrality of the Bible in our lives perhaps more than any other
    public figure in the history of the State of Israel, Bible would no
    longer be taught. Therefore, I checked the course catalog on the
    university website and I discovered that it was true: Bible studies
    had been deleted from the Student Handbook for 5782.

    For me personally, the closing of the Department of Bible is
    especially sad. Almost a jubilee ago, in September 1972, on the
    completion of my doctorate, I arrived in Beersheba and the University
    of the Negev (later to become Ben-Gurion University of the Negev),
    together with the handful of other lecturers who had been mobilized to
    establish the Faculty of Humanities. Two years later, I was asked to
    undertake responsibility for biblical studies, and, for the next
    decade, I served as chairman of the Department of Bible. In those
    years, classes were full to overflowing with students who came from
    all parts of the Negev, eager to study humanities, and especially
    Bible and the history of Israel in the biblical period.

    But this high watermark of the 70s and 80s was followed by an extended
    low tide, and like many other areas of humanistic study, a large drop
    in student registration hit the Department of Bible. Even at the
    Hebrew University of Jerusalem to where I moved in the early 90s,
    classes emptied out. Indeed, all of Israel’s universities wrestled
    with a similar crisis: David and Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah no
    longer interested the hi-tech generation. There are many reasons for
    this sea change and this is not the place to discourse on the decline
    of the interest in the study of the Bible, but the solutions that
    other institutions found for this problem are pertinent.

    Take, for example, Tel Aviv University. Several decades ago the
    university decided to combine its small Department of Bible with other
    fields of study that were on the verge of closure in a new unit:
    Hebrew Culture; in this way, the Bible was saved from the sword. Of
    interest, is that two years ago, the Department of Bible was
    resuscitated in Tel Aviv as an independent department. A different
    combination was created at the University of Haifa so that today the
    Bible is studied together with the History of Israel (that includes
    the biblical period). It is clear that these two institutions
    understood that the study of the Bible, the foundation stone of
    Israel’s culture, cannot be forfeited under any circumstances.

    David Ben-Gurion put it this way: “In all the wanderings of the Jewish
    Diaspora over hundreds of years, the Book of Books accompanied it,

    including the good tidings of redemption and the return to Zion, the
    tidings of the flowering of the desert and the ingathering of the
    exiles… But not only did the Jewish people derive knowledge of their
    past and hope for their future from the Book of Books. The Bible
    bequeathed to our people, and through it to all humanity… sublime
    humane values, the value of human brotherhood, the values of justice
    and righteousness, truth and kindness, the equality of nations and
    peace that are the essence of prophetic teaching and the morality of
    Judaism” (David Ben-Gurion, Iyyunim baTanakh [Tel Aviv 1976], p. 221).

    The decision of the administration of Ben-Gurion University of the
    Negev to close the Department of Bible was taken in the back rooms in
    blatant disregard for accepted academic procedures, without
    consultation with the Department of Bible and the Assembly of the
    Faculty of Humanities. Keeping it under wraps until now points to its
    problematic nature. Perhaps those who decided on this move thought
    that in this manner they could minimize the embarrassment brought on
    the university by their decision – forfeiting national and universal
    cultural treasures inherent in “the eternal Book of Books” that the
    Jewish people gave to the world (as proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration
    of Independence). The decision to close the Department of Bible
    resembles the behavior of thieves in the night;
    public discussion in
    the light of day will hopefully expose its wrongheadedness and open a
    window for correction.


    Mordecai Cogan <[email protected] style=”font-family: inherit; font-size: inherit;”> is a professor
    emeritus in the Department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University
    of Jerusalem. </[email protected]>