by R. Gil Student
I’m told that some yeshiva graduates are learning 929 without fully understanding its background. I will make a few points here why this is not the daily Tanakh study program for the traditional Orthodox Jew, even if some traditional Orthodox teachers are involved for a variety of reasons. If you want to learn Tanakh daily, please consider the OU’s Nach Yomi program.
929 is a project originally aimed to encourage study of Tanakh by Israelis, secular and religious. Run by the progressive R. Benny Lau, it solicits commentary on the daily Bible chapter from a wide range of intellectuals and media stars — religious, secular, Orthodox, non-Orthodox. This is an effort to unify the nation in Bible study, which is a beautiful idea. To do so, it cedes the text to the public, allowing others to interpret it from their perspectives and sharing those perspectives with others. In other words, don’t go to 929 expecting to hear only traditional interpretations of Tanakh. You will also hear perspectives from people who do not consider the text to be words of prophecy.
The American version is similar. On its website, you can find brief discussions of the daily chapter from brilliant Orthodox scholars, as well as thinkers from the Reform, Conservative and Open Orthodox movements. Regular teachers include a Maharat-in-training and the dean of a Conservative rabbinical school.
For example, I Kings 19 contains entries from:
- Shira Hecht-Koller
- Rabbi Abby Sosland (JTS ordination)
- Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair (member of Torat Chayim, the Open Orthodox rabbinical group)
- Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (dean of Conservative rabbinical school)
- Michal Kohane (Maharat student)
- Prof. Robert Alter (non-Orthodox Bible scholar)
- Yakov Azriel
- Rabbi Alex Israel
- Molly Morris
- Rabbi Adam Mintz (faculty member of Yeshivat Maharat)
- Prof. Moshe Sokolow (renowned educator at YU)
- Rabbi David Silber (founder of Drisha)
Here is a full list of writers: link. As you will see, some are important Orthodox thinkers, presumably who did not want to turn down an opportunity to teach Torah, particularly aimed at non-Orthodox readers whom they might be able to influence. You will also find people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including a Muslim cleric and Reform and Conservative rabbis.
I would like to discuss here reading 929, not writing for it; the latter is about giving and the former about taking. I do not understand why any traditional Jew who believes in the sanctity of Tanakh would be taking guidance from non-Orthodox perspectives on Tanakh, except experts who come to the program with trained, critical eyes. This is a program that focuses on feeding traditional and non-traditional interpretations to beginners. I could quote halakhic authorities about this but I don’t think it is necessary. If the problem is not obvious to you, I am not writing for you. I could point to specific 929 essays and argue that they don’t reflect a traditional outlook, but that would get us bogged down in technical issues. Instead, I am writing simple, non-controversial facts for those who will find this eye-opening.
Unity is beautiful. Learning Tanakh is essential. The hype in certain circles about 929 is enticing. But studying non-Orthodox perspectives on the Bible is not recommended. Please consider Nach Yomi as an Orthodox alternative.