At the 2014 International Bible Contest that took place in Jerusalem on Israel Independence Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Bible “the greatest cultural contribution ever made to human civilization.” While pointing out the profound universal import of the Book of Books, he emphasized its special significance for the Jewish people and its formative influence on the Jewish mind. The Bible, he said, provides “the foundational narrative of our people’s existence, the touchstone of our faith, and the vision of our redemption.”
Indeed, the Hebrew Bible shaped and inspired some of the greatest leaders and figures of the modern Jewish age in politics, in religious life, in philosophy, and in literature. Led by Israeli intellectual and scholar Micah Goodman, this course will examine several prominent 20th-century Jewish leaders—including David Ben-Gurion, A.I. Kook, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Leo Strauss, and Joseph Soloveitchik—to see how their immersion in the Bible helped to form their worldview. For each figure, we will consider key selections from the biblical text as well as essays, stories, and histories that bring to life these leaders’ ideas and achievements.
In the broadest sense, the course will explore the idea of human excellence itself: What is the best human life? What are the highest possibilities? Do the different forms of human excellence—the life of the mind and the life of the statesman, the life of faith and the life of literature—come into tension with one another, and how do we choose the best life worth living? In asking these questions, we will explore whether there is a distinctively Jewish idea of human excellence and a distinctively Jewish approach to politics and philosophy, piety and creativity, that might guide Jewish civilization into the future.
This institute will take place at Beit Avi Chai in the heart of Jerusalem (King George 44). This is a full time commitment for Sunday – Thursday, with required sessions in the morning, afternoon, and some evenings.