West Bank Rabbi: Left-wing Jews Are Clueless About the Bible

U.S.-born Shlomo Riskin says non-Orthodox Jews are willing to trade land for peace because they are unaware of 'our biblically mandated right to Israel.'

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man writes some of the last words in a Torah scroll in Jerusalem, last March.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man writes some of the last words in a Torah scroll in Jerusalem, last March.Credit: AP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The reason left-wing Jews are willing to compromise territory for peace is that they are biblically illiterate, charges a prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi who is considered relatively moderate in his political views.

Shlomo Riskin, the American-born chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, told an interfaith gathering in Jerusalem last week that bringing the Bible to non-Orthodox Jews would held them understand “our biblically mandated right to Israel” and was therefore “the most crucial challenge facing Jewish religious leadership today.”

Riskin was addressing a panel convened by the Bible Lands Museum last week, entitled “Why is the bestselling book of all time seldom read?” The event coincided with the opening of a new exhibit featuring rare biblical manuscripts.

A special survey commissioned by the museum to mark the exhibit opening found that although 93 percent of Israelis said they have a Bible in their home, 28 percent said they hadn’t opened it since high school. One in three secular Israelis said they did not know on what day of the week, according to the Book of Genesis, man was created. The survey was conducted by the Smith Institute.

“You cannot be a synagogue-going Jew without truly studying the Bible, but that doesn’t apply to the masses of Jews who have very little connection to the Bible,” Riskin said. “The majority of left-wing Jews in Israel as well as in the United States – and that’s what I know – don’t really see the connection between Jews and the Land of Israel because they are people who don’t read the Bible.”

Riskin, the founder of Lincoln Square Synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side, is considered among the less extreme settler rabbis and has a huge following among Orthodox American immigrants living in Israel. He is the founder of Ohr Torah Stone, a network of Orthodox educational institutions in the United States and Israel, which recently received funding from the new Jewish Identity Administration in Israel's Religious Services Ministry to launch a special outreach program among secular Israelis.

“If you’re not connected to Bible, you won’t be connected to Israel and you won’t be connected to the Jewish rights to Israel, even if you are Jewish,” Riskin told his audience at the museum.

“You just won’t see it and you won’t be willing to fight for it, and that’s why it’s so critical. Even though Orthodox Jews do read the Bible, the overwhelming majority of Jews are not Orthodox and they don’t read the Bible, so we’ve got to find the way to bring the Bible to them," he added.

"In Israel, a Jew who is not religious has an allergy to the synagogue. He doesn’t go. You have to find another format of bringing the Bible to him.”

The Smith Institute survey also found that most Israeli Jews believe the Bible was written by Moses or other figures, but not by God. Moses was considered by a wide margin of respondents to be the most admired of all biblical figures.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin in Jerusalem, March 30, 2006.Credit: Lior Mizrahi / BauBau

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