Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot likes the Good Book.
Helfgot, who serves as rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, has made teaching the Bible – the Tanach – a centerpiece of his career as an Orthodox rabbi.
At the Yeshivat Chovevi Torah rabbinical school, he serves as chair of the department of Bible. He originated the school’s annual Tanach y’mei iyun, study days, which will mark their 10th year with sessions in Teaneck and Manhattan in June.
Now, you can bring his expertise home, with the publication of his essays on biblical themes by Maggid Press in a volume entitled: “Mikra and Meaning: Studies in Bible and its Interpretation.”
“I’ve had a love of Tanach since I was a high school student,” says Helfgot, explaining that he was captivated by the psychological aspects, the literary perspective, and the opportunity of hearing the word of God.
“In Tanach, the major issues come alive: the big meta concepts of covenant, peoplehood, religious integrity, fighting against religious hypocrisy,” he says.
“Mikra and Meaning” begins with an exploration of modern Orthodox Bible study – how it had dropped to the margins of the Orthodox curriculum in recent centuries, to be restored in recent decades.
The majority of the book consists of essays on biblical topics – with a strong central core on the Book of Numbers (B’midbar), which Helfgot originally prepared for the web classes of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel, where he studied and now serves on the board.
Helfgot says that it is a common misconception that the Bible offers “uniformity. There are nuances and differences between the different books. That’s also part of the conversation. Tanach in certain ways is polyphonic, not univocal.”
In addition to the new book, Helfgot is launching a series of classes on the Book of Samuel at Congregation Rinat Yisrael, at members’ invitation.
“It’s an opportunity to teach a different group of people in Teaneck,” he says.
– Larry Yudelson