Seventeen thousand Israeli boys and girls in middle school, high school and religious seminaries from all over the country recently took part in a large celebration marking the yearly completion of an in-depth Bible study done annually by thousands of Jews around the world.
The text studied in this unique organized schedule completed by masses of Jews globally is the 14-volume magnum opus of the 12th century scholar Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as Rambam). Known as Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Torah) and written in Hebrew, the text codifies all of Jewish religious law into one book.
“This study regimen was initiated in 1984 by the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last head of the Jewish Chabad sect), as a way to unify the Jewish people in their Bible learning,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Lipsker, administrator of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running charity organization, to Breaking Israel News.
“For hundreds of years, Colel Chabad has raised funds for food and clothing for the poor of the Holy Land, and the Rebbe asked, ‘What about for Bible study?’”
For a token monthly fee, materials to learn Mishneh Torah are sent each month to participants. Students choose either to complete the Mishneh Torah in one year, by studying three chapters a day (about 1-1.5 hours per day) or in three years, by studying one chapter a day (about 20-30 minutes per day). Through studying Mishneh Torah, one effectively learns the entire Bible along with all of its precepts on how a Jew should live.
In Judaism, the completion of studying a significant Biblical text is a cause for celebration. As hundreds of buses carrying thousands of excited young people arrived at the event, so did many rabbinical dignitaries.
“There is a great expression of love of Torah and Torah study among 25,000 students who study willingly every day,” said Rabbi Dr. Avraham Lifshitz, head of the Rabbinical Council.
The Talmud is known as the “oral tradition”, a collection of rabbinical discussions on the Hebrew Bible teaching how Jews should fulfill the will of God. Passed verbally through the generations from the time of Moses, it was written down in the fourth century to ensure Jewish continuity during years of exile.
The Talmud consists of 63 tractates and, in standard print, is over 6,200 pages long, an enormous challenge for the average person to master.
Therefore, between the years 1170 and 1180, Rambam wrote Mishneh Torah to provide a clear and complete summary of the Bible and the Talmud. It is the only Medieval-era work that details all Jewish observance, including those laws that are only applicable when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is in existence.
The great rabbi’s hope was that a person who mastered the Bible and the Mishneh Torah would be able to live fully and correctly as a Jew. In fact, even today the Mishneh Torah is considered the final decision on Jewish law.
“At a time when it’s difficult to get people to read, the Rebbe emphasized that the daily study of Mishneh Torah would keep those doing this close to Judaism and also inspire other to participate in Bible study,” continued Rabbi Lipsker. “Even people who don’t yet join these studies are invited to celebrate, as one of the main reasons for the project is to unite and inspire Jewish people from all over the world to study the Bible.”
In fact, Rabbi Sholom Duchman, Chairman of Colel Chabad, spoke at the gathering stating, “The conclusion of Mishneh Torah is a special Yom Tov (Holiday) for the completion of the study of this powerful handbook – but no less so for the great privilege of being part of a wonderful unity [with Torah learning and Jews all over the world].”
Rabbi Lipsker noted to Breaking Israel News that the Rambam taught, “Every Jew – rich or poor, healthy or sick, young or very old and weak – is obligated to study Torah. Even a destitute person who lives off of charity and goes begging from door to door, or a husband and father of children, must set fixed times, day and night, for studying Torah, as Joshua 1:8 states, ‘You must meditate upon it day and night’.
“Therefore, Colel Chabad will continue to do our utmost to promote Bible study and help all those in need.”
To donate to Colel Chabad’s network of charity programs in Israel, please visit here.
This article was written in cooperation with Colel Chabad.