People of the Book

Rabbi's Commentary

Dear Friend of Israel,

This past weekend Jews around the world celebrated the festival of Shavuot. This holiday celebrates an event of monumental significance to both Jews and Christians – the giving of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, on Mount Sinai.

Shavuot falls fifty days after Passover, so it is also known as Pentecost, a word meaning "fifty" in Greek. But the two holidays are linked by more than just their proximity. The Exodus from Egypt, which Passover celebrates, marked the beginning of physical freedom for the Jewish people. And Shavuot reminds us that physical liberation was incomplete without the spiritual redemption represented by receiving God’s Law. The Jewish people did not leave Egypt for simple autonomy; they left slavery under Pharaoh in order to become servants of God. True freedom for both Christians and Jews is not just an absence of physical bondage; it is an action of voluntary servitude to God. And we know best how to serve God by reading his Word.

One of the most fundamental values in Judaism is the study of the Torah. As Scripture directs us: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). The study of God’s Word is a crucial part of living a God-centered and successful life. This is why Torah study has become a cornerstone of Jewish life. Even today, when a new community is established, Jewish law requires that among the first structures to be built must be a study hall for regular Torah study.

To Jews, the entire Bible is the Tanach, which is an acronym formed by the initial letters of the Hebrew Bible’s three basic subdivisions: T for Torah (the 5 books of Moses), N for Nevi’im (the Prophets), and K for Ketuvim (Writings). While Jews and Christians obviously differ on key theological points, these biblical texts form the foundation of both Judaism and Christianity. They have guided both communities for centuries, and serve as the cornerstone of Western civilization. (The Tanach, of course, is referred to by Christians as the Old Testament).

Orthodox Jews believe that the Tanach, or Bible, is the actual embodiment of God’s word. The Bible gives us insight into God and His will for mankind. This is why the study of the Bible is so important in Orthodox Judaism. (Not surprisingly, we have been called the “people of the book.”) We believe that the Bible is eternally authoritative. Even though it was given at particular times and junctures in history, it is valid for all time and circumstances. Not only is it eternal, the Word of God is complete. Everything can be derived from it. As Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

For Jews, the study of the Bible is the supreme mitzvah, or good deed. Not only does it teach us how God wants us to live – it also brings us closer to God Himself. Here, again, Christians and Jews share much in common regarding the centrality and the authority of Scripture. From the close relationships that I have with many Bible-believing Christians, I know that the daily study of the Scripture and its application to daily life is equally important. From a Jewish or Christian perspective, an understanding of the Hebrew Bible helps us grow in our understanding of God and the roots of our faith.

To help you in your study of the Bible, The Fellowship has launched a new learning initiative called Limmud (which means “a study” or “a teaching” in Hebrew). These monthly in-depth studies will explore topics from the Torah and will provide insights from millennia of Jewish tradition, wisdom, and commentary. It is my hope and prayer that through these studies, you will have a greater understanding of the Jewish roots of Christianity and that you will grow deeper in your own faith and walk with God.

It is the Bible that brings solace, inner strength, and spiritual fulfillment during times of joy, security, and prosperity, as well as during periods of wandering, suffering, and adversity. It guides our path, shapes our character, and links us with the Almighty. In this way it can truly be said that the Bible is the very lifeblood of the Jewish people – and of the Christian people. And in that, the Bible is another strong bridge bonding us together in unity.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

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