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Organizations help the curious take Bible study one day at a time

NEW YORK, Aug. 9 (JTA) — Call it the Book of the Day Club. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur may be the only days many American Jews open the Bible, but this year two organizations are urging the People of the Book to consult the Book a few minutes every day. Although similar in design, the two projects — one sponsored by the religious Zionist women’s organization Amit and the other by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — were developed independently. Each program provides study materials and reading guides, while encouraging participants to chat with each other about the content — whether in synagogue discussion groups, over the phone or on the Internet. Amit’s Tanach Yomi started in July with Deuteronomy, and United Synagogue’s Perek Yomi kicks off on Simchat Torah, with the Book of Joshua. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive director of the United Synagogue, said the daily approach gives people a manageable way to familiarize themselves with the Bible in its entirety. He credited the idea to his son, who — after graduating from day high school and realizing he’d never read the whole Tanach, or collective term for the Old Testament — vowed to read a chapter a day. “I thought it was passing fad, but he did it,” recalled Epstein, adding that at the rate of 15 to 20 minutes per day, one can read the Bible in about two and a half years. Amit’s project was spurred by a seminar in which educator Rivka Blau said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if thousands of women all over the country could study and we gave them the means?” recalled Elissa Chesir, one of the project’s chairwomen. “We want people to open up the Bible regularly and reacquaint themselves with it,” said Brenda Felman, the project’s other chairwoman. “It shouldn’t be foreign.” The project is somewhat of a change of pace for Amit, a 32,000-member organization that raises funds for a network of schools and social service programs in Israel. But the chairwomen say members are taking to it with a surprising level of enthusiasm. The group printed 500 copies of the study guide, an appointment-book sized volume, and ran out within weeks, receiving requests from congregations and individuals. At Amit’s July convention, 200 delegates broke into partners to try the first reading. Participants were quickly “jabbering away,” said Esther Farber, the coordinator for the project. “Everyone was very animated about the learning,” she said. United Synagogue’s project is also stirring up holy bookworms. So far approximately 400 congregations have requested over 300,000 brochures about Perek Yomi to distribute at High Holiday services. For information about Tanach Yomi, check www.amitchildren.org For information about Perek Yomi, call 212-533-7800, ext. 2234.

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