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Ben-gurion Addresses Opening of Jewish Bible Society in Chicago

March 13, 1967
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Unquestionably tired after almost two weeks of an American tour in behalf of the United Jewish Appeal and Israel bonds that has taken him as far south as Miami and as far west as Los Angeles, David Ben-Gurion devoted the entire 12th day of his visit to the opening of an American branch of the World Jewish Bible Society.

The former Israel Prime Minister, who is president of the Israel Society for Bible Research, made four appearances today at the founding conference at the Palmer House of an American Jewish Bible Society, one of which was his participation in an intensive 90 minute Bible study group discussion on three chapters from the Book of Exodus.

Declaring that the “greatest reward of his American tour will be the successful establishment of an American Jewish Bible Society, ” Mr. Ben-Gurion proudly reported the “key position achieved by Bible study in Israel” and expressed the hope that hundreds of Bible study groups will be founded in the United States.

That his dream may come true, was indicated by a simple one-sentence resolution unanimously adopted by more than 2,000 participants saying: “The modern Jew must reestablish a close connection between his deep self and his Bible, so that, together, he can find identity and strength for Jewishness, and the Bible can become vital in his life.”

Stating that he was “proud to be a Bible missionary, ” Mr. Ben-Gurion said that the “Bible is one of the main links among Jews today –a link which will become even more important in the future.” Referring to the growth of Israel, and recalling his early days as a pioneer on a farm in what was then Palestine, the 80-year-old former Prime Minister said: “The cultivation of the soul is as hard as the cultivation of the soul. The survival and return of our people to the Third Jewish Commonwealth would not have been possible had they not carried in their consciousness the existence of two national homelands, and geographical territory, and the cultural, spiritual fatherland — the Bible. Were not the eternal Book of Books inscribed in the Jewish heart, the survival of our people –a miracle to some, an enigma to all–could not have been feasible.”

A statement from Mrs. Rose L. Halprin of New York, chairman of the American section of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was read when she was unable to attend because of an indisposition. She pointed out that American Jewry has a Biblical heritage both as Americans and Jews. Calling for a renaissance of Biblical study and interest in this country, especially among our youth, she said:

“As Jews, we are the spiritual heirs of the great testament that is so basic to the Judaic-Christian tradition of our western civilization. The Ten Commandments of Moses, the glorious Psalms of David and the inspired prophetic writings of Isaiah and Jeremiab are the essence of Judaism. And as Americans, we are the heirs of our Puritan fore-fathers, the men for whom, as Lecky, the British historian said, “Hebrew cemented the foundation of American democracy.” It is even true that as the Mayflower sailed across the Atlantic almost 350 years ago, the Pilgrim fathers held a little known meeting that considered the choice of Hebrew as the official language for the colony that was to be settled as Plymouth.

“Our colleges, too, were Hebrew oriented. Hebrew appears on the official seal of Yale. One of the first presidents of Harvard read a chapter of the Bible in its original Hebrew every morning in the college hall. And the first president of Columbia said “as soon as a lad has learned to speak and read English well, it is best to begin a learned education with Hebrew — the mother of all language and eloquence.”


Harry H. Ruskin, Chicago attorney, who is president of the American Jewish Bible Society, in introducing Mr. Ben-Gurion, said the organization has been founded in response “to the conditions and needs of the American Jew. There was a time, ” he pointed out, “when the question concerning the American Jew was whether he was an authentic American. Today the question is whether we are authentic Jews. There was a time when personal closeness to our Bible was the distinguishing characteristic of the Jew, Today, the Bible is like a revered relic or classic, to be held in high repute, but not in one’s hands. Today, unhappily, the personal involvement of the Jew with his Bible, the primary interest of the Jew in past ages, has largely ceased in America.

“What the modern Jew needs,” Mr. Ruskin said, “is a new dimension of involvement within the modern world through which he can remove himself increasingly from the severely depersonalizing influences of modern life, and from which his deep inner self can derive strength and a sense of fulfillment. It is to the Bible that the modern Jew must turn to find for himself the dimension of inner involvement with life which he requires. Nothing written, no work of man or nature, none of life’s encounters can affect the deep self and the totality of the modern Jew so deeply as his Bible.”

Dr. Haim M. Gevaryahu, of Jerusalem, director of the World Jewish Bible Society Foundation, announced that the new American group has already made arrangements for the establishment of the Ben-Gurion Institute for Advancement of Group Bible Activity at the College of Jewish Studies in Chicago, which will also house the national offices of the American organization. He said the American organization also hopes to establish 12 dinars at colleges and universities for the purpose of training discussion leaders of Bible groups.

Also taking part in the program of the Bible conference were Dr. Richard R.Gok berg of Northwestern University, Dr. Azriel Eisenberg, director of the World Council or Jewish Education; Prof. Abraham I. Katsh of New York University; and Mrs. Edward H. Lewis, national education chairman of Hadassah.

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