Why You Need a Jewish Bible

Note: This post is geared toward readers interested in conversion, however the points are valid no matter what your background is. 

Introduction

I finally gave away my Christian Bible earlier this year when we moved from Indiana to my husband’s home in Illinois. It was a big study Bible, maybe three or four inches thick, with pretty gold on the edges and a mahogany leather cover. I gave it away because there was no room, but also because I was ready. It was time for it to go.

Earlier this week a new Bible came!  I finally got around to ordering one, and I had picked this lovely JPS Henbrew-English Tanakh, where one side is English and the other is Hebrew. Not that it’s needed in services, but because it’s symbolizes something new for me. A step toward faith and a step toward seriousness in my endeavor.

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Should you buy a Jewish Bible even if you have a “Christian” Bible? My answer is a resounding yes, and here are four reasons why.

Reason #1: Jewish Literacy

If you’re in the process of conversion, it’s absolutely imperative that you increase your literacy. Steep yourself in it all. Become a student and learn everything you can. You’ll feel more confident for it and it’s good knowledge to have. Also, what help are you as a convert if you can’t articulate and defend other Jews against missionaries, propaganda, and bias? So brush up!

Reading the Jewish Bible will give you literacy into the stories and the mitzvot you’ll be expected to know. It should be considered an essential component of your library, if for reference than nothing else. You’ll learn the Hebrew names of the books of the Bible, the organization of the books (it’s a little different), and you’ll see how some of the verses are numbered differently.

Reason #2: Christian Bias

I hesitated to post this part, but it’s truth. Some words in the KJV have biases that are not present in the original Hebrew. These words are skewed in such a way as to make texts into proof texts, pulling meaning out of words that isn’t present in the original. You won’t find that sort of bias in the Hebrew text. You’ll find that some of the verses look different than in the Christian “Old Testament”, but this is good, as it’s closer to the original Hebrew.

For example, in Genesis 1:1,

When God began to create heaven and earth…”

Other Bibles will say, “In the beginning God created.” But the verb here, at least as I understand it, is not one of created but creating. Such as, “In the midst of creating…” It could have been a day or a million years. Point is, He was creating.

Another important example is in Job. I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about this before or not, but Judaism doesn’t believe in the godlike figure of Satan that Christianity does. Christians say things like, “the devil made me do that,” or “the devil is making things tough today”. It’s an entirely Christian notion.

In Job, the reference to “Satan” isn’t the same. In Hebrew, it’s ha-satan, or “the adversary”. This figure is, in the original Hebrew, simply a being whose job it was to act as an adversary and play “devil’s advocate to the Almighty.

Job 1:6- “One day the divine beings presented themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary came along with them.” 

A bit interesting, isn’t it?

Reason #3: Learn Hebrew

A third and very important reason to get a Bible like this JPS version is to learn to read Hebrew. If you get called to read in synagogue, you’ll need to be able to read Hebrew. If you want to follow along with the Torah readings, it’ll be better if you can read (and understand) Biblical Hebrew. And if you ever want to be able to read it, the Bible is the best way to learn. Unlike in modern Hebrew publications, the Bible has the vowel marks, called diacritics.

When I lived in Indianapolis and still studied with my rabbi, he once asked me what I’d need to do and know in order to feel comfortable calling myself a Jew after conversion. On my list was knowing Hebrew. What better use for your Hebrew than to read the Torah?

Reason #4: Torah Readings

There is a Torah and haftarah reading for every week of the year, including Leap Year. A Hebrew Bible such as the JPS one includes a table of the readings along with their Hebrew names. As I mentioned before about Jewish literacy, this is stuff you need to know. Don’t fiddle with a Christian Bible and get a Jewish one. You’ll be glad you did.

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