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The Tanakh Companion to the Book of Samuel

Bible Study in the Spirit of Modern and Open Orthodox Judaism

What is really going on in the Book of Samuel? What is the significance of Hannah's prayer? Why does Saul lose the kingship? What is the meaning of David's relationship with Avigayil — and with Batsheva?

In this book, some of Judaism's most exciting teachers discuss some of the most exciting passages of the Tanakh.


About the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
The Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School develops professional, knowledgeable, empathetic and visionary rabbinic leaders for the modern world. Founded in 1999, YCT cultivates a love of Torah, a passion for leadership and a philosophy of inclusiveness. YCT alumni are building new open Modern Orthodox congregations, transforming established communities, leading and inspiring students at major university campuses and teaching in day schools.

About the Authors

Rabbi Hayyim Angel is Rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel of New York City (the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, founded in 1654) and teaches advanced Tanakh courses at Yeshiva University. He has published articles on Tanakh in journals such as Tradition, Nahalah, Jewish Thought, Jewish Bible Quarterly, Or HaMizrah, and in several collections of essays. He recently published Through an Opaque Lens, a collection of twenty of his biblical studies.

Rabbi Joshua Berman studied at Yeshivat Har-Etzion, Princeton University and holds a doctorate in Bible from Bar-Ilan University. He is a lecturer in Tanach at Bar-Ilan University and, and is the author of The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now (Jason Aronson, 1995), currently in its second printing. His articles on contemporary issues have appeared in the pages of Tradition, L'Eylah, Midstream, Judaism and The Jerusalem Post. His most recent book, Narrative Analogy in the Hebrew Bible was published by Brill Academic Publishers in the spring of 2004. He is currently a fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem where he is working on a book about the revolution in social and political thought witnessed in the Tanakh relative to the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East.

Rabbi Jack Bieler was ordained by the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1974. He served on the faculty of Yeshivat Ramaz from 1974-88 during which time he was also permanent Scholar-in-Residence at Congregation Kehillat Jeshurun. Since 1988, Rabbi Bieler has served as Lead Teacher, Chairman of the Judaic Studies Department and Assistant Principal for Judaic Studies at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, now the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, MD. In 1993 he was appointed Rabbi of the Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, MD. He has published and given presentations on Jewish education and on issues facing Judaism today, especially concerning Modern Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Dr Yehuda Felix studied at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, where he was ordained by Rav Avraham Shapira, Rav Simcha Kook and the late Rav Betzalel Zolti. He received his doctorate from Bar Ilan University. He founded and for 25 years headed Orot College in Israel and is currently the Jewish Agency For Israel's educational director for North America.

Leeor Gottlieb, a graduate of Yeshivat Shaalvim and Beit Morasha, is a Ph.D. candidate and an instructor of Bible in Hebrew University’s Department of Bible. His work focuses on the transmission of the Biblical text, the inner-development of Biblical Hebrew and the ancient translations of the Bible.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is the Chair of the Bible and Jewish Thought Deptartments at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. He previously served as Judaic Studies Curriculum Coordinator at the Maayanot Yeshiva High School and on the Judaic Studies faculty of the Frisch Yeshiva High School. he is a long-time member of the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education Faculty and is widely sought out lecturer in coomunities throughout North America and beyond on areas of Jewish Studies. He has authored dozens of essays in Hebrew and English, serves as co-editor of the Hebrew journal Or ha-Mizrach and most recently served as editor of the volume Community, Covenant and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Toras HoRav Foundation/Ktav, 2005).

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is spiritual leader of Ohev Sholom—The National Synagogue, located on 16th street in Washington, DC. His articles and Divrei Torah are archived on his website,

Rabbi David Silber is the founder and dean of Drisha Institute for Jewish Education ( ), internationally recognized as the creative force for women's advanced study of classical Jewish texts. Rabbi Silber has introduced groundbreaking initiatives that continue to change the way people regard Jewish education in general, and the leadership role of women in particular. Rabbi Silber is a pre-eminent Bible scholar and sought-after speaker whose shiurim and CD recordings are distributed worldwide. He received ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and is a recipient of the Covenant Award.

Rabbi Avraham (Avi) Weiss is Founder and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah – the Open Orthodox Rabbinical school. He is Senior Rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a modern and Open Orthodox congregation of 850 families. Rabbi Weiss is National President of the AMCHA – the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, a grassroots organization that speaks out for Jewish causes and Israel. He has authored two books – Women at Prayer, a halakhic analysis of women’s prayer groups, and Principles of Spiritual Activism. He is also the editor of the Haggadah for the Yom HaShoah seder.

Nathaniel Helfgot  
The Birth of Samuel and the Birth of Kingship
David Silber I Samuel 1:1-2:10
Hannah, the Mother of Prayer
Yehuda Felix I Samuel 1:1-2:10
Anarchy and Monarchy Part One:
Samuel the Prophet King
David Silber I Samuel 8:13
The Nachash story and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Leeor Gottlieb I Samuel 11
Amalek: Ethics, Values and Halakhic Development
Nathaniel Helfgot I Samuel 15
David and Saul: A Comparison
Nathaniel Helfgot I Samuel 15-17
The Theological Significance
of the Urim Ve-Tummim
Hayyim Angel  
Why David did not kill Saul: Insights from Psalms
Hayyim Angel  
Avigayil: Savior of David
Avraham Weiss I Samuel 25
Uzzah and the Ark
Jack Bieler II Samuel 6
David’s Request to Build the Temple
Joshua Berman II Samuel 7
David and Batsheva:
Echoes of Saul and the gift of forgiveness
Shmuel Herzfeld II Samuel 11-12
Anarchy and Monarchy Part Two
David Silber II Samuel 21-24



“King David is not chosen because he comes from some great family, or because he went to all the right places and knew all the right people. He’s not presented as being tall, or beautiful. He is chosen for himself, on his own merits.”
— Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, “King David, The Early Years

“Despite her seemingly ulterior motives in the way she first encounters David, I think we can still view Avigayil as having performed a glorious and holy act. She saves David from becoming a murderer. Maybe if she had been around, she could have saved the city of Nob and even Saul. Who knows?”
— Rabbi Avi Weiss, “David and Avigayil: Love and Values”

“In Genesis, certainly, having two wives is a prescription for domestic disaster. It doesn’t work out any differently for Elkanah.”
— Rabbi David Silber, “Hannah’s Prayer and the Meaning of Samuel”

“My aim is to try to understand the Book of Samuel on its own terms, without Chronicles, which won’t exist for another 500 years. The Book of Samuel must yield its own answer to this question. And within the Book of Samuel there is no mention that David cannot build the Temple because of bloody hands.”
— Rabbi Joshua Berman, “David’s Request to Build the Temple”

“The main question for educators is, are you prepared to meet students halfway – where they are, without waiting for them to come to you? A judge has a responsibility to go to the people and mix with them.”
— Rabbi Yehuda Felix, “Why is Samuel Read as the Haftorah on the First Day of Rosh HaShanah?”


Rabbi Jack Riemer, Jewish Journal South Florida, September 2006
Almost every chapter of this collection taught me something new, about a book that I thought I understood very well. well... Creative thinking and wide learning characterize the essays in this book.

“Every single one of the thirteen essays in this book is a finely-cut gem.”
Robert J. Avrech, screenwriter and publisher

“A great book, in-depth and with a Torah perspective.
— Meir Weingarten, JM in the AM radio show


Out-of-the-box Orthodox Bible study
By Tzvee Zahavy, The New Jersey Jewish Standard, April 12, 2007
"Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Tanakh Companion to the Book of Samuel: Bible Study in the Spirit of Open and Modern Orthodoxy," Ben Yehuda Press (2006), Teaneck, $19.95, 284 pages.

The Two Wives Club; Job Requirements for Israelite Kings; David's Delivery Service; Dressed to Kill; Private Affair; Nepotism and Regret; Up on the Roof; Woolly Parable — are these the titles of this year's fiction best-sellers or Oscar-nominated films?

No, they are a sample of the section titles that the reader will find in a locally published, exciting new volume of studies on the biblical book of Samuel published by the Ben Yehuda Press.

Teaneck has become a vibrant locale for Jewish publishing thanks to Larry and Eve Yudelson. The works coming out of their press provide traditional Jewish learning informed by what they call "the spirit of open and modern Orthodoxy."

The volume on the biblical book of Samuel brilliantly captures oral presentations on the text and translates them into print. As you work your way through this "companion" you do feel as if you are accompanied on your journey of study by rabbis associated with the relatively new Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, who are among the leading lights of modern Orthodox Bible scholarship.

This well-edited and professionally produced book presents a series of discrete and sometimes overlapping discourses.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, chair of the Tanakh and Jewish Thought departments at YCT, says in the introduction that the contributors adhere to a common "literary-theological method." But in fact they employ a potpourri of approaches, which is a shortcoming. Most of the authors do not seem to be aware of the individuality of their respective methods. Indeed, they do not show much interest in academic journals.

Helfgot has taught at the nearby Maayanot and Frisch Schools as well as at the Drisha Institute. He's also edited a book containing selected letters of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and provides two chapters for this book. The first, "Amalek: Ethics, Values and Halakhic Development," treats mostly moral issues. The second, "David and Saul: A Comparison," engages in fascinating and close literary readings.

In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit that in high school I was a classmate and chavrusa of David Silber, who has since become dean of New York's Drisha Institute and a moving force for women's advanced study of rabbinic texts. In this book he takes up "The Birth of Samuel and the Birth of Kingship," a major theme of the text.

Silber contributes further two chapters that examine other subjects of this biblical book, including "Anarchy and Monarchy." He addresses there texts from both Samuel I and II.

Next, Dr. Yehuda Felix, the Jewish Agency's educational director for North America, treats the subject of "Hannah, the Mother of Prayer," reminding us how davening, the central act of our Judaic piety, was once considered a great innovation and was instantiated by a woman.

Hebrew University instructor Leeor Gottlieb then analyzes "The Nachash Story and the Dead Sea Scrolls," taking the reader into new and rarely charted territories of comparative study.

In one chapter Rabbi Hayyim Angel of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York confronts the mystery of "The Theological Significance of the Urim Ve-Tummim." In a second excurses he asks and answers, "Why David did not kill Saul: Insights from Psalms."

Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder and dean of YCT, religious leader of the Hebrew Institue of Riverdale, and noted author and activist, explores the role of "Avigayil: Savior of David."

And finally Rabbi Jack Bieler of the Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring, Md., decodes the puzzling chapter on "Uzzah and the Ark."

These authors convince you that they really do find their texts exciting, that they do believe the words of the book are sacred and inspired, and that ordinary householders can and should come along with them to discover the deeper and more spiritual meanings of Tanakh.

But, you ask, who really will read and benefit from this work? To that I'd give one illustration and some speculation. My wife is member of a women's Tanakh study group in our area. The group of about 15 mainly Orthodox women meets on Shabbat afternoon every other week. The members are professionally accomplished women, who for the most part also are educated in Jewish texts and learning. My wife and other women in the group found this volume highly useful in preparing for their group discussions.

Also, this work indeed does succeed at being both modern and open. Hence, I speculate that many individual readers across the spectrum from Reconstructionist to haredi will discover this book and will use it as a worthy study resource. For more information, go to







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Extra feature: Bibliography of traditional Jewish sources

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