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Yeshiva Faculty Lead Alumni on Private Tour of Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

On February 15, more than 60 Yeshiva University alumni traveled back in time to the shores of the Dead Sea, circa second century BCE.

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The group gathered at Discovery Times Square’s “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times,” a traveling exhibit featuring artifacts from Second Temple-era Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Scrolls sect, for a guided tour led by world Scroll authority and YU Vice Provost Dr. Lawrence Schiffman and noted scholars Dr. Moshe Bernstein and Dr. Joseph Angel, professor of Jewish history and bible and assistant professor of bible, respectively. As alumni peered at reconstructions of ancient Israelite homes and studied royal seals from the Davidic dynasty on jar handles, Schiffman, Bernstein and Angel answered individual questions about the artifacts and shared insight from their own research into the origins and impact of the exhibit’s findings.

Bedouins first discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 inside caves near the Dead Sea bordering what are now Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, the tens of thousands of broken pieces of parchment make up some 900 scrolls dating as far back as the third century BCE. YU boasts several of the world’s leading scholars in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, including Schiffman, who has authored nine books and some 150 scholarly articles on the topic.

For Anne Senter ’58S and her daughter-in-law Jodi ’89S, the night offered a unique insider perspective on a critical period of Jewish history. “I like to take my children and my grandchildren out to events like this to learn things together,” said Anne. “Being led by experts who are so close to the sources on this tour was important to us because the Scrolls are so important to our history as a people.”

For Jodi, the faculty was a big part of the night’s drBack aw: “I had Dr. Bernstein for a Tehillim class in Stern and absolutely loved it,” she said.

The tour concluded with a dessert reception, remarks by Schiffman and question-and-answer session with Bernstein and Angel.  As the night wound down, Schiffman contextualized the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the larger frame of Jewish and Israeli history.

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“The finding of these scrolls stimulated an awakening to the wealth and breadth of Jewish thought during the Second Temple period,” said Schiffman. “There is an unbelievable variety in the development of thought at that time, yet we also see the continuity in things like tefillin and sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls], which are still part of our tradition today. We can show these discoveries to our children and to school groups and it really hits home that the Israel we talk about in this period is real.”

For Dr. Bernstein, that continuity is an easily missed but critical lesson of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between Qumran Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism,” said Bernstein. “What we don’t always spend enough time talking about—this is something Schiffman has stressed in a lot of his writing—is the pan-Jewish aspect of so much that we find at Qumran. We spend a lot of time talking about the differences, but if we think about what is the same, such as the notion of saying kedushah with the angels or the interpreting of the bible in certain ways, we really get a much better picture of the things that unified Judaism in the late Second Temple and pre-rabbinic period.”

To learn about upcoming alumni events including the monthly lecture series—featuring a March 20 lecture with Dr. Ari Mirmelstein on “The Pesach Seder and Rabbinic Responses to the Destruction of the Second Temple” —visit www.yu.edu/alumnievents.

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