The Power of Hebrew: An Interview with Rabbi Elie Mischel

The Power of Hebrew: An Interview with Rabbi Elie Mischel

Sara Lamm (SL): Rabbi Mischel, thank you for joining us today. Last year, you published a book together with Rabbi Akiva Gersh called 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible, which has become one of Israel365’s best selling books. What inspired you to create this book?

Rabbi Elie Mischel (REM): Growing up, I was blessed to receive a strong Jewish education. My parents, who did not grow up with strong Jewish backgrounds, believed it was a priority worth sacrificing for. Throughout my childhood, they ensured I attended Jewish day schools, where I studied classical Jewish texts for hours each day, a gift for which I am eternally grateful. However, there were some surprising gaps in my education, particularly when it came to the Bible itself.

Many books of the Hebrew Bible were simply not taught in most Jewish schools. Most of the day was devoted to the study of the Mishna, Talmud, and works of Jewish law. In younger grades, students studied the Five Books of Moses (the “Torah”) and the narrative books of the Bible, such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, but the later prophets and writings were rarely taught. Though Jewish tradition possesses an extraordinarily rich heritage of brilliant biblical commentaries, these were rarely studied in any formal way. Interested students were left to discover them on their own. This book aims to fill that gap and help both Jews and Christians appreciate the Hebrew Bible’s depth and beauty.

75 Words book from the Israel365 store

SL: Why is it so important to study the Bible in the original Hebrew rather than relying on translations?

REM: The Hebrew language is the DNA of the Bible. Each word carries a wealth of connotations and connections to other parts of Scripture. For instance, the Hebrew word “shalom” is commonly translated as “peace,” but it also means “completeness” and “harmony.” Translations can convey the general idea, but they often miss these nuances. Zephaniah 3:9 speaks to this: “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord.” Many scholars interpret this to mean that one day, the nations will understand Hebrew and study the Bible in its original language, unlocking its full depth and beauty.

SL: How does understanding Hebrew bring Jews and Christians together?

REM: The Hebrew Bible is the foundational text for both Jews and Christians. By studying it in its original language, we can foster a deeper mutual respect and understanding. It’s a shared heritage. For Christians, studying the Hebrew Bible, what they call the Old Testament, enriches their understanding of the New Testament, as many concepts and teachings are rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jews and Christians engage with the Bible in Hebrew, it creates a common ground and strengthens our spiritual bonds.

Historically, the Hebrew Bible has often been marginalized by both Jews and Christians for different reasons. After the vast majority of the Jewish community was forced into exile following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Torah itself remained relevant because it is the source of the Divine commandments at the heart of Jewish life. But the rest of the Hebrew Bible, with its national stories of kings and prophets, seemed less relevant to Jews living in exile.

An inside look at 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible

For Christians, figures like Marcion of Pontus and later Adolf von Harnack influenced the view that the Hebrew Bible was less important than the New Testament. Despite Marcion being excommunicated for his heretical views, the idea that the Hebrew Bible was the history of a vindictive god, in contrast to the New Testament’s god of grace, persisted. This perspective even influenced 20th-century German Christians during the Nazi era, who actively worked to exclude the Hebrew Bible from Christian thought. Understanding Hebrew and studying the Hebrew Bible helps bridge these gaps and counteracts centuries of marginalization and misunderstanding.

SL: Can you give us an example of how one of the 75 Hebrew words in your book reveals a deeper biblical insight?

REM: Absolutely. Take the Hebrew word “chessed,” often translated as “loving-kindness” or “mercy.” In Hebrew, “chessed” implies a loyal, steadfast love that goes beyond mere kindness – it’s a covenantal love that reflects God’s enduring commitment to His people. This understanding enriches our reading of passages like Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy (chessed), and to walk humbly with your God?”

SL: You’ve mentioned in your writings that it is critically important for Christians to not only study the New Testament but also the Hebrew Bible. Why is this the case?

REM: Through much of Christian history, Christian theologians elevated the New Testament over the Hebrew Bible. Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, suggested that God replaced the Jewish people with Christians as His chosen nation, leading many Christians to view the Hebrew Bible as merely a prelude to the New Testament. However, this is wrong, even from a Christian perspective. Paul himself rejects replacement theology in Romans 11, making clear that God’s relationship with the Jewish people is eternal. 

Various volumes of Israel365’s Israel Bible Plus

The Protestant Reformation and the shattering of the Catholic Church’s monopoly on biblical interpretation set significant changes in motion. The reformers’ insistence that all believers had the right to interpret the Bible meant that independent-minded Christians would reach widely varying interpretations of the Bible. Inevitably, some Christian leaders questioned and rejected supersessionism, concluding that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible should be read literally and taken at their word. The people of Israel would one day return to the land of Israel! This recognition of God’s continued and unbreakable covenant with the people of Israel is the foundation of Christian Zionism.

SL: How do you envision “75 Hebrew Words” impacting its readers?

REM: My hope is that readers will find their biblical understanding profoundly enriched. Each word in this book is a key that unlocks deeper insights into Scripture, enhancing their spiritual journey. It’s not just about intellectual knowledge; it’s about a heartfelt connection to the divine teachings of the Bible. I believe this book will be a valuable resource for personal study, a great tool for group discussions, and a beautiful gift to share with others.

SL: Lastly, can you tell us about Israel Bible Plus, your latest project designed to help Christians and Jews study the Bible more effectively?

REM: Sure – it’s a project I’m really excited about. We’re launching Israel Bible Plus based on my travels to different Christian communities in America. Many people I spoke with expressed a desire to understand the Hebrew Bible more deeply, but shared that they lacked local teachers who could help them. Most pastors were never taught Hebrew, and so they struggle with the same challenge of not being able to study the Bible in its original language. 

That’s why we came up with Israel Bible Plus. This program gives people access to top teachers in Israel through the Israel Bible Academy. We also send participants easy-to-use, beautifully designed volumes of the Israel Bible in full color, which really gets people excited about their studies. It’s all about making the Hebrew Bible accessible and engaging for everyone.

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