Biblical scholars resigned from the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in protest after the governing council of the leading organization in the filed, The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), released a letter that drew parallels between the brutality of the recent killing of approximately 1,400 Israelis on the morning of October 7 and the suffering of Gaza residents, a result of Israel's response to a deadly terror attack by Hamas.
The letter has stirred up significant outrage among 400 researchers, including some of the most prominent in their field.
In the past few days, numerous researchers in Israel and around the world, both Jewish and non-Jewish, received a different type of letter, expressing sympathy and solidarity with the pain felt by the people of Israel from the world's preeminent organization dedicated to the study of the Bible and Talmud. However, just a few days later, the same organization sent a letter with a completely different tone and content.
The letter begins with a solemn statement: "The council of SBL is deeply saddened and disturbed by the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the violation of human rights in both Israel and Gaza. We are particularly concerned about the continued violence, loss of innocent lives, denial of basic necessities, security, food, water, electricity, medical supplies, and other essential aspects of life for the innocent victims in Gaza."
This strongly worded letter generated an unprecedented and highly unconventional backlash, especially among researchers whose professional careers are intertwined with their relationships and connections within SBL. An immense and international wave of protest, comprising around 400 Bible scholars and Jewish studies experts from around the world, including some of the most prominent figures in their respective fields, has signed a powerful petition against SBL. Notably, members who have held key roles in the organization, such as editors of academic journals and active committee members, have recently resigned, and others are joining this widespread disassociation.
"The entire state of Israel is in mourning. There isn't a person in the country untouched by this tragedy, including a distinguished Israeli Bible researcher from Ben-Gurion University, Professor Tova Porti, whose son was missing since that dreadful Shabbat. Only a few days ago were they able to identify his body due to its terrible condition," explained one of the involved Bible researchers.
"The foremost demand that the Bible places upon a person is the distinction between good and evil. There are moments in history when the picture is not complicated. Forces of evil stand in opposition to forces of good, and every individual has a moral imperative to choose the good," emphasized a prominent Talmudic scholar and Israel Prize laureate, Professor Vered Noam from Tel Aviv University, who also signed the petition.
Professor Noam added, "The SBL's statement creates a grotesque equation, drawing an unwarranted parallel between barbarism and civilization, between a life-affirming society and a culture that sanctifies death, between murderers and innocent victims, between a nation fostering thriving settlements, scientific research, healthcare, and technology, and a regime that only breeds oppression, destruction, terror, and mourning... The SBL has failed to distinguish between good and evil." The researcher also expressed her intention to terminate her membership in the organization after two decades of active involvement.