Letter from Rav Zev Shandalov: An Apology to King Shaul

Over the past many weeks, there has been much debate in both the secular and religious press about new guidelines from the Ministry of Education regarding the teaching of TaNach in schools. The program, referred to by many as "B'Gova Eynayim" generally means that some of the narratives of the Bible will be taught in a way that will bring these giants of our past "down to our level" in the way we look at them. In addition, there will be materials from Christian sources which will be used to contrast to some of the Torah subjects.

In a firestorm of protest, articles, pamphlets and books quickly appeared to attempt to either thwart this move or to give encouragement to teachers as to how to properly teach these various subjects.

Among those who have authored books on this subject is the prolific writer, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the Rabbi of Bet-El. Rav Aviner has been at the forefront of this battle, as he sees it, to maintain the proper respect for those of our past of whom we learn in the TaNach. I recently purchased his book Torat Emet and read it quickly cover to cover. After reading it, I began to shake.

Before making Aliya three years ago, I lived with my family in Chicago, where I served as a pulpit rabbi and a teacher in both Day School and High School. In the synagogue setting and in the school setting, I had the opportunity to teach the book of Shmuel (the prophet Samuel) many times, as I continue to this day, as well. During that time period, I consistently referred to the first king of Israel, King Saul, as being mentally unstable, deranged, bi-polar and perhaps many other very unflattering adjectives. At no point did I find this to be problematic, as these characterizations certainly seemed to "fit the bill."

And then, I read the book by Rav Aviner, and my entire perspective changed! While, indeed there may have been issues occurring in the life of Saul, nevertheless, we must not forget that he was personally chosen by God to be the first king! He was described in the early part of the Book of Samuel as one "hiding among the utensils." This was to lay the underlying foundation as to who he truly was deep down--a humble man with humble beginnings who rose to the position of the first king of Israel.
Was I present when he was anointed as king? Do his actions relative to King David negate the great leader and powerful man that he was? Do I, as a teacher have a right to denigrate one of the great leaders of Israel and to demean him in the eyes of my students?

The answer is a resounding "NO!" While indeed these giants of the Bible had their failings, it is a critical mistake to focus on the negatives and not stress the positives.

My intention is to go one day to the grave of our first king, King Saul, to ask for his forgiveness in the way I spoke about him publically. However, in the interim, I wish to publicly state that I apologize for not putting the proper forethought into my speech and therefore erred . I also wish to thank Rav Shlomo Aviner, for his insightful book that led me to this conclusion.

As we approach the time period of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we need to focus on change and growth both in our actions vis-a-vis God and our actions vis-a-vis our fellow man. I do hope that King Saul will accept my apology. May we all take the opportunity to execute proper judgment and proper action on a daily basis and we all merit being sealed in the Book of Life.


Rabbi Zev Shandalov is originally from Chicago where he served as a rabbi and teacher. He made Aliya in 2009 to Maale Adumim with his wife and three daughters. Rabbi Shandalov teaches both privately and in the local high school.