Page 27 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 45

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A Lifetime of Reading
a f t e r t h e
Jewish Book Annual
asked me to contribute a life­
time reading plan for Jewish literature, I began to wonder about
that very phrase, “lifetime reading plan.” Every word in that sim­
ple formulation, in fact, suddenly seemed to echo with questions.
In what sense was Jewish “reading” reading at all? Was there such
a thing as a reading “plan” in our tradition? And how does read­
ing fit into the “lifetime” of the individual Jew? These are not sim­
ple matters and quite rapidly that little innocuous phrase had
wormed itself into my mind and began to raise questions.
Take “plan” to begin with. Let us suppose that I have decided
to master a particular field, any field. For my own curiosity, I
want to learn everything I can possibly learn about, say, comput­
ers. I can begin to map a program of learning for myself. I can
consult some basic popular books about computers and begin to
get a sense of the dimensions of the field; I can follow those sim­
ple books to more complex investigations; I can use the bibliogra­
phies that I find in some books to build other bibliographies. I will
soon get an idea about the aspects of computers that interest me
and those that do not — I might want to learn about program­
ming, but not about microchips. And with intelligence and dili­
gence I will get as far as my abilities will take me. I create a plan;
probably not a lifetime plan, but who knows? I can spend as long
on it as I like.
Is this what we mean by a lifetime reading plan inJudaism? Is it
mastery? Is it “covering material,” as teachers sometimes like to
say? A reading plan, as I have implied, suggests an important
notion: you read one thing, master it, finish it, and then you move
on to the next thing. This is not a surprising idea. Most of West­
ern education follows the same approach. And yet it also may be
very far away from traditional Jewish ideas about these matters.
Think for a moment: In Judaism we read our key book and
then we read it again. And again. The weekly cycle of Torah
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