Page 147 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Barry W.
A Lifetime of Reading
Holtz
Soon after the
Jewish Book Annual
asked
me to contribute a life-time reading plan for Jewish literature, I be­
gan to wonder about that very phrase, “lifetime reading plan.” Ev­
ery word in that simple 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 reading fit into the “lifetime” of the individual Jew?
These are not simple matters and quite rapidly that little innocu­
ous 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, computers. 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 simple books to
more complex investigations; I can use the bibliographies 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 programming, but not about
microchips. And with intelligence and diligence 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 in Judaism? Is it
mastery? Is it “covering material,” as teachers sometimes like to
say? A reading plan, as I have implied, suggests an important no­
tion: 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 Western
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