Page 148 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

Basic HTML Version

Holtz
140
education follows the same approach. And ye t it also may be very
far away from traditional Jewish ideas about these matters.
Th ink for a moment: In Judaism we read our key book and then
we read it again. And again. The weekly cycle of Torah readings,
parashat ha-shavua
,
is
a lifetime reading plan—but it is one text that
is endlessly repeated. When the talmudic rabbis say of Torah “turn
it and turn it again; for everything is contained in i t” (Avot 5:25),
they are asserting their own version of a lifetime reading plan. In­
deed the daily prayers of the traditional liturgy also include large
sections of “study” material in the midst of the morning prayers.
Th is, too, is repeated every day.
Of course there is mastery in the traditional Jewish conscious­
ness as well. W e admire the
talmid hakham
who has “been through”
the entire Talmud (a phrase that occasioned the well known re­
sponse, “But how much of the Talmud has been through you?”),
and the great scholar possesses a mastery not just of the Torah it­
self, but of a wide range of different commentaries on the Torah.
To return to our original phrase, “lifetime reading plan”—note
also that we have been using the word “reading” and that too raises
some difficulties. In traditional Jewish vocabulary we usually speak
about “learn ing”
(lemen
in Yiddish) or “studying” the classic Jewish
works, not reading. Reading suggests a solitary activity—perhaps
the model is the quiet contemplation of the monastery—certainly
not the frenetic din of the Yeshivah’s
bet midrash
. In the
bet midrash
learning is a public activity, almost a ritualized event. As scholars
have long pointed out, for Judaism study is a kind of devotional ac­
tivity which is a communal rite. How does that jibe with our W es t­
ern notion of the solitary reader? Jewish study seems to work better
as group activity. So perhaps we should be considering a lifetime
“study” plan, an endeavor of a community.
T E X T AND E X P O S IT IO N
One way to get around this difficulty of reading versus study (or
individual versus group) is to consider that up to now I have been
talking by and large about the reading or studying of traditional