Page 150 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Holtz
142
sometimes it is the “simple” skill of being able to pronounce (rote
read) Hebrew. And there is the added embarrassment of showing
oneself to be incompetent where in one’s ordinary life, compe­
tence is so highly valued. I have taught courses in rudimentary Ju­
daism with highpowered Wall Street lawyers in my class. How
does such a person—so used to being successful in a demanding
profession—deal with not being able to read the
alef-bet?
Far too
often designers of programs ignore these issues. Experts in adult
education nowadays refer to this issue as “empowering” the learn­
er. That is, the student must feel that he or she is more than the
passive recipient of knowledge imparted from above.
But empowerment is not the only issue that must be confronted.
A lifetime of Jewish learning involves something else as well. The
beginning student is often overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of
the library of Jewish reading. I have often had adult students ask,
“When do you ever get a feeling of mastery, how can you possibly
read enough?” I usually have a simple reply for the latter ques­
tion—“You can’t!” Perhaps somewhere out there, a scholar exists
who feels that he or she has the kind of mastery my questioner is
talking about. But I suspect that such individuals are rare indeed.
Most of us realize that the more you know the more you under­
stand how much there is to know. In fact learning in Judaism may
precisely do just that: you learn that you’ll
never
learn it all. And
perhaps that is what the rabbis meant when they talked about the
“sea” of the Talmud—it is endless, perhaps one could even drown
from a sense of discouragement.
SOME READINGS
So now let us consider the content of such a reading plan. Jewish
literature can be arranged by theme, by genre, by historical period.
In the readings suggested below I have outlined an approach to
looking at the texts of the tradition in the context of their historical
periods. I have also included books about the texts that offer some
guidance or direction. But the historical orientation does not mean
that the works should be relegated to the dustbin of antiquarian cu-