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21 September 2003 @ 11:50 am
Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin  

I must thank runshower for recommending this book. It is truly wonderful. Rabbi Telushkin writes clearly and concisely and, as you may have noticed from my earlier quotation(s?) from the book, with a certain sense of humor.

Perhaps the best (or maybe just the easiest) way to explain what this book is and how it is put together is to quote from the Introduction:

“The most basic terms in Judaism, the most significant facts in Jewish history and contemporary Jewish life, are either vaguely familiar or unknown to most modern Jews. …

“Over the past fifteen years, during which I have lectured in more than three hundred Jewish communities in over thirty states, I have grown increasingly aware of the frustration many Jews feel with their ignorance of basic Jewish terms. … And despite the differences in beliefs among these disparate audiences, on at least one issue their need and desire is virtually identical: to have available a source of basic information about Judaism and Jewish life. …

“…while Jewish Literary is intended to be encyclopedic in scope, I have tried to make it read like a narrative work, not a reference book. Entries, therefore, are presented topically, not alphabetically, so you can easily read through a whole section … consecutively. For that reason as well, the writing style is anecdotal as much as factual. When you finish reading a chapter, I hope you will not only have understood a term’s historical or ritual significance, but will also have a very good idea how the term is used in daily life.

Jewish Literacy lends itself to being used in one of two ways: as a study guide one can read through section by section in order to acquire an overview of Judaism and Jewish history or as a reference book to which one can go to look up a specific term.”

—Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 2001. pp. xi-xii.

The only problem with the book is when I finished, I was left with the feeling of, you know, “I’m not worthy” or, maybe more exactly, “who am I trying to kid?” Not only am I never going to observe/complete all 613 mitzvot, I’m honestly not even interested in observing many of them — and I’m not just thinking about the mitzvot concerning animal sacrifices. For example, while I am perfectly respectful of those who choose to, I personally am not going to follow the laws of kashrut.

Maybe I should go back to my previous state of saying, well, yes, I’m Jewish, but admitting that I’m not really all that serious about it. I dunno. Perhaps I should go to my Thinking Place and Think some more, even though I am a Bear of Very Little Brain.

Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: The Mills Brothers, Sweeter Than Sugar
Lianatezliana on September 21st, 2003 11:26 am (UTC)
This is how I have had it explained to me:

Being/becoming observant does not happen instantly. It is a process, just as learning is a process (and t is learning too, of course). Start somewhere, do what you are able to, then add to it. The timetable is and the scope are between you and G-d. Enjoy your journey and be enriched by it.
Fred A Levy Haskell: Fredcritter Mark IV by Reed Wallerfredcritter on September 22nd, 2003 08:26 pm (UTC)
You're entirely right, of course. "Do what you can and try not to worry too much about what you can't" is indeed the right approach … not just concerning this, but in the whole of my life journey. I forget sometimes. Thanks for reminding me.
Coyote's getting bolderruneshower on September 21st, 2003 02:03 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!
That book taught me most of what I know about Judaism, and gave me a great respect for it. I would not call myself an observant Jew by any stretch of the imagination, but I have experimented with various of the mitzvot and think it a worthwhile practice, and am glad at least to have a better understanding of my roots.

I agree with tezliana's advice, and would add my suggestion to apply whatever seems good to you, and see what happens!
Fred A Levy Haskell: Fredcritter Mark IV by Reed Wallerfredcritter on September 22nd, 2003 08:49 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm. The book taught me some new things, put some other things in a wider perspective, and helped me organize my knowledge of many things, but I cannot say it taught me most of what I know about Judaism. However, I must say that if one were interested in finding one and only one book from which to acquire an understanding of Judaism, this would not be a bad choice.

Of course you're both right about, you know, doing what seems possible and good. Funny … that reminds me of some … mmmm … advice I recently gave someone. I guess it's easy to forget one's own advice while introspecting.

And I need as well to keep reminding myself of the messages Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah passed along — that striving for righteousness and justice is more important than ritual observances. (Although, of course, the more one can do the better.)
shelleybearshelleybear on October 16th, 2003 04:55 pm (UTC)
The Amidah is Said Standing In Silent Devotion
Most Jews I know (my self included can (if pushed to the limit) actully chant a service in Hebrew.
Fewer can read the words.
Fewer still, can understand the original language on their original level.
Perhaps this is one of the problems I have with my faith.
Sure, I can open a sidur and and read it. I can read torah, but, I have little or know understanding of the actual meaning of the words.
This troubles me deeply.
Am I indulging in a farce, trying to convince myself that I am something more then a window-dressing Jew, or am I simply practicing to the best of my ability?
When I was in L.A., my girlfriend took me to a service that was more of a Las Vegas show then a Shul.
I was able to stomach it (not enjoy it you understand).
However, when I got to the point where I was expecting the Amidah to be read, there was none.
To me, that meant there was no point.
Sure I rag on it sometimes, proudly claiming that I can make "Adon Olam" scan to anything including "Springtime for Hitler", however the lack of silent prayer seemed inherently wrong.
that the oe point in the service that is meant to be universal, was removed.