Fred A Levy Haskell (fredcritter) wrote,
Fred A Levy Haskell

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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.

Tags: book, judaism, musing, quotation

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