October 22nd, 2004


Yup, I must really be Jewish!

I’ve noticed that I no longer just read books—I engage in dialogue with them! What could be more true to the Jewish tradition and heritage than that? I just now twigged to this habit. I was reading a book and I found myself compelled to grab a pencil and write some subtle but important suggestions for wording improvements. Here:

Roman legions under the Emperor Vespasian had literally begun their siege of Jerusalem, in 68 CE, before the rabbis finally began to encode the Oral Torah. They had to: when a danger exists that the Oral Torah might be forgotten, it must be put into writing. Israel’s Temple priests and rabbis, and most of the leading custodians of the Hebrew Revolution’s traditions, would die in the ensuing holocaust.

I grabbed a pencil, circled the word “holocaust”, and wrote: Let’s reserve this word and use it sparingly, even when referring to the Shoah.* Try: catastrophe, calamity, disaster, destruction, or devastation.

Then, on the very next page, came:

While God’s Torah remains constant, its meaning—that is, the ways in which people interpret it—develops and unfolds according to human needs and experiences. New issues are constantly arising, so students must extend and apply the ancient “Guidance” to correctly answer questions that even Moses never faced.

Again I grabbed my pencil, this time to circle “interpret” and write: Better: “understand”!

These were only the most recent two examples of this tendency, but caused me to realize it’s what I’ve been doing for a while now. In fact, these may be atypical examples, since mere suggestions for small changes in wording are really the least of the things that come up in my internal dialogue while reading. (Well, okay, proofreading/copy editing observations are the least of the things that come up. But that's not important now.) I must confess, however, that I don’t always grab a pencil and start annotating. I probably should. It would get me in the habit of writing down and clarifying my thoughts more often.

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