From the Rabbi - January 2011 Print

Dear Friends:

Whenever I try to encourage people to become Jewishly literate and better educated, one of the responses I hear is: “Rabbi, I’d like to, but I can’t read Hebrew.”

Good try, but the excuse doesn’t wash.  Here’s why.  In Cincinnati, Ohio, there is a  Jewish library with over 750,000 volumes on a single topic – some phase of Jewish learning.  To be sure, some of these books are not written in English.  There may be as many as forty or fifty different languages represented in the collection.  But, please be assured, well more than half of the books were authored in a language with which you have more than a passing proficiency – English.

I once figured out that, if you were to read one book each hour until you completed the library (assuming no new books), it would take you almost 86 years to read every book in the stacks.  If only half the books are in English, you’d still have 43 years of constant reading before you completed the task.

Not possible, you say.  My friends, there are plenty of books on Jewish topics that you can read.  Assuming you know the basics (like what Shabbat and the other holydays and kashrut and Zionism are), you can then exercise considerable discretion in your selection.  You can choose history or religious practice, theology and philosophy, biography, novels, travel, Israel….the list goes on.  There is no lack of interesting and inviting Jewish reading material for you to select.

The real reason you don’t read Jewish books has nothing to do with language.  It does have everything to do with your own choices and, even more, your own motivation.  Let’s be honest with each other.  The reason you don’t become Jewishly literate is that you choose not to do so.

So, here’s the challenge.  Of the roughly 400,000 English books on Judaica in Cincinnati, disregard 399,999 and pick up just one.  Which one?  It doesn’t really matter; choose one that might interest you.  And then, when you’ve finished that book, try another.  What I suspect you’ll find is a sense of power about your own identity, a deeper knowledge of what you might mean when you say “I am a Jew,” a richer sense of self.  In addition to reading a Jewish book at home, keep a second one in your car.  When you are waiting somewhere for an appointment, instead of reading an old magazine in the doctor’s office, take your Jewish book in with you and read for a few minutes.  You’ll be surprised how often you’ll be able to finish off a new reading project.

            Sincerely yours,
            Kenneth D. Roseman