Rabbi’s Message November/December 2016

In Our Jewish DNA



Rabbi Bill S. Tepper

Just prior to writing this article, I finished reading Michael Chabon’s imaginative though disturbing ‘alternate Jewish history’ The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Passionate reader that I am, I need to read like I need to eat! Fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, the daily newspaper, and in particular, works the subject matter of which is Jewish. Forever imprinted on my conscience are the words of the great teacher, historian and rabbi at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Jacob Rader Marcus: ‘Count the day lost when you have not opened a Jewish book.’

From reading there flow new stories to experience, new worlds to discover, and much that awaits to be learned. Within a day or two of finishing a book, a new one – or if not new, one that has been sitting on my shelf for some time – has made its way into my hands. As one of my rabbis instructed me years ago when I was preparing to enter rabbinical school: ‘Read, and then read some more.’

And how rarely do any of us complete our reading of a book before immediately commencing to read it all over again? As Jews we have such a book – five books, actually – that we begin to re-read as soon as we have finished it: the Torah. No sooner have we heard the final words of Deuteronomy do we then proceed to immerse ourselves in Genesis: the creation story is created again; our ancestors and their relationship with the God of Israel emerges once more. As the year unfolds, we learn and re-learn – though never in the same way – who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to be as the Jewish people.  

Though the tenor of the words Talmud Torah conjure up visions of childhood religious school, the expression has – in our day – come to imply Jewish learning in its entirety, not only Torah and Law Codes. This includes Jewish fiction, poetry, essays, drama and history. We may even, if we wish, include Jewish music, the inspiration for which might well be the narratives of our sacred Jewish texts.

It is with pride that Temple Shalom places a premium on Jewish learning: Torah Study, Adult Education Programs and the Irma Penn School of Jewish Learning.   Learning through which we broaden our intellectual, emotional and spiritual horizons, establish and nurture enriching relationships with one another, and enhance the quality of congregational and community life. Cutting to the chase: learning is embedded in our Jewish DNA.

So please share with me what books you recommend, where your interests lie and what you wish to see happen as it pertains to Jewish learning. It is with enthusiasm that I look forward to joining you in our Temple Shalom community of learners.