I read aloud on Shabbat afternoons. My husband listens. I ask endless questions. He answers. If he does not have the answer at his fingertips, he searches for it in another book or two. My husband has a Yeshiva education. He holds an advanced degree in literature. For more than thirty years, he taught history, Jewish history and literature in a Jewish high school. He is an avid collector of books on a broad range of topics. I have a public-school background and degree in journalism. I have written for newspapers, radio and television. For nearly thirty years I was editor of a magazine. I have written a few books. Words matter to both of us.
Sometimes for our readings, he selects the topic. Sometimes I make the choice. Always the subject is Jewish and always nonfiction.
I stumble over pronunciations. I am confused by timeframes, centuries blend, names tumble over one another, millennia converge. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of our Jewish heritage. Elinor Burkett’s Golda brought me to tears. History of Prophecy in Israel by Joseph Blenkinsopp made clear how much I do not know. Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos, Isaac Luria and his Kabbalistic Fellowship by Lawrence Fine was rather strange more than difficult. The Bible Unearthed: Archeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, had me wondering if it is too late for me to begin a new career. Tormented Master, The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav by Arthur Green was both fascinating and sad. These and other books have opened my eyes, changed my way of thinking. I absorb only a smattering of what has been written. Yet I find the smattering worth it—if only for the pleasure of this Shabbat ritual. And there is something else. Inspired by the readings, I have begun to make my halting way through other books with Jewish content. I’ve read Six Days of War by Eric Hammel, The Lonely Man of Faith and Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and several works by Gershom Sholem including a tome entitled Sabbatai Sevi The Mystical Messiah. Much—no, most—of what I tackle on my own is well beyond my ability to absorb. I lack the background, the foundation, and at this stage of life, the ability to remember. Nonetheless, I trust that something, some little thing or other is sinking in. During the week, I read novels by American writers, Israeli authors, and translations of the Russian classics that I have never before attempted. Despite my admitted shortcomings in the quest for understanding, I persevere because I enjoy the process. The process is a joy.
However, it is the Shabbat readings that I love best. I love that my husband and I sit side by side in comfortable chairs in the last hours of the afternoon. I love stopping mid-sentence to ask a question knowing that my husband will be patient in his answer. He never seems to mind the disparity in our knowledge base. He is a humble man. I think he is a wise and wonderful teacher. And I am an eager student.