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Neophyte’s reading of Torah nothing new to Jews

Neophyte’s reading of Torah nothing new to Jews

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The annual cycle of reading the Torah (Five Books of Moses) and its accompanying commentaries is a regular practice in both historical and modern Judaism. So, David Plotz's discovery of the practice, as described in "Reading 'Good Book' cover to cover" by Dinesh Ramde (April 26), is amusingly and also disturbingly naive.

I'm pleased that Plotz has offered a personal commentary on the Torah; this is a regular activity of Jews who gather to study Torah on a weekly basis, and although we study with deep respect for the scholars of the past, we also accept that each of us has the potential to make contributions to the interpretation our sacred texts. But I am surprised that he doesn't realize - or (because I haven't read Plotz's book yet) the reviewer, Dinesh Ramde, does not realize - that by undertaking his journey through Torah, Plotz is engaging in a long-standing tradition. Not only that, but his distaste for Torah stories that seem violent or vengeful is also part of a long tradition.

Torah has never been easy to understand nor is it about la-de-dah love, flowers and birds, but is a challenging and difficult document that provokes questioning and weighty discussion. The ancient Rabbis left a hefty body of debate about the same difficult themes that trouble Plotz, and contemporary Jews continue to discuss and agonize about them. That's "doing Jewish." We continue to try to understand how to live moral lives while puzzling about human frailty and vitality and the meaning of God's laws in Torah.

We all arrive at different conclusions when we read the same words, and Plotz's self-identification as a " 'hopeless and angry agnostic' upset at a God portrayed as 'awful, cruel and capricious,' " is simply one reading of the Torah. There are many others, and each of us who engages in Torah finds that our understanding evolves as we re-read it annually. Ultimately, it is good that Plotz stepped from ignorance into a position of troubled knowledge. Hopefully, his own journey will take him further, from naive anger to mature "wrestling with God," by which I mean an intellectual, emotional and spiritual understanding of his place in the history of Jewish thought and an ability to accept the paradoxes of Torah as intrinsic to Jewish tradition and to life.

Maybe David Plotz's book will teach other Jews who have a marginal awareness of their own traditions that they can read Torah themselves and make their own discoveries.

Laurie M. Franklin,


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