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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

People of the Book

I was thrilled to learn that the Mayim Rabim book group is being renewed after a several year hiatus. Mayim Rabim tries to touch the lives of congregants through multiple paths of connection. These myriad of ways include religious services, Torah study, tikkun olam/social justice, social interaction, music and song, and holiday celebrations. The book group is one more opportunity for individuals to interact with our community and the Jewish world.

Jews are known as “People of the Book.” That Book is the Torah and subsequently all the commentaries that follow: Mishnah, Talmud and more. Jews have a love and reverence for text. We see this visually when the Torah is paraded around synagogues and kissed. It is also traditional when a siddur (prayer book) is dropped on the ground, to kiss it when it is picked up.

The emphasis Judaism places on education follows from the high value with which we regard books.  Jews make up a disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners. 22.4% have been Jews or of Jewish descent, although that same demographic comprises less than 0.2% of the world's population. There is a stereotype of Jews having superior intellect. I prefer to believe it is a long-lasting cultural phenomenon. The Jewish community places a high emphasis on learning --- and not just rote learning. The oft quoted saying, “two Jews, three opinions” highlights that we struggle, analyze and go deep when looking at issues. Exploration and debate of religious texts is valued and that easily gets translated to similar methodology within secular studies.

Book groups are a great way to expand our vista and socialize with others. My personal experience is that I often end up reading books that I might never have considered but am usually grateful for having had the nudge to do so. When I am brought out of my genre comfort zone, I end up learning so much more.

The book group will be reading On the Move, by Oliver Sacks, and meeting on Sunday February 9. Happy reading!