Thursday, November 13, 2008

Confessions of a lazy learner

If I were a serious learner, I wouldn’t have stopped taking my recent Ulpan Hebrew classes on the grounds that I no longer have the self-discipline to memorize pages of vocabulary words (as I did when I was studying French in high school and earning a BA therein in college) and could no longer justify paying the substantial tuition.

If I were a serious learner, I’d be the first one on line (or online) to register for classes at JTS (I actually considered studying liturgy there, but wasn’t sure I was ready for serious academic studies), Drisha, Yeshivat Hadar or a similarly serious institution of Jewish learning.

But I’m not. I prefer my learning in small, and interesting, bites.

So my main sources of learning, to date, have been family; friends; "regulars" at the various synagogues that I've attended regularly over the years; fellow and sister members of chavurot; rabbis, cantors, and other learnèd Jews (of whom I should say that I’ve been fortunate enough to have the friends and learnèd folks overlap, occasionally); the siddur (prayer book); the Chumash; Jewish music; and—yes, Virginia—the Jewish blogosphere.

Long-time readers will remember the fun I’ve had as a quote-hunter (see here and, especially, here (with the links to previous quote-hunter posts). I still get a kick out of finding new connections between the Chumash and the siddur—just this past Shabbat/Sabbath, I spotted a quote in Haftarat Lech L’cha, “hanoten layaef choach,” (who gives strength to the weary),” that appears in one of the b’rachot (blessings) of Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings). And I get my jollies when I figure out where the lyrics to a contemporary Jewish song come from, whether I figure it out myself or persuade a kind composer to spill the beans. (I just sent an e-mail to a Jewish singer/songwriter/guitarist asking where he got the words to one of his songs.)

From the Jblogosphere, I developed further my understanding (which I’d begun to pick up at my Orthodox non-profit employer’s office) that the Orthodox world is not divided evenly between Modern Orthodox Jews and Chassidim, and picked up the “dress code,” more or less. I’ve learned all manner of concepts and quotes (“dan l’kaf z’chut,” roughly, “give someone the benefit of the doubt) and vocabulary (kefirah, kofer = heresy [atheism?], heretic [atheist?]), and have taken part in all manner of interesting discussions that showed me the breadth of opinions within the Jewish community as a whole. I’ve “met” members of that oft-maligned “group” known as “settlers,” with whom I’ve sometimes agreed, sometimes disagreed, and often been of two minds (follow the links). It’s been quite an education, in both religious and Zionist terms.


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