Back to the Sources
Reading the Classic Jewish Texts
Edited by Barry W. Holtz
Simon & Schuster (1986), 448 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 1, 2010
People of all religions should read the books of other religions. There are three primary benefits. First and foremost, contrary to what religious teachers teach, each person and each group knows something that others do not know. Even on subjects that both have the same views, one person or group usually has a different and perhaps better insight than others. Second, reading and understanding the ideas of others, even when a person refuses or cannot intellectually accept the other view, deepens the understanding that people have and helps clarify their own view; for educational psychologists recognize that people cannot understand an idea unless they also understands its opposite. Third, the reader of other religious views comes to understand what the others think and why they act as they do. The first and second focus on individuals and how understanding others helps improve them. The third looks at the social benefit and seeks to encourage respect and interdependency.
Religious leaders frequently discourage such readings. They are afraid that reading about the ideas of other people, especially their religious views, will seduce them from their own religion. There is some truth to their fears. As stated previously, reading the ideas of others will change the readers’ understanding. However, as also stated previously, such changes are beneficial and even necessary.
This volume introduces its readers to Jewish texts, what they are and what they contain. After a twenty page introduction, the book spends close to a hundred pages on the Hebrew Bible, what non-Jews call the Old Testament. This section has three chapters by three authors on biblical narrative, law, and poetry. The remaining seven chapters of close to 280 pages addresses the Talmud, Midrash, Medieval Bible Commentaries, Medieval Jewish Philosophy, Kabbalistic Texts, Teachings of Hasidic Masters, and the Jewish Prayerbook. Thus, all the primary texts are discussed in full.