Lifelong Learning Begins Now

Lifelong Learning
By Rabbi Paul Golomb

Do not say: I will study when I have leisure. You may never have leisure!

It is not clear whether the first century sage, Hillel, was referring specifically to the study of Torah. The word employed in this epigram connotes vocational study rather than intellectual learning. Hillel might have simply been reminding people that if you do not keep moving (keep up with the state of the art) you will be left behind. In Hillel’s day – indeed, well into the nineteenth century – on the other hand, Torah in its broadest sense of all Jewish texts, represented the totality of what any literate Jew needed to know. For Jews, Jewish literature contained everything one needed to know.

In the 1800s, however, a far-reaching change occurred. Judaism was relegated to being a religion. Jewish scholars in previous generations wrote texts on business, manufacturing, science and agriculture within the context of Jewish tradition. They wrote in Hebrew and related their empirical and experiential findings to Scripture and Talmud. In the nineteenth century, they began to write in French, German and English (among other European languages), and disconnected their ideas and research altogether from tradition. Jewish writing was, well, specifically Jewish: theological, spiritual and self-referential. It was something that rabbis learned and taught. So it is that today – in the year 2014 – and for roughly the last century or more, the worldwide Jewish community has never in its history been more literate and well educated, and also more alienated from its own literature and tradition!

When Hillel wrote his aphorism, being an educated person and being an educated Jew were one and the same thing. Such is clearly not the case today.

My comments are being directed to a community of extraordinarily learned people. The least educated of you has probably had a few years of college. A few generations ago, it would have been impressive if you had been able to remain in school past the eighth grade. My comments are also directed at those of you who sense that the Jewish part of your education is missing; that it has alienated you from your past and your present (your sense of connection with Jews here and elsewhere), and has put your future in jeopardy (what will be the faith and commitment of your grandchildren). I do have leisure, you might say, but what should I study?

Vassar Temple’s Lifelong Jewish Learning is an answer. The program established for the coming year (2014-15) is among the broadest and most varied ever. Classes and sessions will be held on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, some in the morning or midday, and some in the evening. Some programs will involve classic Jewish texts (in translation), some informed presentations, and some interactive, an opportunity to learn from each other. Some will be more basic and general and some will be more specific in subject matter.

You may ask: Where should I begin? Consider for a moment that every volume of the foundational Jewish text, the Talmud, begins on page 2. This oddity teaches us that wherever you begin, you are actually in the middle. The critical question, you see, is not where to begin, but whether you are going to begin at all!

In the near future, Vassar Temple will be posting and sending out its schedule of Lifelong Jewish Learning for the coming year. I encourage you to take advantage of the offerings. It is among the most accessible high quality adult Jewish learning anywhere in the Hudson Valley. I also invite you to check out the offerings at other local synagogues. While Vassar Temple’s offerings are second to none, there are good opportunities all around. Again, it is not a matter of where but rather of if. Leisure or not, it is time to study.

Lifelong Learning logo-crop8-10-1048-
Click here to see Vassar Temple’s list of Adult Education offering.

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