Monthly Archives: October 29, 2014

Why I Read

I am a reader.  By which, I mean to say, reading is not simply one of the many activities that make up my day.  For me – and I suspect many others – reading is an essential part of my identity; it is a natural and constant part of my life.  I eat, I sleep, I pray, I read – at this stage in my life, reading is less a choice than a basic daily need.  In between Torah study, diaper changing and making lunches for the kids, reading a book (or books) always finds a place in my day, however hectic the day might be.

For much of my life, I unthinkingly considered the act of reading to be an absolute, unadulterated good.  The underlying message of the children’s television show, Reading Rainbow (“I can go anywhere…”) – reinforced by my parents and teachers – was that good kids read.  Simple as that!

But why? What value is there in spending our limited leisure time on our own, curled up on the couch with a book?

Before diving into high minded justifications for immersing ourselves in books, let’s be honest: reading can be addictively pleasurable.  A good author captures our attention and emotions; we are absorbed, fascinated, even carried away, as the words on the page come alive and evoke powerful feelings of identification and sympathy.  And reading also offers a more sophisticated form of pleasure; that of “being in the close company of someone more thoughtful than you but whose thoughts, owing to the courtesy of clarity, are handsomely accessible to you. (Joseph Epstein, The Intimate Abstraction of Paul Valery).

But pleasure alone doesn’t capture the subtle but very real importance of reading literature.  As Rav […]

By |October 29, 2014|

“On That Day”: Judaism, Christianity and Conversion

At the time of Jesus’ death, around the year 30 CE, his followers consisted only of a small group of Jews who had accepted Jesus as the messiah.  Three hundred and fifty years later, in the year 380 CE, the    Roman emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica, officially adopting Trinitarian Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.  The spread of Christianity and its success in converting    millions of pagans is extraordinary in its own right; but it is particularly striking when compared with the fate of Christianity’s mother religion, Judaism, and those who remained loyal to traditional Judaism.    The size of the Jewish population at this time is uncertain, and debated by historians.  Yet it is abundantly clear that, in the centuries following the destruction of the second temple and the devastation of the  Bar Kochba revolt, Judaism attracted a comparatively small number of converts.  Judaism remained, principally, a religion restricted to a particular people, while Christianity became a world-wide religion,  adopted by a wide variety of peoples throughout the Roman Empire.

Scholars have offered a number of reasons to explain Christianity’s extraordinary growth: it’s missionary zeal, it’s doctrine of a future life, the miraculous powers ascribed to the early church, and the unity and  discipline of the early Christians.  But in addition to these explanations, Edward Gibbon argues that a principal cause of Christianity’s success was its shedding of what he terms the “unsocial” aspects of its  mother religion, Judaism:

“The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defense, but it was never designed for conquest; and it seems probable that the number of proselytes was never much superior to that of apostates… In the admission of new citizens […]

By |October 22, 2014|