David Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, does not approve of the new book "Jews and Words" written by Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger. Although Wolpe praises the book as, "lovely and unwittingly elegiac" in the end he rejects the idea that of a secular appreciation of Jewish religious literature like the Tanakh and the Talmud. See "Atheist of the Book: A grand old man of letters meets the literature of Judaism." An oversight not to give equal credit in the title of the review to the daughter and coauthor. Not surprising that Wolpe disapproves of Oz's incursion into rabbinic territories. He'd prefer the secular writer to stick to secular literature. Leave the religious books to the rabbis.
We deem the Oz's work perceptive and clever with some brilliant turns of the phrase and insights that could only come out of a collaboration of literary stars. And we find no problem with a secular approach to sacred writings, especially one that is mostly reverent, like this book by the Oz's.
To illustrate the wit of the book, consider this classic observation at the outset that certainly will be quoted often: "Ours is not a bloodline but a textline." We like that at last books have ceded primacy to texts. And the Oz's grant supremacy to literature over tribal affinity.
Of course this book makes no pretense to account for the whole story of the the Jews. For there is substance to saying that ours is heavily a bloodline. But when you write a book you determine its limits. In this tome (or poem) about Jews and words, no doubt the authors give priority to the texts.
Other Oz insights will delight the reader: "... Jewish textuality, indeed all textuality has come full circle. From tablet to tablet, from scroll to scroll."
We liked this one, "The web... is a labyrinthine library of letters, a mammoth maze of meanings and thus a very Talmudic space."
The publishers tell us about the author of the book, "They suggest that Jewish continuity, even Jewish uniqueness, depends not on central places, monuments, heroic personalities, or rituals but rather on written words and an ongoing debate between the generations."
We say, Go forth and suggest!
And we pondered this promise by the authors, "Here is another thing our book tries to spell out: in Jewish tradition every reader is a proofreader, every student a critic, and every writer, including the Author of the universe, begs a great many questions."
Go forth then and get into the text line to buy and read this book and do those things: Jews and Words (Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization)