On Jewish Words

‘[N]o other premodern people,’ Oz and Oz-Salzberger insist, ‘were systematically exposed, in this way, to written texts in their homes across a broad social spectrum.’ At the very least, the primacy of Torah study set Jews apart. For their first 12 or 13 years of life, Jewish children would (and do) listen to their families engage in prayer and tell stories; as soon as they are old enough to do so, they begin to read and memorize prayers and tractates on their own. Upon reaching the appropriate age, children undergo a bar or bat mitzvah, a ceremony that not only anoints them as adults but entrusts them with the ‘textual legacy’ of the Jewish people. In the eyes of Oz and Oz-Salzberger, ‘this piece of social history is […] the single most important fact about the survival of the Jews.’

Then there is the fact that many of Judaism’s most venerated heroes are scholars, sages, and priests. Even King David was a poet. Moses, meanwhile, achieved his eminence not just by leading the Jews to the promised land but by bringing them the Ten Commandments, that most canonical of written texts. Even in their myths, authorship and education offered Jews the surest path to achieving renown. And scholarship, as Oz and Oz-Salzberger convincingly argue, could also be the key to being remembered at all: ‘From late antiquity until early modernity, most of the Jews on historical record are on record because they studied.’

Jacob Silverman, "Trading Faith for Wonder: On Judaism's Literary Legacy,"  Los Angeles Review of Books - http://bit.ly/V7HrFl