Saturday, June 7, 2008

Year of Living Biblically

Read this book. Its called a year of living biblically. I read it a while ago, and am sharing cuz I'm friendly like that. I thought it well written and funny, and I even LOL'd a couple of times. (For those of you who read it I mean things like the out-bible-talking a 'hovas witness anecdote, and the numerous mistakes in interpretation.) The point of the book was that this guy (the author) A.J Jacobs, who isn't frum and has pretty much no clue about religion, is gonna read the entire Tanach and new testament, memorize it and then spend a year living his life in Manhattan, exactly as the bible says. Some of the things he does are funny. He of course lets his beard and peyos grow long because it says not to cut the corners of beard and head. He tries real hard to keep all the mitzvos. He really does. The only problem is that his entire understanding of the bible is based on the english text (he didnt learn hebrew first) and english books of all different religions. As a result of his lack of knowledge (although quite impressive for a secular guy) gets him into all sorts of funny predicaments. Not having much to work with he started off the year with 'fringes' tied to his shirt sleeves and collar. He wrote down the ten commandments on a piece of paper and tied it to his forehead and to his arm. He brought along a folding chair everywhere he went (like subways) to avoid sitting on a chair a lady may have sat on. He lived for seven days in a sukka he built in his living room. When he tried to stone adulterers, he walked around dropping pebbles on peoples shoes. Despite all his tziduki like practices, he still managed to keep a few mitzvos properly. Like shatnez. When he started he wasnt sure how to wear clothes with no mixtures at all, until he managed to get a real shatnez tester to test all his clothes. Or Shiluach Hakan. The Orthodox guy who checked his clothes, helped him out with that. He did things like write parts from his bible on his actual door post, and smear blood on his door post on pesach. Since he was a terrible gardener (his plants didnt last long enough to have leket) he decided any money he would ever drop by accident would be considered shickcha.

All the various mistakes he made got me thinking. First of all, it showed me how little of Tanach I actually had memorized. (like apparently it says in mishlei or somewhere that your clothes should be white, which was his inspiration to wear white robes- which went really well with his flowing beard and hair) It also showed me how much information is in the torah. With the bare minimum (just the english text) this guy had a years worth of work and even then just barely scratched the surface. I couldn't help but imagine what his reaction would be if someone introduced him to the talmud. Besides for the long while it would take him to learn Aramaic, he would have a lifetime of work to complete the whole thing. And thats just the Gemarah. I'm sure his mind would have been completely blown had someone introduced him to the basic Rishonim. (If theres any possible way that he- an obviously very intelligent man- would be able to wrap his mind around a single 'shtickel' from the Achronim, I'd eat my hat, a bucket of glue and a piece of a rubber band.) Had he spent a year with the shulchan aruch I'd be standing up and clapping. (Instead of sitting down and typing. Didn't you ever wonder if I type sitting down or hanging from my knees on a traffic light wire? Well, sometimes. But usually the former.) The amount of knowledge he lacks, made me think about the lack of knowledge we all lack. How many of us have actually finished Shas, or even the Shulchan Aruch? Are we just in a similar predicament, living without really knowing, doomed to try but not actually make it anywhere?

(Paid For By: Doodle for Governor. In honor of shavuos)