The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

So, what did I learn?

After a bit of a delay I finally received my grade sheet and graded essays back for the course "Jewish Theology" at Spertus. It's a welcome relief to see my "B+" grade in writing. I'd been told in a voice mail message that I had a B+, but a part of me feared that I'd heard it wrong, and it was really a D+.

Overall Dr. Sherwin's feedback was very positive, calling my essays "clear, precise, and well-documented." His main bit of constructive criticism was that it was often "a bit too terse, with concepts noted but neither adequately explained or analyzed." Overall not bad, considering how I procrastinated until about 3 days before the end of the term before I hunkered down and composed my essays. You are invited to read them via the link on my sidebar.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I learned in this course is the concept of "polarity", that Hebrew/Jewish thought operates in terms of complementary, contrasting polar opposites; humans made of dust/humans created in the image of God, Israel chosen/Israel rebellious, etc. Also, related to this concept, that Hebrew thought works in terms of description rather than definition. The long-standing preoccupation of Western thought is to define concepts, and to suppose that once we've defined something we understand it. Some Jewish thought has been influenced by this Western perspective - Philo, Maimonides, etc. - but the Jewish heritage of thought offers an escape from definitional reductionism and instead is comfortable with paradox.

In my previous course, "The Religion of Biblical Israel", Dr. Dulin had given me some strong advice on how important it is to interact with the primary sources (in this case involving the Bible and "Ancient Near Eastern Texts"), and not just to quote commentaries. This advice has stuck with me, and it proved very helpful while composing my essays.

I also learned just how much of a beginner with things Jewish! In one of my essays I said, "The Mahzor (prayerbook for the High Holy Days) reflects continuous development of worship over the centuries." She wrote in the margin, "So does the Siddur!" That's how I found out about the Siddur, which happens to be THE basic prayerbook for Judaism, as central for the Jews as the "Book of Common Prayer" is for the Anglicans. It probably looked a bit funny for me to have written an essay on Jewish worship without acknowledging the Siddur or even knowing that it exists. I quoted from the Mahzor for the simple reason that I happen to own one. I probably acquired it while I lived in St. Louis Park, MN 13 years ago - I sometimes came home with books from garage sales when I went for walks.

Well, now I'll be registering for the next course, which will be "Medieval Judaism."


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