In Judaism the oral Torah was intended to be just that — unwritten. That way teaching would be more fluid, represented by human beings and not pages alone. But when catastrophe struck the Jewish people, the oral Torah was compiled and fixed in the Mishna and Talmud so it would not be lost.
The instinct against writing things down was not Judaism’s alone. At the end of Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates tell the legend of the god Theuth, who invented the art of writing. Theuth presented his new invention to the King of Egypt, promising to make people “wiser and improve their memories.” The king argued that writing would instead “foster forgetfulness” by encouraging people to rely on marks rather than ‘living speech engraved on the soul.’”
Judaism’s solution to this dilemma is elegant and convincing — study a book with a partner. Bring together the person and the marks on the page. Solitary reading, rich and wonderful as it is, is not the preferred method of learning Talmud or teshuvot or Mussar — any traditional text. It is ultimately too passive and too impersonal. Yes, we are the people of the book, but we are also the people of the person. Mix them together and you get learning that lasts.
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