Me, I’m a simple Yid. A rabbinical school dropout, even: JTS ’99-’00.
I don’t have the text skills of my classmates who finished the program. I don’t pray as fluently as I would like. But I am not entirely without resources, and one of my favorites is Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s "The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living."
It’s a kind of perpetual calendar for your nightstand. You pick it up, start on Day 1 and roll through the year with the rebbe, who gives you roughly a page of wisdom a day, thick with thanks to his own teachers and scholarly citations. Which are important, as you’ll see if you’ll roll with me.
I would suggest that this deceptively simple book has much to offer members of our elite, at least those susceptible to not only trading in academic complexities, but believing them.
I make this suggestion because colleagues of mine at The Forward recently reported that some rabbis omit citations that they feel disrupt the flow of a sermon. The rabbis say different, stricter standards apply to written work.
On such lofty, intricate questions, my personal posek is always Rabbi Telushkin. (See, I learned a little in rabbinical school. A posek is a legal authority.)
And I think the Rabbi would say, flip to Monday, Day 65, which bears this heading:
Whoever repeats a statement in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world. -- Ethics of the Fathers, 6:6
“Unless someone gives you permission to do so, you are morally obligated to credit the person from which you learned something,” Rabbi Telushkin writes.
If you don’t, you are just trying to trying to show off. If you do, on the other hand, you are trying to “deepen everyone’s understanding,” and such a world is “well on its way to redemption.”
After all, isn’t the Talmud, our touchstone text, essentially a tapestry of “said Rav so-and-so, in the name of so-and-so, who was quoting so-and-so?” I guess they weren’t so concerned with flow back then.
To be fair, I’m a writer who can get a little too writerly, and excessively concerned with flow. And as stated above, I’m not a rabbi. But I would urge those rabbis who omit citations in their sermons to embrace the seeming imperfections. Their congregants will love and respect them all the more for acknowledging, as often as possible, that they themselves have teachers.
So I conclude this little homily in the only way possible, by crediting the following: The Forward (which smarts a bit, I admit it); Becky and Larry Evans, for giving my husband and me the book upon our engagement and especially Rabbi Telushkin. Thanks, Rabbi, from simple Yids everywhere.
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