A nice piece in yesterday’s NYT about the lost art of reading aloud. The guts:

It’s part of a pattern. Instead of making music at home, we listen to recordings of professional musicians. When people talk about the books they’ve heard, they’re often talking about the quality of the readers, who are usually professional. The way we listen to books has been de-socialized, stripped of context, which has the solitary virtue of being extremely convenient.

But listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. Both are good ways to learn something important about the rhythms of language. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.

It almost goes without saying that Jewish reading is reading aloud. Likro, ‘to read’ in Hebrew, is also ‘to call out.’ We read aloud from the Torah in synagogue, and we study Jewish texts by reading them aloud to one another. And there’s this great little story from the Talmud: “Beruriah once met a student who was studying quietly. She kicked him, and taught him that one’s learning will be preserved only if he engages all of his limbs in it.” (Eruvin 53b-54a)

What I think is most salient about the NYT article is that silent reading, and listening to audio books is, at root, about convenience. It is definitely inconvenient to read in community, just as it is inconvenient to live in community–even with only a single other person. “Hell is other people,” according to Sartre. The minute another person enters our world, we have to communicate, negotiate, agree on meanings. What a pain in the ass. How inconvenient, and therefore how at odds with the world we’ve built for ourselves.

Community requires sacrifice. It requires work. It demands inconvenience. But the reward, of course, is a deeper existence in which, ironically, we actually know ourselves more deeply.


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Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is a gifted and nuanced thinker who has a wonderful approach to Jewish life in the 21st Century. My wife forwarded me this piece from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. As he does in his recent book, Brad here presents an understanding of Judaism–and particularism and education, more broadly–that reflects a sensibility of meaning, authenticity and freedom. Good reading.