The Bible as Literature

Is it strange to say that Jews don’t read the Bible? We study the Torah, of course, but for many that is an enterprise confined to synagogue. So we read the five books, and the haftarot, which are passages from the historical and prophetic writings. But even the books that are part of the liturgical calendar — Jonah, Esther, Ecclesiastes and so forth — are too often neglected.

But what riches! To read the Book of Job is to understand why it is a touchstone for sufferers throughout the generations. Its eloquence and anger speak for every person in pain. Its arguments feel as if lifted from our own hearts and turned to poems. Ecclesiastes (Koheleth) is a compendium of life wisdom, which grows with the years we bring to it. Ruth is a tale of charm and commitment that draws people to Judaism to this day. This is just a sampling, and all of these books can be read in a very brief time.

Yes, much has changed since the time of the Bible, but not the human heart. Our frustrations were anticipated by Koheleth, our sense of peril by Esther, our exultation at love by the Song of Songs. These books have fed souls for thousands of years. Find out why. Feed your soul.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.
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