Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Project: Hebrew Immersion Study Course

Since my current long-term reading project is soon coming to an end in May 2011, I've decided to start-up another long term reading project. The aim of this project is two-fold:

  1. To improve my knowledge of Hebrew
  2. To learn the background texts that put Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah in context

Measuring Improvements to my knowledge of Hebrew
The first goal is fairly straightforward but can be difficult to measure. Short of doing some exams to prove my knowledge and comprehension of biblical and medieval Hebrew I'm not sure how to measure success in this area.

One possible indicator of proficiency in Hebrew is to try to translate various books on Kabbalah from Hebrew to English. If you have any suggestions for measuring proficiency in Hebrew then I'd love to hear about them.

Learning Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah in Context
The second goal is based on two concepts. The first being that from a Rabbinic perspective a person studying Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah needs to be grounded in an understanding of the whole of the Torah (5 Books of Moses), plus the writings of the Prophets and Writings. These 24 books make up what is called the Tanach which is an acronym for the Hebrew names of these 3 groupings: Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim.

The other reason for getting a grounding in these texts is that the books on Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah are based on the Tanach (and Talmud also known as Oral Law). So if for example I am reading about the mystical meaning of a particular occurrence in the Tanach then its meaning will be less clear, incomprehensible or I may even come to the wrong conclusions since I am unable to put the teaching in the wider context of the source text.

The Project Details
So here is project outline of my next long-term study project:

Scope: Read all of the 24 books of the Tanach,
Time: 3 year deadline
Cost: Sunk cost of books purchased to date is £82.95. No further purchases expected.
Quality: To be specified, see discussion on difficulty in measuring language proficiency above
Communication: Progress update on chapters covered with excerpts for parts deemed applicable to this blog.
1. Daily study is very time-consuming,
2. Study fatigue may kick-in
3. Language skills may not improve significantly
4. May not remember enough of material covered to put learning Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah in context
Issues: 1. Difficult to measure proficiency of language.

How the texts will be studied
Just to elaborate on the plan a bit further... what I'll be attempting to do is the following:

Torah (5 Books of Moses):
This is divided in to weekly portions that are read aloud in the Synagogue each week. This is further subdivided in to 7 sections. Each day I will study one of the sections by reading the Hebrew, attempting to translate it and then checking the translation. The stretch goal is to read and translate the Rashi commentary.

The Sapirstein Edition of the Torah will be used with Rashi commentary, both the Torah and Rashi have in-line translation for easy of study.

Since this study will complete within a year, it is my intention to repeat this part of the study each year so as to maximize my familiarity with the Torah and Rashi commentary. Depending on how things go, I may substitute another text during the second year and only repeat Torah with Rashi commentary twice.

Nach (Prophets and Writings)
This will be done by reading and translating one page per day and hence is a slower paced part of the study course. The Stone Edition of the Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings) will be used. There are 1502 pages to be read which at the rate of one a day will actually take over 4 years to study. Hence the rate will have to slightly higher than 1 page per day, so I shall make up the difference by reading an extra 2-3 pages at the weekend.

Concluding thoughts
If all this sounds a bit crazy then I'm in 100% agreement with you. However, I've been wrestling with the two issues of lack of proficiency in Hebrew and lack of familiarity with primary source material for some time. Rather than break up the project piecemeal and do it a bit at a time, I figure that this is the a good long term reading project that I can supplement with meditation for practical purposes.

One of the things I hoped to get more of a glimpse of during my reading of the Hechalot (Throne) and Merkavah (Chariot, as in Ezekiel's Vision) mysticism was to find out more about summoning the angel of the Torah to teach me its knowledge. However, having done an account of my life and read some stories about attempts to summon the Sar HaTorah (Angel of the Torah), I'd rather take the longer route to gaining this knowledge than to be burnt to a crisp.