For thousands of years the Jewish people have been forced to move around — fleeing bigotry, slavery, pogroms, famines and tyrants. But words are portable, and to Jews — who are among those known as "the People of the Book" — they are precious possessions. As Amos Oz and his daughter, Fania Oz-Salzberger, write in their new book, Jews and Words, "Ours is not a bloodline, but a text line."[snip]
On what it means to be a "Jewish atheist"[snip]
Oz: "We regard Judaism as a civilization, not just as a religion. I think there are many, many ways to be a Jew. And one of those ways to be a Jew is to be a nonreligious Jew. The heritage contains, first and foremost, books, texts, spiritual creativity. And religion is only one of the components of this magnificent heritage."
Oz-Salzberger: "But part of the poetry is that we can pick and choose our legacies as we please. Every generation anew. And we feel very much at home with some of the heritage and not so much at home with other parts, and we feel entitled to be lovingly selective."
On the relationship between the early itinerant nature of Jews and their dependency on words[snip]
Oz: "For thousands of years, we Jews had nothing but books. We had no lands, we had no holy sites, we had no magnificent architecture, we had no heroes. We had books, we had texts, and those texts were always discussed around the family table. They became part of the family life, and they traveled from one generation to the next — not unchanged, not unchallenged, but reinterpreted in each generation and reread by each generation."
On the evolution of the idea of chutzpah from the Hebrew term for the court of justice[snip] And best of all
Oz-Salzberger: "The term is beit din chatzuf, which is a court of justice which is not manned according to the rules, but its ruling still passes as legal and viable. So there is a sense of transcending the laid laws which has been part and parcel of the mainstream, the healthy mainstream of Judaism, and we love it very much. We call it, in several places in our book, we call it 'reverent irreverence.' People did believe in God. But they often made no bones about critiquing the Lord, and shouting at him, and waving a fist at him and thinking that he got it wrong. This irreverent reverence is part of what has been called, in modern times, the 'chutzpah tradition,' which we deeply relate to as Israelis and as modern human beings."
Oz: "The very term 'Israel' means 'he who struggles with God.' This is the literal, dictionary sense of the word 'Israel.' So chutzpah is built into this civilization. A pupil is not expected to obey, to follow and to learn by heart. A student is expected to say a chiddush, which means something new, something original, something of his or her own interpretation of the sacred texts."
And by the way, I don't think we are worried about the future of the book either. ... Because in many ways our bookishness has come now — you know, looking at it from antiquity until today — full circle, tablet to tablet, scroll to scroll. And back with the tablets and the scrolls with a vengeance."I love it - tablet to tablet, scroll to scroll.