A part of me loves scholarship because I love to learn, to grow, to discover new things, to hold myself apart from the world in a quiet place, alone with books and ideas. But another part of me loves scholarship because study takes me outside of myself, transports me to other people, other places and times, into conversation with contemporaries, with teachers, with other voices who become my companions.
I approach scholarship like athletics: it’s fun and painful at the same time. Learning what to think, how to think, pondering the significance of what one learns, stretches me to confront my inadequacies, my wrong-headed or shallow notions, to push me toward greater depth of understanding and perhaps even of wisdom.
I realize now more than ever how important the process and project of scholarship is. It enlarges the self by its broader horizons. It makes for citizenship, training people to think and to feel with greater precision and subtlety, hopefully generating reason and deliberation and tolerance for the views of others. Above all, like art it reflects our deepest impulses as creatures who want to know, who want to think, who want to create, all of which reflects our freedom and our will. Who would want to live in a world without books and the people who make them? I consider myself lucky to be one of the people who work with ideas. Those ideas enrich me and I hope in some modest way the people with whom I share them.
[David] continues to dazzle me by the depths of his insights and the range of his scholarly interests, whether or not I can keep up with the sheer tenacity of his reading habits. Dr. Stephen Whitfield, Brandeis University
At present I’m writing two books, one a biography of Solomon Schechter, and the other on the story of contemporary adult Jewish literacy, through a study of the Me’ah program. The Schechter book grew out of my doctoral dissertation, which grew out of the first graduate seminar I took at Columbia, on the history of Zionism. There I discovered the thought and writings of Schechter, a strange blend of pietist and skeptic, mystic and scientific scholar. In a modern world largely dominated by the poles of religious orthodoxy and liberalism, he tried both to steer a middle course and to transcend both extremes.
My work on Me’ah led me a long time ago to think about what the program might teach us analytically and normatively about contemporary Jewish life. Most adults told us they wanted to know how their life stories intersected with the Jewish story; hopefully this book will tell the story of what happened when those stories came in contact with one another.