Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hadran alach siporei hatanach

One of my projects for the past year-plus has been to summarize all of Tanach. I started with Sefer Shmuel, did the rest of neviim rishonim bit by bit, and then moved to the Torah. Earlier today I solved the difficulty I was having with Devarim chapter 31. Shortly thereafter, I finally finished my summary of all the narrative portions of Tanach.

Since the parshiyah breaks are usually the best (and most authentically Jewish) indicators of Biblical structure, I chose them to structure the summary. My goal was to condense each parshiyah into one line of summary. This resulted in a dense but clear summary of the entire book, which I could then analyze for overall structure.

This methodology, derived from what R' Menachem Leibtag likes to do in shiur, had the following long-term benefits:

1. Reference - makes it quick to find anything in the book by scanning your summary
2. Gives a broad overview of the book's meaning - otherwise unavailable without intense study of certain commentators
3. Provides context when you want to study a small part of the book
4. Makes you learn the entire book reasonably well as you are summarizing it. (Much more efficient than by "normally" learning the book.)

I recommend this method to anyone with a laptop, who wants to learn Tanach without spending a year in yeshiva. Go to Mechon Mamre and download the book of your choice as one file. Use the English file, it will make things faster and easier (though it's good to have Hebrew for whenever you don't trust the translation). If a textual issue bothers you, try to fix it, but if you can't, make a note and keep going. The point is to gain overall knowledge, not resolve specific textual issues. Periodically, look at what you've written and try to get a broader sense of what is going on in the book. As always, beware that begin and end quotes, if they existed, would not always be where you'd expect.

Because the level of thinking required is not extremely high, this summarizing can be a highly productive use of many hours spent in buses or waiting for appointments or just being too tired to do real work.

I'm posting my summaries for whoever might be interested. It would be nice to post attachments, but Blogger doesn't seem to allow this. So use the following links, and copy and paste the text to a file: Torah Narrative portions of nach

My next task is the rest of Nach - the prophecies and most of Ketuvim. But the format for this will probably have to be different. By summarizing a section of prophecy or psalms in one line, you'd probably lose most of the meaning. So I'll probably have to choose larger chunks of text and write short paragraphs to summarize each of them. Or something like that. Suggestions are welcome.

No comments: