Ambitious course to cover 33 centuries of Jewish literature

Posted Wednesday, Jan 11th, 2023

To study the history of most cultures, you need to learn about wars and empires, warriors and city builders, and great works of art. But the history of Judaism is overwhelmingly a history of books. Books form the core of Judaism's culture. But even if they're known as "the People of the Book," much of Judaism's classic literature remains closed to contemporary Jews.

This month, Arlington Heights Rabbi Yaakov Kotlarsky will open Jewish literature to a contemporary audience. He's leading a class of Jews of many affiliations and backgrounds as they explore the history, authors and content of Judaism's most important titles in a new course entitled "Book Smart."

"It's an ambitious undertaking," Rabbi Kotlarsky says, "I'm excited because I think the course will give us a richer understanding of what Judaism meant throughout the centuries and what it can mean for us today."

When Book Smart's first 90-minute session kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24, students will begin their six-week survey of traditional Jewish literature, covering; Torah, Talmud, Midrash, halachah, ethics, and philosophy, as well as kabbalah and Chasidic mysticism.

"We'll meet the authors behind the big ideas of Jewish history over a period of thirty-three centuries," Rabbi Kotlarsky says.

The history of Jewish literature is a broad subject, but the course will also go deep.

"We're not just going to learn why these works were written. We're actually going to get a taste of what it's like to participate in a Talmudic debate, unpack a philosophical conundrum, and decipher a kabbalistic text from the Zohar."

Book Smart was developed by The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, which has a sterling reputation for producing high-quality and engaging courses. Over 400,000 people have participated in JLI's courses since the organization was founded in 1998.

Rabbi Kotlarsky says he isn't promising students overnight expertise on the works discussed in the course.

"But I can assure them it will be an enjoyable and intellectually engaging journey, giving us valuable context for all our future Jewish learning."

Interested participants can learn more information and register online at or by calling (224) 357-7002.

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