Talmidei Torah Considered As The Great Motorcycle Dialectic

(sans apology to and/or connection with Messrs. Jarry et Ballard.)

THERE ARE THE HARLEY RIDERS. They would not dream of owning any transportation they couldn’t twiddle with or hack. Every knob, every switch, every gear is known and its connection to the whole machine is understood, monitored, adjusted. Their dreams are the smooth metal touch and smell of clean oil, with a beckoning horizon.

There are the import riders. They want a machine that’s smooth and dependable and safely takes them where they want to go. Their relationship with the mechanic is like those with the butcher, the baker, the lawyer — professional and cordial. Their road-trips end where they begin, often with laughter.

The shiny amateurese of the import rider occasionally embarasses the Harley riders, who then lament for the old days when everyone was authentic.

There are the Torah nerds. They won’t read two words of Torah without comparing and contrasting the associated Onkelos, Rashi, Ramban, Rambam, Ibn Ezra and Torah.Org. They scrutinize and scrub every letter, reflecting the text in all its simple, allusive, homiletic, mystic and pop-cultural glory. Their bookshelves are never dusty, their dishes are never done, and they stay up all night arguing whether the first letter of the book of Genesis implies a descriptive or a prescriptive limit to humanity’s free will.

There are weekend shulgoers. They don’t feel comfortable studying Torah without Plaut, Etz Hayim or (nostalgically) Hertz. They often puzzle over whether or not the text is “real,” or by what natural agency the metaphor is worked, or whether it really means something else in Ugaritic. Their sessions often end with a song from the rabbi and a piece of danish.

The shiny questions of the weekend shulgoers occasionally stump Torah nerds, who then long lament that they themselves didn’t think of that.

Harley riders are scary, what with the long hair and beards and black clothing. They drink in their own bars. Import riders stumbling in are apt to feel lost and uncomfortable and unsafe. But if they truly love their connection to the machine, they’ll also usually wind up having a good time.

Torah nerds are scary, what with the beards and the black clothing and eidetic intensity. They study in loud groups. Weekend shulgoers stumbling by sometimes feel nervous. But if they truly love a good heimishe discussion, they’ll be welcomed and, probably, fed.

Torah. Put something exciting between your ears.

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