As a college student studying the Bible in the 1970s, David Gelernter started writing a book on Judaism, but dropped it after realizing he needed more life experience to complete it. He earned a master’s degree in Hebrew Bible at Yale University, but changed careers and received a doctorate in computer science, which he now teaches at Yale. He is the author of several books, including The Muse in the Machine and the novel 1939. The death of his beloved grandfather, a rabbi, in 2001 prompted him to resume his undergraduate project. The result is Judaism: A Way of Being (Yale Univ.), which includes art by Gelernter.
RBL: Why did you write this book?
David Gelernter: I wrote the book out of love for Judaism and the Jewish people, and my own people.
RBL: Who is your audience and why?
DG: I hope the audience will be Jews, especially Jews who want to know more, who feel a spiritual need to know what they are, who they are, what Judaism is, younger people especially.... There is no understanding Christianity without understanding Judaism, so I hope Christian readers will read the book and learn about Judaism, also.
RBL: The book poses four overarching questions about Judaism and connects each with an image from the Hebrew Bible. Why did you use images?
DG: Because I’m a painter and I’ve always thought in terms of images.... It also seemed to me an important aspect of Judaism that had been poorly served by the existing literature: its obsession with beauty, its continuing interest from the very beginning in... the aesthetics of life in general, and the vividly pictorial way in which the Hebrew Bible is written.
RBL: Why did you choose the images of separation, the veil, “perfect asymmetry” between man and woman, and inward pilgrimage?
DG: I didn’t choose them. They volunteered. They’re the images... I’ve been occupied with more or less since I was a child.
RBL: Why did you include your paintings?
DG: I wanted to suggest implicitly that just as it’s easy and natural for Judaism to burst into song, which it does all the time, it’s easy for Judaism to burst into color or into bloom, so to speak.