Canon - Program Guide

The American Jewish Committee is dedicated to ensuring the future of the Jewish people. This is achieved in many ways, including the implementation of human relations efforts to strengthen ties between Jews and others. But this makes sense only within the context of a critical mass of Jews interested in leading a creative Jewish life. The defense of Jewish rights against external foes should run in tandem with the defense of Jewish teachings and Jewish creative vitality against the internal dangers of indifference to the Jewish enterprise and erosion of Jewish commitment.

AJC's Contemporary Jewish Life Department was created specifically to combat assimilation and to underscore the identity of AJC as a Jewish organization. The department is dedicated to creating programs to energize AJC constituencies Jewishly and engage the general battle and culture of ideas on what being Jewish means in the 21st century.

Canon of Jewish Literacy is such a program. The Canon, authored by Rabbi Bradley Artson, promotes the value of Jewish literacy. It is based on the premise that Jewish literacy is essential to Jewish leadership. The Canon consists of 30 volumes that a literate Jewish leader should read to be a confident and knowledgeable Jew. The books are scholarly, yet accessible and cross denominational and gender lines. The list is accompanied by essays describing each book and explaining its inclusion in the Canon. The publication is available as a printed booklet and via the Web.

Programmatic aspects and benefits of this project are multi-faceted and flexible to adaptation. The following are suggested activities built around the Canon:

  1. Book groups with participants of shared or disparate backgrounds can be organized to meet at mutually agreeable intervals to discuss volumes included in the Canon. There is no set structure for these gatherings. Each group has the flexibility to choose any book (or part of a book) on the list at any time and implement a program around that particular book. Groups might choose to have facilitators or rely upon their own members to facilitate.

  2. Study guides for some of the volumes will be available. The Guide for Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative is available online. Guides can be used for book groups or in other contexts.

  3. Canon Message Board. Readers can meet online to reflect and discuss the issues raised by particular volumes. An online message board has been developed for visitors to post comments regarding the Canon as a whole, particular volumes, or specific issues emanating from the study of the Canon.

  4. Lecture series. AJC's Contemporary Jewish Life Department staff, Rabbi Bradley Artson, or any of the living authors of the volumes listed on the Canon can be invited to address a group. Topics might include an expansion of the themes of a particular volume; a review of associated literature; a discussion of the Canon idea and its possible permutations, e.g., "What Does a Jew Need to Know?"; etc.

  5. Book fairs. A booth featuring the Canon can be set up. The Canon publication, Canon list volumes, and study guides can be made available for purchase and/or distribution at the book fair. For an even more attractive booth, a computer can be available to showcase the Canon website.

  6. Purchase books. A book dealer, J. Levine, is offering a discount to those who contact the store via AJC's website to buy volumes listed in the Canon.

  7. There may be opportunities to allow for partnering with others to promote the program as well. These may include JCCs, synagogues, schools, other organizations, etc., which have adult education programming and are looking for appropriate curriculum material.

The Contemporary Jewish Life Department staff is available for consultations as various groups contemplate options for implementation. Please feel free to contact us at any time if we can be of any assistance.

Questions? Please contact us at
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