In his last posts, Rab­bi Elie Kaun­fer, the author of Empow­ered Judaism: What Inde­pen­dent Minyan­im Can Teach Us about Build­ing Vibrant Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ties, wrote about learn­ing to bake your own matzah and new mod­els for engaged Jew­ish life. He has been blog­ging all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series.

Imag­ine you don’t know how to read a nov­el.

Now, this is a thought exper­i­ment, so bear with me: You know how to read oth­er books and essays, but you don’t know how to read a novel.

But instead of learn­ing how to read a nov­el, you find anoth­er solu­tion: a blog about nov­els. This is sort of a 21st cen­tu­ry ver­sion of Cliff’s Notes. You get the blogger’s take on the nov­el, but you have to trust her to con­vey the mean­ing of the nov­el itself.

Then you dis­cov­er a whole world of blogs on nov­els. Dozens of blogs. Soon you start get­ting week­ly emails from the blog­gers. Then they come dai­ly. You are awash in oth­er people’s takes on the nov­el. You start to become overwhelmed.

Then you find the answer: a best of nov­el blog­ger” site. Now you don’t have to read all those blogs, you can just tune in to the best blog takes on the novel.

But you still can’t read a novel.

Now sub­sti­tute the nov­el for Jew­ish texts –- TorahTal­mudKab­bal­ah -– what­ev­er you like.

Most of us can’t read the texts our­selves. So we rely on the blog­ger –- a trans­la­tor or inter­preter -– to help us under­stand the text. In the old­en days, we were stuck with one blog­ger -– the local rab­bi. Good or bad, he (and the rab­bi was usu­al­ly a he”) was the one tell who would tell us what was in the texts.

Then along came the inter­net. We no longer had to rely on the local rab­bi for a take on the text. We could sign up for email lists and read blogs. Then it became over­whelm­ing. So we picked a few to read. Or maybe we stopped altogether.

But we nev­er learned to read the text.

So what is the role of the rab­bi nowa­days? At a min­i­mum, a rab­bi should be some­one who is the best of the nov­el blog­ger” – some­one who is more than mediocre, who can offer enlight­en­ing opin­ions, and stand out among the cacoph­o­ny that the inter­net has bequeathed to us.

But what if the rab­bi were actu­al­ly a teacher who empow­ered us? What if the solu­tion to the cacoph­o­ny was to dive into the source for our­selves, form our own inter­pre­ta­tion and offer our own opin­ion? What if we learned to read the nov­el, as it were? In that vision, the rab­bi is the guide: some­one who teach­es us how to read, not some­one who tells us what it says. She could direct us, and steer us away from faulty inter­pre­ta­tions. But ulti­mate­ly we could add our own voice to the con­ver­sa­tion. We could make mean­ing on our own, and we could see the val­ue in the orig­i­nal text, not only the interpretation.

These days, oth­er people’s inter­pre­ta­tions are a dime a dozen. Find­ing a blog is easy. Bring­ing our own self to the orig­i­nal text is an all-too-rare event (just think of how many peo­ple actu­al­ly read the Health Care Bill or the State of the Union Address).

Imag­ine a world in which peo­ple only talked about nov­els, but nev­er actu­al­ly read them. If nov­els don’t mat­ter, then no prob­lem. But if they do matter….

We live in a world where peo­ple often talk about Jew­ish texts, but don’t actu­al­ly read them. If we don’t think these texts have much impor­tance for our lives, no prob­lem. But what if they do mat­ter? Wouldn’t we want to access them directly?

Jew­ish vibran­cy, as I argued in Empow­ered Judaism, is not about hand­ing off the text to some­one else. It is about inter­nal­iz­ing the text -– with a guide, a real teacher -– and then tak­ing that text seriously.

There’s a rea­son that Cliff’s Notes were for­bid­den in high school.

Rab­bi Elie Kaun­fer is the author of Empow­ered Judaism: What Inde­pen­dent Minyan­im Can Teach Us about Build­ing Vibrant Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ties. He’s been blog­ging all week in Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.