Once again, Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge has inspired me to read yet another book set in a European country. This time the country is Lithuania and the book is the 2013 biography The Genius: Elijah of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism by Eliyahu Stern. Upon finding a copy of Stern’s book in the new books section of my library I quickly grabbed it in hopes of applying it towards the European Reading Challenge. After taking my sweet little time to read it, I soon learned I was unable to renew it with the library because it was on hold. Therefore, I had to spend most of a day furiously reading it. Alas, I’m happy to report that my hard work paid off and I was able to finish it a day before it was due. On top of that, I’m proud to say this was no easy task because The Genius can be a rather challenging (no pun intended) book to read. But I say this with much respect because even though it might be challenging to read, nevertheless it’s a very impressive book.
Born in 1720, Elijah ben Solomon, more commonly known as the “Genius of Vilna” is a towering figure in Jewish history. His commentaries, emendations and glosses of the Torah and Talmud revolutionized Jewish thought. He also championed the study of more secular subjects like mathematics and philosophy. His work and inspiration laid the foundation for the modern Yeshiva movement. So revered was the Genius or Gaon that Jewish homes across Europe prominently displayed his portrait on their walls.
I don’t say this often but The Genius might have been a bit more than I bargained for. Don’t get me wrong, in no way whatsoever is this a bad book. It’s incredibly well researched and has one of most extensive collection of footnotes I’ve seen in a LONG time. It’s sophisticated and intelligent as can be. But it might be a bit much for most general readers. However, I think it would be quite appropriate or more academically minded readers, like students of Jewish studies, comparative religion and European history.
Even though I found this book challenging, I’m glad I read it. Not only can I apply it towards the European Reading Challenge, it also serves as a nice introduction to my Enlightenment Projection which I hope to begin early next year. Lastly, come on, when has reading an advanced book ever been a bad thing?