UNYPL in 2012: Orthodox Jews: What Are They Reading?
I ventured into the Underground Library in part as a tribute to the role of literature in my life. Literature, and the subways, connected me to a larger world. I come from an orthodox background and I thought I’d leave that world alone with my photography. This wasn’t possible to do in the UNYPL though, as Orthodox Jews turned out to be a prevalent part of those who are reading underground. At first, I was hesitant about my relationship with these readers. It was a personal journey, but taking these photographs gave way to a new perspective for me, a new relationship from behind the camera. It’s one more aspect of the UNYPL that I’m grateful for.
1-4: The Talmud
The Talmud is the most popular text that I’ve noticed with demonstrably Orthodox Jews underground. It’s an extensive work, carried and studied in separate volumes. Assembled over the course of five hundred years, it’s essentially like a great discussion forum that examines all aspects of the Torah and of Jewish life.
5-7: The Torah
There was an interesting response when I posted photos of Orthodox Jews reading the Torah. I received messages that suggested I might have been mistaken in identifying the book. While the Talmud is studied religiously and daily, the Torah itself isn’t. I’m very careful about the titles though, and I don’t post if I’m in doubt. These people were reading the Torah, but, without exception, the photos of them were taken only on a Thursday evening or a Friday morning. Turns out that in preparation for the weekly Sabbath, when a Torah portion is read in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews can be found studying the Torah directly.
8: "Catching Fire," by Suzanne Collins
This reader is wearing a Kippah, indicating that he might be orthodox*. Catching Fire would be regarded as a secular text in an orthodox world. Some Orthodox Jews refrain from reading secular texts, preferring to immerse themselves only in their tradition. Others appreciate it, and some even laud secular literature as a means towards greater spiritual heights.
9: The Passover Haggadah
A seasonal photo, this was taken a few days before the Passover holiday. The Haggadah discusses the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. One of the important aspects of the Passover holiday is the relaying of the historical account, and this man was reading the Haggadah, with commentary, in preparation for doing just that.
10: The Shulchan Aruch, by Rabbi Yosef Karo
The Shulchan Aruch is the definitive text of practical Jewish Law. In it are the rules for how to conduct oneself in every facet of life. These people were the first Orthodox Jews that came to the UNYPL. I was trying unsuccessfully to photograph someone reading Julius Caesar, when they offered me to photograph them instead. You can read a short anecdote about it here.
*edited from my assumption that he was orthodox.