Friday, January 31, 2014

The Talmud @ A Taste of Honey

A Page (or Two): Brush up your Aramaic! It's time to learn Talmud!

To help get you started, here is how one Talmud page (Shekalim 2a) appears in almost every edition of the Talmud published since the Vilna Edition in 1835.

What, exactly, is Talmud? The Orthodox Union definesTalmud as:
Repository of "Oral Law" of Judaism; consists of Mishnah and Gemara. 
There exist two versions: the Babylonian, or "Bavli" (this is the most frequently used version) and the Jerusalem, or "Yerushalmi." It is similar to an encyclopaedia, but with by no means as strict a structure. 
It consists of sixty three "Masechtot," or volumes, such as "Berachot," or "Blessings and Prayers," and "Sanhedrin," or "The Jewish Supreme Court," etc. 
It was written/compiled by Rav Ashi and his colleagues ca. 500 C.E., preserving generations of analysis and discussion by "Amoraim" of the more concise Mishnah, which contains the discussions of the "Tannaim". 
It also contains extra-legal and anecdotal material relating to all aspects of life. It is similar, in breadth and organization and random-access type memory organization, to the Internet and world-wide web, but is far deeper and qualitatively not comparable. 
It is referred to as the "Sea of the Talmud."
How important is Talmud study? The Jewish Virtual Library says:
Among religious Jews, talmudic scholars are regarded with the same awe and respect with which secular society regards Nobel laureates. Yet throughout Jewish history, study of the Mishna and Talmud was hardly restricted to an intellectual elite. 
An old book saved from the millions burned by the Nazis, and now housed at the YIVO library in New York, bears the stamp 
The Society of Woodchoppers for the Study of Mishna in Berditchev
That the men who chopped wood in Berditchev, an arduous job that required no literacy, met regularly to study Jewish law demonstrates the ongoing pervasiveness of study of the Oral Law in the Jewish community.
And Abq Jew says:

Judaism is a civilization; Talmud defines that civilization.
When you study Jewish history and language,
music and literature, you learn about Judaism.
When you study Talmud, you learn Judaism.

To study Talmud properly, you must first of all  be able to read Hebrew and Aramaic (a bit of Greek wouldn't hurt, either) - in standard Hebrew print and in Rashi script. And you must be extremely well-versed in the Bible - Torah, Prophets, and Writings.

Furthermore - like the sea, like the Internet - Talmud has no beginning and no end. Whatever masechet (volume) you are studying, Talmud assumes you have complete and thorough knowledge of every other masechet.

At least, that's the old way of studying Talmud.

It will always be true that the more background you bring to Talmud study, the deeper your learning.

But you can now study Talmud in English. And you can study Talmud by yourself, and not with a chavrusa (partner) - although that is not recommended.

Here, for example, is how the Talmud page shown above (Shekalim 2a) is displayed in the new Noe Edition of the Koren Steinsaltz Talmud.

Talmud aficionado Marc Yellin (aka Abq Jew) presents a one-hour session that explains all the Talmud. Or, all the Talmud that can be explained in a one-hour session. Of which Abq Jew says:
Welcome to the world of Talmud study. Learn what is on each page, where the components are, and why they are there. Discover key concepts, terminology, and methodologies. Identify the major Talmud portions you should know. No previous knowledge of Hebrew or the Talmud is required.

If this fascinating topic is simply not your cup of tea ....
A Taste of Honey has 19 more very interesting classes to choose from ....
Plus author Judith Fein!

See you at

And don't forget

Shabbat Shalom, Albuquerque!
Good Shabbos, New Mexico!
Happy Rosh Hodesh Adar א, Israel!

No comments: