Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz saw his mission as nothing less than bringing the Talmud back to the people. Jewish law is meant to be democratic, but only informed citizens can vote? Then, let’s make sure every citizen is an informed citizen! Or at least, let’s make it possible for any citizen who wants to become informed to do so. This is the basis for his decision to translate the Aramaic portions of the Talmud into ordinary Hebrew (the modern equivalent of Aramaic for Israeli Jews) and then into English. His motto was “Let my people know!”
It often surprises those who know Jews only as “the people of the Book” that the greater part of Jewish observance is not to be found in the written Torah at all. The Judaism we know today would be unrecognizable to those who stood at Sinai. There are those who argue that this process of continual re-interpretation has made the Judaism of our day less “authentic” than that of our ancestors’ time. And yet, if we believe that God has had a hand in our history, we must see the Torah as being continuously given via the same hand that puts these challenges in our path and requires us to adapt to them.
The Talmud manages to do what few legal systems even attempt: it integrates psychological and moral issues seamlessly with normative legal guidelines. But to appreciate the full extent of this integration, it’s important to pay attention to something that is too often left out of today’s Gemara classes: the aggadah.
The Babylonian Talmud was originally meant to be a resource for all Jews. But, although written in the vernacular of the day, the lack of universal literacy confined the Talmud to the realm of scholars. The commandment that the Jewish People become “A kingdom of priests” was left unfulfilled. But that is about to change!
One of the most quoted Talmudic stories is the story of the Tanur shel Akhnai, the story of a debate between the famous R’ Eliezer ben Hyrcanus on the one side and the rest of the sages of Israel on the other side. This is the story of a dramatic upheaval in the Jewish world, whose echoes continue to reverberate down through the centuries to the present day.
Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish are two of the greatest sparring partners in the Talmud. The story of their meeting and later falling out contains an unlooked-for treasure on the subject of moral responsibility.
Against the backdrop of terraced hillsides covered with vineyards and thousand-year-old olive trees, over a thousand people of all ages and backgrounds come together every summer to learn Tanakh. Amid the everyday miracle that is Israel, a Jewish renaissance is underway. One of the many expressions of this revolution in Jewish learning is the annual Tanakh Study Days, a week-long celebration of the Tanakh in all its complexity. This year features some intriguing insights into the underlying purpose of the Shmittah year.
Pessachim 10a deals with questions of doubt and the limitations of knowledge. Trust a one-eyed cat to explain how these questions are answered by quantum mechanics.
Humans are complicated, and constantly in need of fixing, says Pixel. Everything they do sets up ripples–chains of consequences. Only humans have to be protected from themselves even at the cost of their lives, because only humans have so great an impact that the world fights back. Humans are loose cannons!
Should litigants have any say in choosing the third judge? R’ Meir favors governance from the grassroots level, the sages not so much! One thing about studying Talmud with a feline havruta–you end up with some irreverent insights to the daf!