Even if you are an infrequent adult Jewish learner, at some point you have encountered the Talmud. Often inadequately described as a commentary on the Mishnah (a compendium of legal traditions that initially developed orally), the Talmud is really a conversation on all spheres of life: the home, street, marketplace, and field; and all types of human relationships: those between husband and wife, children and their parents, neighbors, teachers and pupils, and communal leaders and the general public. Its topics range from both the most mundane to the most theologically challenging. Developing as an oral tradition over centuries, it was compiled and set in writing around the fifth century. No Jewish journey is complete without an exploring this critical exploration of all things Jewish.
Until recently, studying the Talmud was an activity reserved for the most ambitious students. Beyond the challenges one faces in deciphering a text that appears both in Hebrew and Aramaic, a Talmudic discussion is often circuitous and its logic is very different from that of the western philosophical tradition. Today, there are numerous opportunities to study the text, either in its original, with a parallel translation, or in a foreign language altogether. This study can even occur online or through podcasts and software purchased through Jewish vendors.
Perhaps the most pioneering development in making the study of the Talmud accessible occurred in 1965, when Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz began his work in providing a translation and running commentary on the Talmud. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s work began a movement to bring the Talmud to the masses, and this groundbreaking initiative is about to be completed forty-five volumes and forty-five years later, when Rabbi Steinsaltz publishes the final volume this November.
On Sunday, November 7, communities around the world will celebrate Rabbi Steinsaltz’s achievement both personally and for the Jewish people, by participating in the first Global Day of Jewish Learning. This program, developed by the Aleph Society and supported by national and international Jewish organizations including United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Community Centers Association, and the Joint Distribution Committee, will include both Talmud study and the opportunity to participate in a Jerusalem-based live broadcast of a siyyum, a celebration of the completion of study, led by Rabbi Steinsaltz.
I study Talmud each week. Sometimes I struggle, sometimes it comes easily. I am personally indebted to Rabbi Steinsaltz for making the Talmud accessible both for me and my students. Thank you Rabbi Steinsaltz.
For information about a Global Day of Jewish Learning program in your community go to www.1people1day.org.