Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why I Study the Talmud

It seems like I ask myself every day, "Why am I studying the Talmud?"

I currently am keeping up with the Daf Yomi process, reading a daf (page) a day. This is a simple morning ritual for me, sometimes reading in depth, sometimes skimming the daf for the day. One important thing that it has offered me is an overview of Jewish tradition and ritual that don't have, since I am not Jewish. While at times the topics can be obscure or seemingly repetitive, there are often wonderful, inspirational gems as well.

In addition to this for that last four months I have been trying to keep up with the class of Rav Michael Rosensweig as he covers parek Meruba of Bava Kamma. Here is a link to all the shiurim the Yeshiva University offers, which I discussed in my last post.

Rav Rosensweig's classes are extremely in-depth discussions of the Mishnah, Gemara and seemingly all the commentaries on a specific topic covered in either the Mishnah or Gemara. The difference between the Daf Yomi level of study and Rav Rosensweig's couldn't be clearer. Since September when I discovered the Rav Rosensweig's shirium, the Daf Yomi has covered over 150 daf, while Rav Rosensweig has covered 6 daf in over 50 separate shiurim each approximately 90 minutes long!

While I don't understand everything Rav Rosensweig discusses, because he uses an enormous amount Hebrew/Aramaic, over time (I have listened to 39 classes so far -- I am still 16 behind where he currently is) I have gathered more and more familiarity with the Hebrew/Aramaic.

But now to the basic question -- "Why?"

I am not Jewish and so I am not obligated to talmud Torah (studying the Torah) like traditional Jews are. The individuals to whom I am drawn like Rav Rosensweig don't represent a universalistic vision of the Talmud (for example, like Emmanuel Levinas), but a clearly orthodox and traditional vision of the Talmud and its study.

Yet, I just can't get enough of Rav Rosensweig's teachings (in other postings I will include links to his writings and other audio shiurim). There is a seriousness, clarity and yet lightness in his presentation, along with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the sources that draws me in.

When I turn to other traditions that I have been drawn to in the past: Catholicism, Buddhism, philosophy and poetry -- while they offer a seemingly more universal message of love or emptiness or creativity or attention, which are clearly useful and helpful, these discussions now seem so abstract, so mystical that they don't appeal at this time.

This reminds me of what Rav Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in Halakhic Man:

It is here, in this world, that halakhic man acquires eternal life! “Better is one hour of Torah and mitzvoth in this world than the whole life of the world to come,” stated the tanna in Avot [4:17], and this declaration is the watchword of the halakhist. 30

The Halakhah is not at all concerned with a transcendent world. The world to come is a tranquil, quiet world that is wholly good, wholly everlasting, and wholly eternal, wherein a man will receive the reward for the commandments which he performed in this world. However, receiving of a reward is not a religious act;
therefore, halakhic man prefers the real world to a transcendent existence because here, in this world, man is given the opportunity to create, act, accomplish, while there, in the world to come, he is powerless to change anything at all. 32

What can be more exciting, more challenging, more inspiring than this?


And it is this sense of dedication and drive that I find in Rav Rosensweig's shiurim, and it is why I listen to his classes nearly every day. They help me get in touch with the "ideal of halakhic man [which] is the redemption of the world not via a higher world but via the world itself, via the adaptation of empirical reality to the ideal patterns of Halakhah." 37-38

To me the parek, Meruba, that YU has been covering -- which basically discusses the issue of stealing (gezeilah -- robbery and geneivah -- thievery) is a perfect example of looking at "empirical reality" through the "ideal patterns of Halakhah," which for myself certainly help me see my day-to-day reality with new eyes.


Goldie said...

Hello. I was searching for Bava Kamma lectures and I chanced upon your site. I've only had time to see a small part of this site, but I must tell you that this is fascinating, and I would like to share your "Reasons for Studing Talmud" with my Talmud students. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and information on this site.

Jeff Wild said...

I am really happy that you found my site and my “Reasons for Studying the Talmud” of interest, and hopefully your student will as well.

I would love to know what level and type of class you are teaching.


Jeff Wild said...

Dear Goldie,

One more thought – you mentioned in your original comment that you were looking for Bava Kamma shiurim. Have you listened to Rabbi Shlomo Singer’s shiurim? They are listed on the YU site with all the other Bava Kamma shiurim. And while there are 132 of them – all on the first parek of Bava Kamma, I found them very accessible and inspirational.

He has a definite ability to make the topics relevant to one’s life. In particular the topic of “adam muad l’olam” I found interesting and challenging.

According to my understanding of the talks, they are covered in the shiurim from May 10, 2005 to June 19, 2005 (these were posted before they started to give descriptive titles to the recordings).

I just thought I would pass this on.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,

Camplin said...

I never even heard of this, but your blog makes me want to search more, thanks. I love adding to my knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I found your blog on google while I was trying to find some info for a homework assignment.
I know this isn't the point of a blog but I was wondering if you could help me.
I need to find sources in the gemara for the sephardic custom of zeved habat- naming daughters. I need to look into the actual sources but I don't know how to find anything. Do I need to ask a rabbi who just knows how everything is divided or is there an index or something? I would really appreciate it if you had any advice. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

are you ever coming back?

Jeff Wild said...

Thanks for asking. Yes -- encouraged by your comment I will be returning.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,


Anonymous said...

You're non-Jewish - thus presumably grew up with no Jewish or Hebrew education whatsoever - and now in R' Rosensweig's shiur? Wow. I'm impressed.