As we say in Hebrew, עד עכשיו צחקנו אתכם… “until now, we were joking”, implying that now, we’re serious. That is, my first two “dapim” (Talmud pages I got to teach) included a lot of lore, beautiful stories, parables and fun (yes) discussions between our sages and those around them. This morning’s daf – was largely law and I mean – details and in depth discussion.
The 6th chapter in the Tractate of Sanhedrin opens with what happens after the sentence was pronounced and the guilty person had to be executed. Where would that execution take place? “outside the camp”, says the Torah. Or so it implies. Where is “outside the camp”? Is it outside the Temple area? Or maybe the whole city? Do we answer intuitively or do we have supporting text? What if there is conflicting texts? How do we know which one to go by?
For me, learning Talmud is maybe best described as a form of Jewish Sodoku. It’s a series of – if this, then this, then that… wait, or maybe that?? Do we have sources to base this on? Are we correct in our logic? What about semantics, i.e. if s/he used this word here and that word there, and those letters and this root… can we understand something additional from it?
The Talmud gives me great comfort. It resonates with the way I think about things in life. It’s a flow that questions, explorations and meanings. Further, it resonates with the way I wish we would teach in our schools. Many studies speak to learning in small groups, allowing each student an opportunity to actively participate, think for her/himself, struggle with complex questions and ideas, delve into resources that need dissecting rather than passive listening, having a teacher who guides rather than preaches, and much more. A few years ago, an article was published about Talmud studies for students in South Korea because they figured hundreds of years of learning in this way might have something to do with Jews later winning Nobel Prizes in a disproportionate numbers. While they are not studying the exact same Talmud, which needs Hebrew, Aramaic and Judaic background, they do learn mostly stories with good morals. And some, suggest it should be translated to more and more languages, like Hindi and Chinese so more people can be exposed to its wisdom.
Lucky for us we don’t have to wait for the Chinese translation. We can start right here and now. There are countless resources, on and off-line, in Hebrew, English, Spanish and more. Don’t worry about previous knowledge; don’t worry about the other 2710 pages we haven’t studied yet. Our people are anyway more about the journey than arrival. Just sit back and enjoy the view.