Tuesday, April 5, 2011

what to do if your animal kicks a rock that breaks a window that breaks a vase?

Hello World,

Happy Talmud Tuesday!! That's not really a thing, I just made it up. However Tuesday is the day I have my Talmud class, AND it's alliteration, so yeah.

Anyways I am still taking a Talmud class with the Israeli Rabbinic Program every Tuesday. This semester we have a different teacher, so the class is very different, but I LOVE it. We are doing masechet bava kamma, which is about damages. While some people may think it is absurd to study about what to do if a cow you have is walking in another person's yard and steps on a rock in a way that it flies up and breaks something, or if a bird is flying and the wind that it's wings make breaks something... I think it's awesome! Yes this has very little, if any practical purpose, and I doubt as a Rabbi I will ever get asked halachic questions like this (if you notice there is no religious significance to these questions, it is purely secular dealing with property), but that's not why I study Talmud.

For me the beauty of the Talmud lies in it's organization and logic. Each sugya (section-ish, argument? hard to translate), is organized in such a genius way. When I first go through to try and figure out what is happening I will open up my Talmud and try to translate. The problem is (which I think where the Talmud loses a lot of people), is that even if you understand every word you probably are not going to understand what is going on. Then I go back and try and see the structure. Who is arguing with who, what quotes are being used to challenge someone's point or to support someone's claim. Within a sugya there are arguments/differences of opinions and then arguments over why the opinions differ, it gets pretty meta at times. After working for a while I will get to a point where I can understand most of what is going on, and then it helps to have a chevruta or a teacher to help further clarify and point out the details that I missed/didn't understand.

This whole process is beautiful to me. I want to share it with everyone. The problem is the lack of accessibility of the Talmud. I have been studying Talmud for over 4 years  now, and it is still  difficult for me. You need to have a knowledge of Hebrew/aramaic, knowledge of different talmudic terms and how the Talmud is structured and patience (until you get really good, which I am waiting for). Yes, there are English translations, but the language is weird, because the language of the Talmud is sparse/they don't use lots of words to clarify what they are talking about because a lot of knowledge is assumed. So yeah the translations are also not very clear, and it is hard to get to the beauty of the text through translation.

This is something that frustrates me when I teach my talmud class. I really enjoy teaching the kids and having discussions with them, but I want to figure out a way to show them this beauty. They don't have enough Hebrew to study in the original, and I'm not sure I could do it in translation. I have fun showing them interesting content (which there is a lot of!) in the Talmud, like all the stories, but the structure and the logic is a really special part of the text and I want to be able to bring that in more.

Give the Talmud a chance! Even the people in South Korea realize its genius (it is studied in schools there, look it up).

Ok the end of my not rant, it is a rant that is positive. Is there a word for that? Probably.

Nezek shalem or chetzi nezek?


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