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A Novice’s Reflections on the Talmud, Five Years On

Aug. 24 2017

Five years ago, following the seven-year cycle known as Daf Yomi, the literary critic Adam Kirsch began reading one folio page of Talmud every day, in his case in English translation. He notes what he, as an “unobservant” Jew without prior talmudic education, has discovered:

Because Jewish law is so encompassing, covering every area of human life, the Talmud deals with everything under the sun. Medicine and astronomy, architecture and geometry, cuisine and cosmetics—these facets of ancient life are captured in the Talmud in all their living reality. Then there are the major subjects of the various tractates: the prayer service; the organization and operation of the Temple; the holidays and their rituals; Shabbat and its many restrictions; marriage and divorce; real estate and commerce; contracts and court procedure. For the rabbis, all of these elements went to make up what they knew as Judaism. The Judaism most of us know in the 21st century is a very different thing; under the pressures of modernity, science, and assimilation, we have lost touch with that ancient heritage.

This is not simply to be regretted—we have gained as well as lost, and alienation from the past is not only a Jewish experience. But I think that many modern Jews feel a longing to give their Jewishness a deeper meaning, a spiritual and intellectual content. We know we are Jews—the world wouldn’t let us forget it even if we wanted to—but what does being Jewish mean? That is the great modern Jewish question, and much of our thought and literature is devoted to answering it. But there is no real way of understanding what Jewishness means unless we understand what it meant; and for that, the Talmud, the text that stood at the center of Jewish life for more than a thousand years, is essential. Without it, we can hardly expect to know what our ancestors thought, or even more importantly, how they thought.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount