Thursday, August 20, 2020

Vic Rosenthal's weekly column


Since January, I’ve been participating in a daf yomi program. That means that every day, 7 days a week, I study a page (actually, two facing pages), of Talmud.

The fact that someone like me, who grew up in a secular home and did not have a Jewish education, has the opportunity to do this is a new development. The Talmud itself, for those who don’t know, consists of passages from the Mishna, the Oral Law first written down around 200 CE in Hebrew, and the Gemara, a much larger body of commentary on the Mishna that was compiled over a period of several hundred years afterwards. The Gemara is written in Aramaic, a language close to Hebrew, but the writing is condensed and elliptical. It also includes notes by Rashi and others commenting on and explaining the text. Until recently there was simply no way a modern reader could approach this without a great deal of preliminary study with knowledgeable teachers.

But in the last three decades, scholars have produced translations of the Aramaic texts along with detailed commentary to fill in the gaps for ignoramuses like me. In particular, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, z”l, who died earlier this month, created a monumental translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud (there is also a Jerusalem Talmud, but the one compiled in Babylonia is considered more authoritative) into modern Hebrew, which in turn has been translated into English. More than just a translation, Rabbi Steinsaltz interpolated explanations and context into the text, so that it’s possible to read it almost like a novel. There are even diagrams, which my wife says remind her of computer games.

The Talmud is not an orderly exposition of Jewish law. Rather it is a record of the deliberations and conversations of generations of sages, in which arguments are given for multiple interpretations of the Mishnaic texts, which themselves are an attempt to elucidate the commandments of the Torah and apply them to everyday life. Sometimes the Gemara will say “the halacha is such-and-such” but most of the time, all you have are the arguments. There are also stories, ridiculous medical advice, superstitions, insults – including some passages that have been used by Jew haters throughout the years as evidence for our evil ways. During the Middle Ages, non-Jewish authorities sometimes ordered printed copies of the Talmud to be censored or even burned.

The seven years it takes read the whole thing are daunting. When I started the daf yomi program, I didn’t believe that I would last more than a few weeks. But I’ve become more and more interested and involved as time goes by. I have even learned a few useful expressions in Aramaic, for example in yesterday’s daf, pok t’nei l’vara! (“go, take that teaching outside”). I’m convinced that if I live long enough (b”h), I will finish the project. I will never be either a scholar or very observant, but this study brings me closer to Judaism and Jewish history.

I think that this would not have happened if I still lived in a non-Orthodox community in the USA. In Israel, Judaism and Jewish history are in the air. I am continuously made aware of who I am, by the language, the holidays, the symbols of the state, the biblical geography, and the fact that I am surrounded by Jews. There are neighborhoods in Brooklyn in which I would also be surrounded by Jews; but even there, the consciousness of living as a small minority in someone else’s country is inescapable (not to mention the reminders provided by the growing number of antisemitic incidents). And I would miss the diversity of Israeli Jews, Jews of every color and culture.

But don’t I know that one of five Israelis is an Arab? Of course. There is room for an Arab minority. Nevertheless, there are also dangers – not directly from the presence of the Arabs, but from those that want to use their presence as a reason to weaken the Jewish state. Meir Kahane believed that the Arab citizens of Israel posed a demographic threat. Their birthrate was higher than that of the Jews, and so he predicted that the Jewish majority would ultimately be eroded. Today the birthrates of Jewish and Arab citizens are not far apart (I think the high Haredi birthrate is a greater threat to a functional state).

The real problem is an ideological one, posed by those (Jews and Arabs) who want to replace the state of the Jewish people with a state of its citizens. 62 members of the Knesset understood this when they passed the Nation-State Law to guarantee the continued Jewish character of the state. Right now there are attempts to weaken the law by inserting language to guarantee “equal rights.” We should be aware that the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty is already interpreted to guarantee equal civil rights to individual Jews and Arabs; and it is not necessary or desirable to weaken the provision of national rights that is made by the Nation-State Law to the Jewish people alone.

I am also not at all diffident about calling for Jews everywhere to make aliyah, despite the difficulties. You can certainly study Talmud in the diaspora, whether by subscribing to the daf yomi or by studying at one of the numerous yeshivot or other institutions of Jewish learning there. But you cannot, even in deepest Brooklyn, breathe Jewishness with every breath, as you can in the Jewish state.


EoZTV Podcast

Podcast URL

Subscribe in podnovaSubscribe with FeedlyAdd to netvibes
addtomyyahoo4Subscribe with SubToMe

search eoz





For $18 donation

Sample Text

EoZ's Most Popular Posts in recent years


Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 14 years and 30,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


Donate to fight for Israel!

Monthly subscription:
Payment options

One time donation:

subscribe via email

Follow EoZ on Twitter!

Interesting Blogs


#PayForSlay Abbas liar Academic fraud administrivia al-Qaeda algeria Alice Walker American Jews AmericanZionism Amnesty analysis anti-semitism anti-Zionism antisemitism apartheid Arab antisemitism arab refugees Arafat archaeology Ari Fuld art Ashrawi ASHREI B'tselem bahrain Balfour bbc BDS BDSFail Bedouin Beitunia beoz Bernie Sanders Biden history Birthright book review Brant Rosen breaking the silence Campus antisemitism Cardozo cartoon of the day Chakindas Chanukah Christians circumcision Clark Kent coexistence Comix Community Standards conspiracy theories COVID-19 Cyprus Daled Amos Daphne Anson David Applebaum Davis report DCI-P Divest This double standards Egypt Elder gets results ElderToons Electronic Intifada Ellen Horowitz Embassy EoZ Trump symposium eoz-symposium EoZNews eoztv Erekat Erekat lung transplant EU Euro-Mid Observer European antisemitism Facebook Facebook jail Fake Civilians 2014 Fake Civilians 2019 Farrakhan Fatah featured Features fisking flotilla Forest Rain Forward free gaza freedom of press palestinian style future martyr Gary Spedding gaza Gaza Platform George Galloway George Soros German Jewry Ghassan Daghlas gideon levy gilad shalit gisha Goldstone Report Good news Grapel Guardian guest post gunness Haaretz Hadassah hamas Hamas war crimes Hananya Naftali hasbara Hasby 2014 Hasby 2016 Hasby 2018 hate speech Hebron helen thomas hezbollah history Hizballah Holocaust Holocaust denial honor killing HRW Human Rights Humanitarian crisis humor Hypocrisy ICRC IDF IfNotNow IJ Benjamin Ilan Pappe Ilhan Omar impossible peace incitement indigenous Indonesia infographic international law interview intransigence iran Iraq Islamic Judeophobia Islamism Israel Loves America Israeli culture Israeli high-tech J Street jabalya James Zogby jeremy bowen Jerusalem jewish fiction Jewish Voice for Peace jihad jimmy carter Joe Biden John Kerry jokes jonathan cook Jordan Joseph Massad Juan Cole Judaism Judea-Samaria Judean Rose Judith Butler Kairos Karl Vick Keith Ellison ken roth khalid amayreh Khaybar Know How to Answer Lebanon leftists Linda Sarsour Linkdump lumish mahmoud zahar Mairav Zonszein Malaysia Marc Lamont Hill Marjorie Taylor Greene max blumenthal Mazen Adi McGraw-Hill media bias Methodist Michael Lynk Michael Ross Miftah Missionaries moderate Islam Mohammed Assaf Mondoweiss moonbats Morocco Mudar Zahran music Muslim Brotherhood Naftali Bennett Nakba Nan Greer Nation of Islam Natural gas Nazi Netanyahu News nftp NGO Nick Cannon NIF Noah Phillips norpac NSU Matrix NYT Occupation offbeat olive oil Omar Barghouti Omri Boehm Only in Israel Opinion oxfam PA corruption PalArab lies Palestine Papers pallywood pchr PCUSA Peace Now Peter Beinart Petra MB philosophy poetry Poland poll Poster Preoccupied Prisoners propaganda Proud to be Zionist Puar Purim purimshpiel Putin Qaradawi Qassam calendar Quora Rafah Ray Hanania real liberals RealJerusalemStreets reference Reuters Richard Falk Richard Landes Richard Silverstein Right of return Rivkah Lambert Adler Robert Werdine rogel alpher roger cohen roger waters Rutgers Saeb Erekat Sarah Schulman Saudi Arabia saudi vice self-death self-death palestinians Seth Rogen settlements sex crimes SFSU shechita sheikh tamimi Shelly Yachimovich Shujaiyeh Simchat Torah Simona Sharoni SodaStream South Africa Sovereignty Speech stamps Superman Syria Tarabin Temple Mount Terrorism This is Zionism Thomas Friedman Tlaib TOI Tomer Ilan Trump Trump Lame Duck Test Tunisia Turkey UAE Accord UCI UK UN UNDP unesco unhrc UNICEF United Arab Emirates Unity unrwa UNRWA hate unrwa reports UNRWA-USA unwra vaccination Varda Vic Rosenthal Washington wikileaks Winstanley work accident X-washing Y. Ben-David Yemen YMikarov zahran Ziesel zionist attack zoo Zionophobia Ziophobia Zvi

Blog Archive