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Talmud Today

Miami Boys Choir's classic album "Torah Today"

In a previous incarnation, I mentioned a symposium entitled “Talmud Now?” held at the National Library. That tireless recorder of the Israeli-Jewish Renaissance,  Menachem Mendel, has just noted that the the symposium was recorded and is now on-line. Watch it now, in all six parts.

Back in November when I posted the event, it generated a bit of discussion, particularly by mv who noted:

Two observations based on the identity of the panelists:

1. Two of the participants are rabbis, and the other two are also associated with institutions committed or associated with a religious form of Judaism (SHI, HUC). Casual Google prosopography (not serious research or personal acquaintance, so take this with a grain of salt) suggests that all come from the orthodox world.

I am not noting this to criticize the organizers or to complain against them: not every panel needs to be “representative” of the society it wishes to study or impact, but it is interesting that it includes no one from secular Israel, or at least from the institutions that identify themselves as secular (oh, one can think of Alma, a secular scholar from one of the universities, or even a poet or a novelist that is not connected with the religious institutions).

Even to the extent that this is somewhat undesirable, the blame must be shared with us secular Talmudists as well: for many years and with much resources, we have tried and failed to convince Israel’s cultural elite that the Talmud is a document worth engaging with. There are exception, of course; but Israeli culture largely ignores the Talmud, and when it does pay attention to it, it is mostly through “religious” mediators (think Kosman’s essays in one of the most prestigious fora of Israeli culture, Haaretz’s Tarbut we-Sifrut). In that sense, the panelists list itself epitomizes a problematic aspect of the issue it addresses.

Notice how Dr. Ruhama Weiss begins her remarks. After being introduced as someone who will describe Talmud study in non-religious institutions that do not feel bound by halakha, she rejects the distinction between “secular” and “religious” for her discussion.

And then, finally, listen to Dr. Yair Eldan who says precisely what was raised in the comments.  We still essentially have no true Hiloni Talmud renaissance. And on the other hand, the religious community is largely incapable of fully appreciating talmudic discourse in its great variety.