I began thinking about converting around eight years ago, reading all material that I could put my hands on, but of the central scriptures I only read the TaNaCh with commentaries. At least in the beginning. The Talmud was read through books about it, more than studying it itself, something I only began when I took the decision to go through with my conversion. Nevertheless, the Talmud, or Talmuds, have been part of my focus since, and it is a very interesting piece of literature, whether you’re religious or not (or even Jewish or not). It demands attention, awareness, background knowledge, reflection, and – interestingly – disagreement.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that you should disagree with or go against what is written in the Talmud, but you shouldn’t be satisfied with what you think is the conclusion either. The Talmud is studied and understood in a dialogue with it, something that is the hole basis for its coming into existence. The Talmud is, in fact, one long discussion, sometimes staying in focus, but for the most not, dealing with all kinds of things, suddenly popping up in the middle of the discussion, for then to return to the subject when the digression has been solved, if at all, for then to find a solution to whatever problem has been found, and not always was that possible.
I find it amusing and challenging to deal with these discussions. But something that always challenged me, at least till I moved to Israel, was the discussions that involved the authors surroundings. For a person living in Denmark, far to the north (at least compared to the ME), it doesn’t make much sense when the Sages talked about the “round of the rising sun” or when the moon is opposite to the sun, in order to establish times for when the night ends and the day begins, or the other way around. But that is what was relevant for them, something I only realized and really notices after I moved here. From where I live I can look east towards Jordan, so when the sun rise in the morning, I can literally see a ball of light on the sky growing and become more light, until the sun rises over the horizon, and at that special time of month, where the moon and the sun will stand opposite of each other, just before the sun sets and the moon begins to rise, I can actually see what the Rabbis saw, and get that better understanding of what they talked about. For me moving here, means that what was theoretic knowledge became real knowledge, what was another person’s experience suddenly became my own.
The same goes for the Bible, it is amazing to sit in places described in the Bible when reading about them, knowing that this is not just some weird story in a book from far away, but that I’m sitting right where it happened. The story becomes alive.
I guess this is the case for many scriptures, the Qur’ân as well, reading them where they were created. I can imagine that for the Muslims reading the Qur’ân on the Arabic Peninsula it will give much more sense and meaning to read about themes connected to that area, than it does for a Muslim reading about the same themes in the States. I would even go so far as to say that the serious student should study texts in the area where they were written, in order to get a better understanding and appreciation of them. Of course, I know, not all are able to do that, unfortunately, but should you get the chance and opportunity then do it. For me, to study the Bible and the Talmud here does all the difference, being in their home.