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Study ShaS!

BS”D

No, not the political Israeli party, but rather the Talmud. Sha”S is an abbreviation of the Hebrew “shisha sedarim,” six orders, which relates to the six orders of the Talmud, namely Zera’im (on agriculture), Mo’ed (the festivals and holy times), Nashim (on women), Neziqin (damages, typical criminal law), Qodashim (the Holies), and Tehorot (purities).

A new initiative to strengthen the study of the Talmud, has been created by Sammy Sacks, Elon Weintraub, Brian Wartell,Atara Chouake, and Shmueli Englard, with the help of Scott Silver and Binyomin Burke, six American college students dedicated to the study of the Talmud.

Basically what they want to do, is to promote the study of the Talmud on their campus, but since they have gone internet it is possible for the rest of the world to follow their progress, and even participate in it. And I think we should, at least as much as we are able to.

From what I can see so far, what they are offering is both a systematic study, giving the students some order in what is being studied, explanations on what is being studied, as well as how to study the material at hand, material they also provide on their website and Youtube channel.

Personally I always appreciate new and serious initiatives in studies of Jewish texts, particularly the Talmud, and I would encourage the rest of you out there on participating in their efforts.

To add to that I would like to give some thoughts on why one should study Talmud. First off, to get rid of some of the misconceptions there exist about the Talmud, both as text and as of message. One of the major misconceptions I know of, is that the Talmud is a book of law. It is true that there is a great deal of law found in it, but not only law, and also true that the Talmud forms the basis – together, or based upon, the Torah – but not only so. Rather, as Elon also points out in one of their videos, Talmud is rather a book of Jewish thought. Jacob Neusner, one of the biggest scholars on Talmudic studies (in the academic world), describes it as a “fundamentally and deeply religious literature,” something he is right in. My own perception of the Talmud is that – though only formed and authored by a small number of Jews, compared to the overall number of Jews found through history – it is the piece of Jewish literature, forming and defining what it means to be “Jew” and what “Judaism” is. Of course, there has been differing understandings of what Judaism is, for example the Karaite Judaism, and it is not without a reason that scholars are talking about Rabbinites and Rabbinite Judaism, when they write on Jewish history – or rather on the history of Judaism. But still, if we are relating to Jewry of today, then the Talmud – together with the Bible, and none of them alone on their own – is the defining piece of literature, even when it comes to the Karaites and other Jewish groups/sects, which are more defining themselves in reaction to the Rabbinic teachings, as they are mainly defined by the Talmud, rather than on their own.

But yet the Talmud is a very mystical piece of literature for most. Many are talking about it, but not many know it. It is used against Jews, by antisemites promoting lies and distortions based on either faulty believes of the Talmud or fabricated claims of what it states. It is also being promoted as evidence of the genius of the Jews, as if it is some kind of superior writing, which can only be written by people of a certain intellectual level (which I tend to agree with, but not that this should something particularly Jewish).

The Talmud encourages thought, discussion, debate, curiosity, want for knowledge. It is never satisfied, until each and every stone has been turned, and nothing can be said for or against, besides what already has been said. And often it doesn’t even decide on a case, even then, at least not clearly. This in itself makes the Talmud curious, what is it that it wants to tell us? But also that it covers a span on 600 years of Jewish intellectual reactions to the changes of a rather turbulent world full of contrasts, relating to the meetings with various cultures and religions, and how the Jewish sages saw themselves, as well as the Jewish people as a whole, in contrast to these cultures and religions. It is a book by humans, on humans, in relation to humans, but all the time in connection to the Divine, and never does it back away from a difficult question.

So, go for it, at least allow yourself to be introduced to the world of Talmud, and give yourself the chance to understand the core of Jewish thought.

Maimonides’ Letter on Martyrdom

BS”D

I have been working on this paper on the Iggeret HaShmad, Maimonides’ letter on Martyrdom, some time, and though I’m not done with it yet, I thought I wanted to share it with my readers. My problem is that when it is done, it might be used in a publication, and therefore I can’t publish the finished result on my blog because of copyrights. For those who would be interesting in the final product though I would be more than happy to direct you to where it can be achieved, though it will be part of a magazine. So far it will be published, that is. If not then I will publish the final product here.

Anyway, it’s eleven pages long, deals with a response he wrote during the Almohad persecutions of Jews and Christians in the twelfth century, reacting on a rabbi’s statement that the only right thing to do for Jews, was to accept martyrdom when faced with the demand to convert to Islam or die.

Please share thoughts.

Maimonides’ Letter on Martyrdom

Two recommendations

BS”D

 

Once in a while I try to find new interesting blogs, and sometimes I am lucky. Today I feel myself really lucky, having found two blogs, one called The Talmud Blog, publishing mainly articles on the study of the Talmud, and another called The Immanent Frame, publishing articles on the interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere. I highly recommend any with interest in the subjects to visit either or both, they are seriously goldmines.

Especially one writer, Lena Salaymah, who writes on The Immanent Frame, wrote an article for The Talmud Blog, where she explains her motives for and thoughts on studying and researching Near Eastern Legal Culture. For my readers it will come as no surprise that exactly that is my focus.

The article is interesting and well-written, explaining and putting words on many thoughts I have myself, but which I haven’t been able to express as well as Salaymah does it. Especially when she writes about “proto-Semitic” that “as a metaphor, “proto-Semitic” offers a useful heuristic for thinking through how we approach the study of Jewish and Islamic law.  If you imagine scholars of Jewish law articulating their ideas in Hebrew and Aramaic, while scholars of Islamic law articulate their ideas in Arabic, then my objective is to converse with both groups of scholars in a meta-language (proto-Semitic) that engages both legal traditions.  Just as “proto-Semitic” is the common ancestor of the Semitic language family, Near Eastern legal culture is the shared antecedent of Jewish and Islamic legal systems,” do I feel that she puts the finger precisely on my own thoughts.

After I wrote my assignment on Ibrahim as an early Monotheist (which I will publish later on), did I feel too that we are dealing with a common Middle Eastern – or maybe rather Near Eastern – expression, more than we are talking about a “Jewish” on the one hand and a “Muslim” on the other. Of course, I’m not attempting to say that the two religions are basically the same, though there are many similarities to be find, they are not only products of their original geographical homes, and even so there would have been differences, but they are also that, products of their original geographical homes, and therefore – of course – have many similar expressions and thoughts.

I am looking forward to see what results she must create from her coming works, and I hope that you also will find it interesting, at least some of you.

Anyway, take a look of the blogs, I can highly recommend it.

The Talmud Blog

Thoughts on Near Eastern Legal Culture – Guest blog by Lena Salaymah on The Talmud Blog

The Immanent Frame

Let’s try something new?

BS”D

I was thinking (great success). My wife has been wanting to learn Danish for some time, but we never find the right time for it, since both of us are rather busy. I thought of how to change that or at least give her something, so she get’s some Danish taught. One of the ideas I was thinking about, was to make video records for her, which she could watch on her phone or the like, but then I thought to myself, why not share it with you guys as well?

I know, it’s a little unrelated to the general subjects here on the blog, but still. I thought of adding some history of the Danish language, dialects and other things to it. Probably also share some general Danish history, which actually is rather interesting, at least for the historian. And should you find it boring, then blame my skills in presenting it for you.

 

It will – obvious – be presented by video, but I probably also will add text to it, in order to explain the spelling and recommended material for those of you who, because of my great skills in presenting Danish for you, will want to learn more.

So, let me know, what do you think?