In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Adam Stein writes about the Talmud.
Is it cheating to name a huge, multi-volume work when asked to choose one book? Could one even refer to the Talmud as a “book” when, even in the extra-tiny print version on my bookshelf, it spans 20 volumes? Well, maybe it’s cheating, and maybe it’s not a book, but influential, bottomless, and foundational it is.
In rabbinical school, we all looked forward (with dread, that is) to something called the “daf exam.” An oral exam given by three professors, for which we prepared by learning and reviewing 50 pages (front and back) of Talmud over the course of a summer.
I spent that summer studying with several good friends in chevruta, study partners. Three hours with her, three hours with him, a few hours in a small group, and so on: seven, eight, nine hours a day.
I had already learned Talmud for five years in rabbinical school, and a year in yeshiva in Israel before that, and a bit in college. While studying for the daf exam, though, my appreciation and love for the Talmud grew and grew. As we sat in our apartments, Starbucks, and sometimes even outside on the grass on a nice day, we tore apart rabbinic arguments, stories, and powerful sayings that have become part of our Jewish vocabulary (“One who saves a human life, it is as if that person saved the whole world,” for example).
With six years of schooling, and the experience of a grueling summer of study, I have the rabbinic skills to not only bring the Talmudic teachings to bear in conversation, pastoral care, and lifecycles, but armed with a book (or 20) of Talmud, and a large dictionary, I can “go and learn” more, in the words of our sage Hillel. After all, with 50 pages under my belt, I only have 2,661 left!
Rabbi Adam Stein is a past JESNA Lainer Israel Intern and Graduate Seminar participant. He graduated from American Jewish University, where he received rabbinic ordination from its Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, as well as an MAEd from the AJU’s Fingerhut School of Education. He has been involved in many aspects of the Jewish synagogue and education worlds, and currently serves as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City, MO.