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Daf Yomi? Daf yo-you, maybe, but not yo-me

Your Humble Blogger is a Reform Jew. At least, I have finally started calling myself Reform, after some years of membership in a congregation that is URJ. I grew up Conservative, and still am more comfortable with the Conservative tunes and the Conservative service—but I like the Reconstructionist prayerbook. The Reform synagogue is my home, though, and if we leave this one for some reason, I expect my next shul will be Reform, too. It took me a while to identify myself as Reform, mostly I think because of the tunes.

I have never considered myself Orthodox, and have no interest whatever in becoming one of them. Their Judaism isn’t mine—the Chasids, the haredi, the Modern Orthodox and all the gang on the frum fringe are more Other to me than the Episcopalians at my Best Reader’s church. At least when we go to St. Whatsit’s, they let us sit together. Not so much at Temple Beth Beardie down the road. Not to mention what they think about the Youngest Member.

So, what I’m saying. I’m a Reform Jew, I identify with the epikorsim, the ham-sandwich gang, the intermarriers. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a believer, not that it matters, but I’m also what my grandfather would have called modern.

I bring this up because one problem I have with the Reform movement is that not only have we eschewed the crazy medieval superstitions (like tallis and t’fillin, like payess and tzitzes, like keeping the women behind a fucking curtain for cry-yi) but we have, for the most part, lost the Talmud. We read Torah. We study Torah, some. We read the Prophets and the Writings, if we have time. We discuss the Law in the context of our time. We read stories of our great Rabbis of earlier times. But we don’t study Talmud.

Of course, why should we? Why should a lobstereater bother to delve into the details of what to do with a cooking pot of doubtful provenance in order to make sure that one can legally eat the food cooked in it? Why should we take sides in an argument about what kinds of objects one can carry outside the house in an emergency that falls on the Shabbat? We don’t consider ourselves bound by those rules, so why learn them?

On the other hand, the yeshivish folk don’t consider themselves bound by the rules of Temple times, and they learn those rules—they, too, are part of the Talmud. Well, but you could say that the liturgically traditional-minded are more likely to want to learn the old rules, even if they are no longer being followed, while the liturgically positive-historical will want to concentrate on those old rules that are still being followed. Fine. But the point, really, is that the Talmud is our cultural heritage in addition to our legal heritage. We did not divide our Scripture into Law and History; they are intertwined, they are in fact identical—learning the Law means learning the History of the Law and therefore the History of the People, and learning the History of the People means learning the History of the Law, and thus the law itself. This is not a peculiar truth to Judaism, but we reflect that truth in the books.

All of which is to say that I feel like I should do some Talmud study, but I don’t feel as if I have a Reform community in which to do it. This was brought to a head by the Siyum HaShas this week. This was a celebration of the end (and beginning, of course) of the nearly seven-and-a-half-year cycle of studying the Talmud a page a day (or daf yomi, the term by which the practice is known). One of the gatherings—not the only one—was at the Giants stadium in New Jersey.

Daf Yomi Siyum

Ninety thousand people.

And I think, in that photo, that the women’s section is up at the top right.

I don’t want to study Talmud with those guys. But man, wouldn’t it be something to have a football stadium worth of people to study with?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Huh. I was raised as a reform Jew, and heard about the Talmud, and the Mishnah, unless those are the same things, I can never remember, but the point is, I heard about them, but indeed, we didn't really study them.

Do you need to study them with your shul? Can you find a reform shul that does Talmud study, even if it's not your Home Shul TM? Or a reconstructionist one? Or, for that matter, a Conservative one?

Online? Can you start a Reform Talmud Study site/forum/Skype group/whatever?

One could, if one were disciplined and well-connected and so forth, start an online forum for Reform Jews to study Talmud together. Presumably it wouldn't appeal to very many people, because, as you experienced, the Talmud and Mishnah (not the same things, but connected) are not presented as worth study. There are, actually, a handful of Talmud sessions at Temple Beth Bolshoi, but they tend to be very basic Intro to the Talmud for retirees who aren't interested in rigor. There are a few Conservative synagogues, I know, that support daf yomi, and there are a wealth, I mean a fucking wealth of on-line articles and podcasts and videos and so forth, but I haven't found a Reform-specific set, or a group of congenial (if virtual) study partners. I should talk to my Rabbi, I should.


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