I’m still keeping a lid on certain things in my life at the moment… hopefully some news soon, but who knows? One little thing I’d like to record: I went to my Talmud class today. Usually we are taught from handouts, but for the last couple of weeks we haven’t had the handouts, so the teacher has lent me a Talmud. I decided this week to bring my own copy of the volume of Talmud. This was a big step, as I use the Steinsaltz translation. This is a controversial translation among Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews like my Talmud teacher and perhaps the other students*, ostensibly because Rav Steinsaltz changed the traditional pagination of the Talmud (you see how conservative the Orthodox community can be) and because of ill-defined “heresy” which seems to have been based around interpretations of biblical figures that were deemed inappropriate (don’t ask me why), although I have seen it suggested that the controversy was as much due to Rav Steinsaltz being an unconventional figure as anything else: he was raised secular and became religious before his bar mitzvah, he was previously a university lecturer in maths and physics, he is affiliated somewhat with the controversial Chabad Hasidic movement, he has even written detective novels! None of these are normal for Charedi rabbis! (Which is one reason why I love him) Reading between the lines in his Talmud commentary, it looks like he may have even used secular academic archaeological and linguistic studies where they can elucidate a point about the life and language of the Jews in Roman Judea and ancient Babylon, another no-no. So taking my copy of his Talmud translation and commentary was a big step, risking rejection by the rabbi taking the class and perhaps by my peers (although I doubt they would be aware of the controversy). As it happens few people were there; the rabbi saw the commentary, but if he noticed that it was the Steinsaltz edition, he didn’t pass comment. So a positive step forward in taking the Talmud with, although it was rather a relief that I avoided any negative comments.
*There isn’t a clear line between Charedi and Modern Orthodox Jews, no clear differences of belief or practice. There’s just some general trends that are more or less modern or more or less conservative. The shul I go to, and to which most of the other students in the class go, is somewhat Charedi, but some of the people are probably more “modern” than others and the people in the class are drawn more from the modern end.
(Incidentally, I heartily recommend the Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud and fantasize about one day having a complete set and “learning” the whole way through it. Good translation, helpful commentary and very useful addition of vowels to the traditionally unvocalized text of the Aramaic Talmud itself and to Rashi’s important Hebrew commentary alongside it, although doubtless some will complaint that this is a crutch. If it is a crutch, it is one I am willing to use at this stage of my education. It has nice and helpful pictures too!)