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Thousands of Women Gather in Jerusalem to Celebrate the Talmud

On Sunday I participated in an amazing gathering of women to celebrate the completion of the 7 1/2 year cycle of the Talmud. But first, a bit of background about the Talmud.    While Christians and Jews share a love for the Hebrew Bible, the Tanach, Christians are not usually familiar with the Talmud, a huge set of books that were completed some 1500 years ago, but remain central to Jewish religious experience.

From the time we received the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, Jews studied the Bible.  Indeed, the various books that came after the Torah, often include references and interpretations to the books that preceded them.  The Torah includes laws and prescriptions that instruct a Jew in how to lead his daily life, who G-d is and how to worship Him.  But the laws are often general and do not include specific instructions applicable to each age. 

The Bible is also a book of teachings, of lessons to be learned from the actions of our predecessors, of prophecies and criticisms from the prophets that instruct our way of thinking and believing, that inform our history and provided us with expectations for our future.  Throughout the centuries, but particularly during the Second Temple Period, Jews studied these words and explored their meaning. The sages applied the instructions to their own time, using reason and orally transmitted teachings, some dating back to Moses’ time.   All this was studied and transmitted orally until the second century, when the sages of that time feared the disappearance of the oral tradition as persecution and exile took their toll upon the Jewish people.  After great deliberation, much of the tradition was recorded in what became the Mishna and later on, the discussions that grew out of the Mishna, were recorded as well in the Talmud. 

The language of the Talmud is mostly Aramaic, the spoken language of most Jews in the early centuries of the common era, with a sprinkling of Hebrew.  But, unlike the literature of most ancient nations, the Talmud is not a book of analysis, stories or conclusions.  It is all of these and more.  It is a book that records live conversations, associative discussion and tangential comments, arguments, legends with amazing depth and a message for all time.  It is a volume of literature that cannot be read.  It must be studied, analyzed.  The arguments must be understood, the protagonists become your study partners, the language becomes your own. 

The study of the Talmud is actually a continuation of the arguments in the Talmud itself.  Over the years, commentaries were added to the printed page of the Talmud, to help the learner understand the text.  And then later on, other commentaries were written, often printed in the back of the volume, sometimes in separate books, more recently in scholarly articles.  But every student of the Talmud is actually creating his own commentary, making his own connections and in so doing, making the Bible a part of his daily life.  For the Talmud is actually the most comprehensive and ongoing interpretation of the Bible and of the way of life, beliefs and conduct the Bible expects of us.

For centuries, scholarly Jewish men studied the Bible.  But in 1923, Polish Rabbi Meir Shapira initiated an idea of the daily page of the Talmud, that Jews all over the world would study the same page of Talmud each day. In that way, he opened the study to every man and enabled Jews from all over the world to study together, as they would be studying the same Talmud page at the same time, much as Jews read the same Torah portion the same week.  The idea took off and this week, the Jewish world completed the 13th Talmud cycle, of the 2,711 pages (each page is both sides of the paper) of the Talmud. 

Until recently, women were not welcomed to the study of Talmud.  Indeed, it was only about 100 years ago that women began studying the Bible seriously, as the Jewish world was no more progressive than the rest of the world in recognizing women’s abilities to study.  But the first groups of women began studying the Talmud about 40 years ago and today there are dozens of study programs for women, both young and old in Talmud study. 

On Sunday, 3,300 women gathered together for an event in the Jerusalem Convention Center, to celebrate women who completed the Talmud cycle.  There were women there who were veteran students of the Talmud and who had completed their second or even third cycles. There were women who do not participate in the daily page but have studied Talmud in depth for years. There were renowned women teachers of Talmud who paved the way for the hundreds of young women, from Israel and from around the world, who were there, having just tasted their first Talmud study  while spending this year studying Bible in Israel.  And there were people like me, who study Talmud on occasion, or who have never studied it before, but who studied a page of Talmud to collectively finish the full 2,711 pages, each woman or group, taking a page.    

A group of 40 women stood on stage, representing the women who had personally studied the daily page themselves each day for 7 1/2 years, and recited the Kaddish prayer, sanctifying G-d for giving us His holy word and providing us with the tools to study His word, and to make it our life.   And I wept, tears of joy and tears of gratitude to G-d for bringing us back to our Land, where we are flourishing as a nation, reveling in G-d’s word like never before.  Men and women!

9 thoughts on “Thousands of Women Gather in Jerusalem to Celebrate the Talmud”

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this with us. However, I cannot see myself having time to study it for some time–I am finding the Bible to be more than I can conquer. I thought it was primarly a record of the decisions make by the Sanhedron regarding interpreting the writings of the Torah. Is this not correct?

  2. HalleluYah! I am somewhat familiar with the Talmud. I have been a little concerned with a section in Babylonian Talmud which states that the curse of Ham was to turn his descendants black. Not to found in the Torah. All the sons of Israel married Cannanite women, except Joseph who married a Hamite from Eygpt, Africa. Therefore, that skin divisiveness turned me off from wanting to read the Talmud.

  3. Dear Sondra, Thanks for the insight into the Talmud. What a fantastic event; thanks for sharing.
    Pamela Bland,

  4. Thank you for sharing a little more of your faith and practice Sondra. As a Christian, I use study guides of different types and complexity to gain a better understanding of the Bible and how to lead my life also. There are many parallels with what you wrote. However, I also read books by authors who have a deep love for Israel and the Jewish people and their writings ignited my own love. Hence my first visit to Israel last November, a very special time for me. Thank you.

  5. What do I say? You are flourishing as a nation which tells of Gods love and promise from old. This amazing land of Israel stands and will stand forever praise His word

    • Great Question! The reason that most Orthodox Jews omit the “o” when writing L-rd or G-d is because they take very seriously the commandment to not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. As Christians, we tend to categorize “taking His name in vain” as cursing, but for Jews it is far deeper than that. It is about keeping God’s name Holy, treating it with respect, reverence, awe. When they are speaking, they are in control of how His name is used, and in what context. But what happens when it is written? That puts it into a realm that is out of their control, i.e. they write an email, that you print… what happens to that piece of paper? With God’s name on it, it becomes a Holy text, they can’t control what happens to that piece of paper, does it fall on the floor and get stepped on with a muddy boot? Does it get set on a desk and coffee spilled on it? Does it line a bird cage? Does it get wadded up and thrown into the garbage with rotten cabbage and leftover banana peels?

      To ensure that they never cross that line and never break the commandment of taking God’s name in vain, most Orthodox Jews will not fully write out the word God or Lord. That way you know who they are referring to, but since they haven’t fully spelled it out, it isn’t a Holy document, and they aren’t responsible for where that piece of paper eventually ends up.

  6. Thank you so much for the above explanation. I am a born again Christian from Canada. I had the amazing privilege of going to Israel and it totally changed my life and my walk with the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When I was there I felt like I was home and no matter where you were you knew and felt the presence of Almighty G-d. Every person should go to the land of Israel it is so amazing. Thank you for your blogs.

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