Women & Talmud & Daf Yomi (כדור של בנות)

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I’m sharing two articles, here and here, about women completing the seven and a half year cycle completing, one page a day, the entire Babylonian Talmud. Neither articles does the heavy lifting that concern “the problem” of Talmud and gender. What they do very well is introduce the general interest reader not just to the phenomenon of women studying Talmud, but to Talmud itself and the study of Talmud as a cultural project and spiritual practice. Of particular note is how little attention to “law” and normativity is given in these two accounts, as opposed to a less grizzled language of capacity and possibility.

It has already been observed how the Daf Yomi, a twentieth century innovation, contributes to the democratization of Jewish life. It does so on two counts, one obvious, one less so.

[1] Opening the study of Talmud to everyone, including and especially women, bringing new perspectives into the text does something to eviscerate the hard aura of Talmud and its study. It is no longer the phallogocentric preserve of a removed scholarly class. No longer looked upon at a distance, the Bavli is brought up close and made accessible. This turns Talmud and the study of Talmud into a more intimate and tactile, now more ready to hand “object.” Talmud study is now “a thing.” You don’t need to be an expert to know something or even a lot. As per the mitzvah, a portion of the day is set aside for this purpose.

[2] Some insiders complain that this is not the way Talmud was ever read in the traditional academy, that Talmud was never meant to be read as a book cover to cover. You cannot substitute a more or less quick review of a single page, one after another, with the deep dive at precise (strategically, ideologically) moments of the text. True mastery of the text takes time, cross-referencing inside the Bavli and across the larger rabbinic corpus; delving into a history of commentaries and super-commentaries. But what happens with Daf Yomi also constitutes democratization. Instead of discrete parts or cuts, the Daf Yomi method gives the reader a more comprehensive hold vis-a-vis the text, taking the reader, tractate by tractate, to strange places in the text about which maybe some traditonalists once knew nothing having never looked at the whole of the body.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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