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Daf Yomi

Marking Time With Talmud

The Letter to My Congregation on Jan 3, 2021

Roughly a year ago (January 5, 2020) Eva and I began  a 7.5 year project of reading the entire Talmud. This undertaking is part of a synchronized worldwide study called “Daf Yomi,” in which we read one folio (2 sides of a page) a day.  Now in its 14th cycle, it has become much more widespread due to the Internet as well as increasingly accessible translations. 

When I began this project, I could not have imagined what the first year would bring. Reading the first Tractate, Brachot, I studied it in Hawaii, on airplanes, on a train to NYC, while eating lunch at Titus Mountain and Whiteface. I studied it on the Ferry to Vermont and in my office at the Temple.  Brachot has 64 pages, and given the variety of places and circumstances in which I studied, I could only imagine what the other tractates of the year would bring. 

We began to study the second Tractate, Shabbat, on March 8th. The world changed roughly a week later. Through Shabbat, Eiruvin, and now Pesachim, I have studied all of them while sitting on my couch (with the exception of the week I was on retreat). 

Plans changed. I was preparing to lead a Daf Yomi session on Shabbat 11 (the 10th page of Shabbat–page 1 is the title page in each volume) at my rabbinical convention in Puerto Rico. With less than a week to go, the convention was canceled. Similarly, all travel plans since then have canceled as well, as we try to restrict risk to the truly essential. 

In those first few months of 2020, studying Talmud was showing me how rich, varied and busy my life was as I carved out time each day to study. While life is still busy, and at times rich, it has come to represent a way of marking the sameness of time. We finished Shabbat in August–still at home. We finished Eiruvin in November, still at home. We will finish Pesachim in March, and we will still be at home. Hopefully sometime next fall, maybe when we get to Yoma, things will be back something closer to normal. 

In this first year of reading Talmud day by day, I have not only marked time. I have also learned about how Talmud works at a deeper level than I did in my many Talmud classes in rabbinical school. There is something to be said for quantity of study over quality. I have incorporated stories and teachings into sermons and services. It has become a part of my daily routine. 

And at the same time, I am looking forward to a time when I go back to noting all the interesting places I’m studying Talmud. 

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humor Jewish Spirituality knitting Rabbinic

Knitting and Purim

I have a special kippah (yalmuke) I wear for Purim: muppet-kipah.jpg

I made a it a few years back out of some Fun Fur, back when the only thing I knew of to do with yarn was to make a kippah.

Purim is a holiday that makes the most sense if one gives oneself over entirely to its frivolity of spirit. With this in mind, I give you an entirely frivolous post, which may be funny to no one but me, since it is a parody of rabbinic literature on the subject of knitting. The following is an excerpt from masechet seruga:

How long should one knit as a preparation for writing? Rabbi Hillel says one should knit until the words flow smoothly. Rabbi Shammai says, two rows.

“Two rows?” asks Rabbi Abuah, “not all rows are equal. How can it be two rows.”

Rabbi BagBag ben BarBar explains: it is the length of two rows for a scarf.

If it is the length of two rows of a scarf, why did Shammai not say how many stitches? Rabbi HooHaa replies: It is two rows of whatever project you are working on, because it is the turning that counts, not the stitches, as it is written, “turn it and turn it and you will find everything in it.”

Rabbi EZ* say: but I am knitting in the round: how do I know when I am to stop.

The rabbis teach that no rules apply to Rabbi EZ. But for those of us who are not of her merit, how do we know when to stop if we are knitting in the round.

The School of Shammai teaches that one should never knit in the round.

Never knit in the round? What about socks?

Rabbi Heyouse says in the name of his master, Rabbi Heyouguys: When I was young, I would go to the School of Shammai and they were all wearing argyle socks.**

“Are they then to be called Clan McShammai?” scoffs Rabbi EZ.

Anyone may wear Argyle says the school of Hillel.

Only those whose Torah learning is great and whose knitting knowledge is greater says school of Shammai.

Only those of Scottish ancestry may wear Argyle says the School of EZ.

Rabbi Hoohaa taught, “in the days of old, any might wear Argyle, but today, we do not wear it out of respect for the Holy One of Blessing, as it is taught, ‘ah, what a tangled web we weave.'”

Happy Purim Everyone .

*For the non knitters: Elizabeth Zimmerman (who is as Hillel to the knitting tradition).

**For the non-knitters: argyle socks are knit flat, and then sewed up the back: they are persnickety beyond belief are require handling between four and eight balls of yarn simultaneously.