2011-10-07

Back to the study of the Talmud at a yeshiva

In spite of my difficulty in learning unspoken languages, I am starting to learn Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, the language of the Gemara part of the Babylonian Talmud. The truth is that this is as a linguistic preparation for studying the Talmud in a yeshiva in the next academic year (i.e., 2012/2013), though only in the morning. I may sound funny as I am already planning what to do next year though the new Jewish year has just started. But since I am supposed to receive my first sabbatical next year, I already have to start planning how and where to spend it in order to make the best use of this precious gift.

Ideally I would spend my sabbatical in Manhattan, but I had to give up this idea immediately for a number of practical reasons. So I have decided to stay in Jerusalem. Initially I was thinking of spend my entire sabbatical for starting to plan my first book in one of the areas of linguistics that fascinate me now. But partly after starting to take online courses in Judaism on a website I stumbled upon (Jewish Pathways) rather recently, and partly after shmoozing with one of my spiritual mentors, the head of a famous elite yeshiva in Jerusalem, about my traditional Jewish learning (or to be more precise, insufficiency thereof) at one of the recent Sabbath meals at his, what used to be a very vague desire has come to take a more concrete shape, until I have decided to spend my sabbatical at the same yeshiva in Jerusalem where I spent about four months more than ten years ago (Ohr Somayach). Ideally I would spend the whole day five days a week there, but I also have to spare enough time for my own academic work. So the compromise I have found is to study at the yeshiva only in the morning when the Talmud is learned.

I have already spoken to the rabbi who is in charge of the specific program among many they offer and received his approval. I am already quite excited. Now I am reminded of the pleasure I experienced when I studied in the past. It was one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable experiences I have ever had in my entire life so far. But I had one serious problem with one subject there back then - study of the Talmud. Since then I have always sensed some kind of inferiority complex for not having the ability to swim the sea of the book which has shaped the traditional Jewish ways of thinking and living more than any other book in the vast classical Jewish library. I hope that this time I will get over first what used to be the biggest barrier for me, the language of the Talmud (or to be more precise, uncertainty of how to pronounce it), and acquire enough proficiency in it so that I may navigate it more or less independently.