Unfortunately, the formal study of the Talmud I started in the middle of October last year at Ohr Somayach, an English-speaking Ashkenazi haredi yeshiva catering for those with little or no background in the study of the Talmud, came to an end this Sunday. This was one of the most challenging but exciting and unforgettable learning experiences I have ever had in my entire life so far. It has also made me decide to commit myself to a life-long study of the Talmud, though, unfortunately, not in the framework of the yeshiva.
What was the main purpose of this study? It was to learn how to learn the Talmud independently. I cannot say that I can already learn the Talmud fully independently without using modern commentaries like Schottenstein Edition Talmud Bavli and Koren Talmud Bavli. But I feel I am on the right track. The fear of Aramaic, which used to be the main obstacle that prevented me from jumping into the sea of the Talmud, has also disappeared. Now I fully realize that the language is only a technical issue. What is far more important and difficult is to follow and understand the logic and dialectic of the Talmud.
While I studied at the yeshiva, I also continued learning the Talmud once a week with a Hebrew-speaking good old haredi friend of mine, who is far more advanced than I as he has been learning it since childhood. We will continue our weekly study. I am also supposed to start learning once a week with an English-speaking new study partner, who is also a linguist and studied the Talmud at another Ashkenazi haredi yeshiva in Jerusalem. This weekly study with two partners alone might not be the same as the formal study at the yeshiva, but it is the best I can afford now. I may also use an amazing online shiur called Daf Hachaim.
I am already planning to give a talk about this experience of mine at the yeshiva to a group of those interested in Jewish culture in Kobe, Japan during the next winter vacation in February 2014. I have even finished preparing the gist of the talk while my memory of this experience is still fresh. If I am to be sincere, I seem to have no choice to tell them, among others, that the Talmud is not what they think it is: its pages on the halakha, or Jewish law, which constitute the majority of the pages of the Talmud, are irrelevant to non-Jews (as well as non-observant Jews); unless one is a super-genius, one cannot learn the Talmud without learning first how to learn it from someone who is part of the unbroken chain of the Oral Torah.