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Why Learn Talmud?

This program is part of Drisha’s initiative: Dirshu: Confronting Challenges with Mind and Heart

Past Dirshu Series:
Confronting Mental Illness – April/May 2014
Holiness – October/November 2015
Hunger: What Can We Do? – February 2015
Prayer: What Are We Doing? – March/April 2014


Program dates have passed. If you would like to hear about similar programs in the future, please contact us at [email protected].

Wednesday evenings October 29, November 5, and 12, 2014.

Each evening will begin at 6:30 with a choice of workshops.

At 7:15, we will break for tefilat ma’ariv, refreshments, and informal conversation.

At 7:45, we will join together in the beit midrash for a lecture or panel discussion.

We invite educators, rabbis, students, parents, and all interested members of the community to participate in this conversation.


Choice of Workshops (please note that each workshop meets for three weeks):

Existential Dialogue: The Complex Human Spirit of the Talmud  Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard
Cultural meaning-making is at the heart of both religion and spirituality. In these three sessions, we will consider how the meaning-making discussions of the Babylonian Talmud, very often but not exclusively expressed in legal texts, explore important human social, psychological and ethical issues.  Together we will reflect on the holiness of ambiguity, difference and disagreement.

Ancient Texts, Modern Lessons – Yaffa Epstein
Why should we care about a text that was written long ago by people who lived lives so different from our own? This workshop will look at some of the issues that exist in our own lives today and explore in what ways the Talmud addresses our contemporary concerns and sensibilities.

Archeological Talmud: Digging Deeper – Rabbi Ysoscher Katz
While the Talmud appears to many to be a book of halakha, it is in reality a book of philosophy—Jewish thought shrouded in Jewish jurisprudence. In this workshop, we will study Talmud as an exercise in discovery and excavation, looking for the meaning, logic, and ideas that are embedded in Talmudic legal discourse.

What Does the Talmud Say About Talmud? – Rabbi Jon Kelsen
In this workshop, we will learn sources that reflect on the nature of learning itself. How does the Talmud understand its own role? Why does the Talmud think that study is important?


October 29: Talmud Study as a Religious Practice – Dr. Devora Steinmetz

Talmud study poses formidable challenges: the Talmud is a difficult and complex text, its modes of argumentation can appear foreign or artificial, much of its subject matter can seem dissonant with or distant from the realities of our lives. This lecture will focus on some of the more challenging aspects of the Talmud and discuss how these very attributes can contribute to the religious formation of the student of Talmud.

Click here for the source sheet.

November 5: The ‘Conceptual’ Approach to Talmud Study: Where Has It Been, Where Is It Going, and Why Does It Matter? – Prof. Chaim Saiman
The Yeshiva movement assumes that learning Gemara is the central spiritual practice of Judaism. But why does delving into the specifics of property rights, torts, or even the intricacies of Shabbat and nidah reflect the pinnacle of a person’s encounter with God? This lecture will survey several approaches to learning Gemara within the world of the Yeshiva and discuss how each interprets and fulfills the spiritual aspirations of Talmud study.

Click here for source sheet.

November 12: Navigating the Sea of Talmud: Study, Teaching, and Personal Religious Meaning – a conversation between Dr. Alyssa Gray, Rabbi Dov Linzer, and Rabbi Ethan Tucker.
Three master teachers of Talmud will discuss their approaches to Talmud study and talk about how Talmud study is meaningful to them.

Click here for source sheet.




Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, PhD of CLAL is professor of Jewish Law at the law faculty of Humboldt University in Berlin and the Jewish Scholar in Residence at the Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer’s Work at Fordham Law School. In addition to his teaching and research, Rabbi Blanchard was a practicing psychologist and organizational consultant.

Yaffa Epstein teaches Talmud at Yeshivat Maharat and serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.  She holds a Law Degree from Bar-Ilan University and studied at the Kollel at Pardes, the Advanced Talmud Institute at Matan, and the Talmud Department at Hebrew University. She is currently pursuing Rabbinical studies at Yeshivat Maharat. Ms. Epstein has taught Talmud, Jewish law, and liturgy at Pardes for over a decade and has served as the Director of the Beit Midrash at the Dorot Fellowship in Israel. She has taught at Drisha’s summer kollel as well as at Limmud Events around the globe and has written curriculum for the Global Day of Jewish Learning and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Dr. Alyssa Gray is Emily S. and Rabbi Bernard H. Mehlman Chair in Rabbinics and Associate Professor of Codes and Responsa Literature at HUC-JIR. She has written and lectured widely on many topics, notably the formations of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the relationship of halakha and law, liturgy, charity, and martyrdom. Her essays have appeared in AJS ReviewJewish Studies QuarterlyDiné IsraelJournal of Jewish StudiesConservative Judaism, and The CCAR Journal. She is also the author of A Talmud in Exile: The Influence of Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah on the Formation of Bavli Avodah Zarah. Her current book project is tentatively entitled Righteous before God: Charitable Giving in the Jewish Religious Imagination from Antiquity to the Present. 

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Chair of the Department of Talmud and Director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Katz received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for over ten years. A graduate of the HaSha’ar Program for Jewish Educators, co-sponsored by Drisha and the Beit Rabban Center, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School. He was a leading teacher of a daf yomi class in Boro Park for over eight years.

Rabbi Jon Kelsen teaches Talmud at Drisha and is Rosh Kollel of the Drisha June Kollel. He has served as a member of the faculty at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Pardes and has taught extensively in various formal and informal contexts in Israel and the United States. A graduate of the Pardes Kollel, Rabbi Kelsen received ordination from Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg and holds an MA in Jewish Civilization from the Hebrew University.  

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. He has published and lectured widely on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity, writes a weekly parasha sheet, and teaches a Daf Yomi shiur which is available on YouTube and iTunes.  Rabbi Linzer is an awardee of the Avi Chai Fellowship and was the convener of the 2012 Modern Orthodox Siyyum HaShas. 

Prof. Chaim Saiman is a Professor of Law at Villanova University and is completing his book Halakha: the Rabbinic Idea of Law, which will be published by Princeton University Press.  Professor Saiman has recently served as the Gruss Professor of Jewish Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Prior to teaching at Villanova, he learned at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, clerked for Judge Michael McConnell in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and studied at the law schools of Columbia, Harvard and NYU. 

Dr. Devora Steinmetz serves on the leadership team for special programs at Drisha in the United States and Israel. She has taught Talmud and Rabbinics at Drisha, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Yeshivat Hadar, and Havruta: a Beit Midrash at Hebrew University. Dr. Steinmetz is the founder of Beit Rabban, a day school profiled in Daniel Pekarsky’s Vision at Work: The Theory and Practice of Beit Rabban. She is the author of From Father to Son: Kinship, Conflict, and Continuity in Genesis and Punishment and Freedom: The Rabbinic Construction of Criminal Law. Dr. Steinmetz consults for the Mandel Foundation and works at Gould Farm, a therapeutic community for individuals struggling with mental illness.

Rabbi Ethan Tucker is co-founder and Rosh Yeshiva at Mechon Hadar, where he serves as chair in Jewish Law.  He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and earned a PhD in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary. A Wexner Graduate Fellow, Rabbi Tucker was co-founder of Kehilat Hadar and a winner of the first Grinspoon Foundation Social Entrepreneur Fellowship. 


This series is sponsored by Drisha Institute in partnership with Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Yeshivat Maharat.

There is no fee for this program. We welcome contributions to support our work.

Pre-registration is not required, but we recommend pre-registering in order to sign up for your first-choice workshop. To register, please e-mail [email protected] or call (212) 595-0307.

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