The Talmud’s role as the primary source of Jewish law can obscure its value as a literary treasure. The stories in the Talmud reveal an imaginative richness and a striking sense of an ongoing task of narration as a crucial part of the interpretation and preservation of a treasured culture.
A seafaring rabbi docks his boat on an island, only to realize that the apparent terra firma was really the back of a mammoth sea creature. . . . A king and queen argue whether sheep are superior to goats or vice versa; a high priest settles the debate. . . . G-d prays and asks a high priest to bless Him. . . . A rabbi debates the sages of Athens and explains to them how to sew together the parts of a broken millstone and how the spirit of an unhatched chick escapes the eggshell. . . . A nocturnal vision causes a Talmudic sage to have a newfound respect for an idolatrous
monarch. . . .
One of the most intriguing and perplexing aspects of the Talmud is that, despite its tremendous size and the remarkably broad range of topics it covers, it contains virtually no discussion about sociological, psychological, philosophical, or even theological issues. The sheer genius of the Talmudic scholars, as evidenced by their hair-splitting halachic debates and their finely honed methodologies, creates a natural expectation for profound insight and depth in the existential areas of life. And yet …utter silence. On the other hand, the Talmud contains many seemingly arcane and implausible stories and tales. It is disquieting that these same brilliant and lucid rabbis, who expound on legal issues with such profound and grounded logic, become tellers of stories that can only be described as outlandish. Indeed, throughout the ages, scoffers and antisemites have used these stories in an attempt to prove the Talmud’s silliness and, hence, its irrelevance and disposability.
The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute is offering an all-new, six-week course devoted to decoding Talmudic tales. The course, titled Curious Tales of the Talmud, draws upon the wisdom contained in hundreds of volumes of post-Talmudic literature.
It is predicated on the understanding that the Talmud employed cryptic stories and parables to relay relevant and profound messages in a way that makes the reader an active partner in decoding the text and constructing its meaning. Written in esoteric language, these stories couch within them penetrating insights into life, our universe, G-d, humankind—and how they all come together.
Curious Tales of the Talmud is a fascinating and fun course. Each of its six lessons addresses a fresh passage of the Talmud, one that promises to be a real head-scratcher. The lessons will each provide a method of decoding, showing students how to uncover unique and important takeaway messages that are relevant to the experiences of modern people.