Come and Hear: What I Saw in My Sev­en-and-a-Half-Year Jour­ney through the Talmud

  • Review
By – December 27, 2021

There is a rea­son that the Jew­ish tra­di­tion likens the Tal­mud to a sea; it is vast, at times chop­py, and over­whelm­ing. In Come and Hear, Adam Kirsch has writ­ten a book that demys­ti­fies this ancient work, high­light­ing each of its trac­tates and intro­duc­ing us to the most inter­est­ing char­ac­ters, sto­ries, philoso­phies, and law that appear in its pages. In this way, it acts as a guide through the Talmud’s waters.

In 2012, Kirsch decid­ed to join the Daf Yomi Cycle, a sched­ule of study — in which hun­dreds of thou­sands around the world par­tic­i­pate — requir­ing one to read a page of Tal­mud each day. The goal is to read the whole Tal­mud at a blis­ter­ing pace in sev­en-and-a-half years. Kirsch took on the chal­lenge but added anoth­er fea­ture; he would write a col­umn for Tablet about what he learned.

Come and Hear reads like a dis­til­la­tion of these columns. Since the Tal­mud tends to be asso­cia­tive in it’s writ­ing, Kirsch jumps around in his chap­ters from top­ic to top­ic. His chap­ter on trac­tate Rosh Hashanah, for exam­ple, delves into the Talmud’s dis­cus­sion of the dif­fer­ent New Years in the Jew­ish cal­en­dar, to how the new month is assessed, to ques­tions of the after­life, to how the sho­far should be blown.

The chal­lenge that Kirsch faces in writ­ing his book is that the Tal­mud is dif­fi­cult. Its argu­ments can run for pages, and it requires a good deal of back­ground to under­stand some of the thornier legal con­cepts. Kirsch is a mas­ter­ful teacher, able to boil many of the ideas down to sim­ple para­graphs that are clear and acces­si­ble to even the most novice learner.

One thing that is clear when read­ing Come and Hear is that Kirsch has been trans­formed through his jour­ney through the Tal­mud. He is much more knowl­edge­able and way more pas­sion­ate about rab­binic lit­er­a­ture than when he first start­ed writ­ing his col­umn. He has some­how mas­tered the sub­ject with­out los­ing touch with what it means to encounter the Tal­mud anew.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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