If All the Seas Were Ink

St. Martin's Press  2017


Ilana Kurshan’s memoir is impressive for many reasons. On its face the story is about a woman—the author—and how she recovered from her divorce through daf yomi, the daily practice of studying the Talmud, which took over seven years to complete. But Kurshan’s divorce is neither the focus of her book nor the main story of her life. Rather, the book’s topics range widely, from Kurshan’s childhood to her aliyah to Israel, to parenthood. Organized in a loosely chronological fashion, it is arranged by Talmud tractates.The power of this memoir arises from the expert connections Kurshan draws between her personal story and the talmudic anecdotes.

Evident from the beginning is Kurshan’s expertise in the Talmud, rabbinic Judaism, midrash, and Jewish topics more generally. Perhaps due to the nature of daf yomi, which is less deep dive and more high-level, she strikes the right balance between explanation, detail, and depth in her retelling of talmudic stories. This is helpful because the Talmud is, frankly, complicated, and the numerous stories occasionally make the memoir a touch too dense. Fortunately, for the majority of the book, Kurshan’s skilled writing makes the stories accessible and also animates the rabbis and their debates for a modern audience.

Kurshan's passion for the written word is a key feature of her inner self. She is not only an expert in rabbinic literature; she also weaves secular literature and poetry throughout the book. The literary quotations add emotional richness to the memoir.

Due to Kurshan’s deft explanations of Talmudic personalities and principles, even readers without a background in Jewish topics will enjoy this insightful memoir. Readers will be inspired by Kurshan’s resilience and renewal, with the Talmud by her side.

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