How the Talmud Can Change Your Life: Surprisingly Modern Advice from a Very Old Book by Liel Leibovitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful book. It is funny and playful, and yet profound and meaningful. Leibovitz makes relevant this ancient book (if you can call it that) and shows how its wisdom is important and needed for our lives today.
Leibovitz starts each chapter with some contemporary and seemingly un-Talmud (even un-Jewish) like story (e.g. the friendship of Tolkien and Lewis; the spy Aldrich Ames; Billie Holiday; etc.). But then he finds a way to draw the connections between these and the stories the Talmud tells; and then ends the chapter discussing the underlying enduring truth or deep meaning convened by both the Talmud and the contemporary story. Along the way one learns about the history and construction of the Talmud, the role it plays in Jewish life, and some of the lessons it teaches. Moreover, Leibovitz demonstrates what makes the Talmud so unique. It is not just a legal text or law book; not is it just stories and myths. And it’s not just the idiosyncratic structure of the Talmud: it’s meandering style, it’s replication of the debates and arguments of generations of Rabbis, it’s commentary on itself that is contained within its own pages. It’s all of this and more that makes the Talmud unique, eternally engaging, and meaningful.
The Talmud is able to capture something very human: we are rational beings, but also emotional and story loving beings; and it also captures the paradox of being both particularistic and universalistic (something that runs through so much of being Jewish and Jewish history). The Talmud convenes truths that are universal, but convenes them in particularistic ways of stories, parables, and disputations about arcane legal matters.
I may never actually read the Talmud (I’ve tried; it can be a slog at times), but if I do, it’ll be because of books like this.
View all my reviews