R’ Yehuda Brandes, whose work in Talmud is unknown to the English-speaking world, has published a book of Talmudic readings. You can read excerpts or purchase it here. I didn’t study from him all that much, but he had quite an impact on my approach to Talmud at a time when my own direction in Talmud study was really beginning to coalesce. He’s a master, and funny as heck, too.
A crucial element of his approach is that he recognizes that the division of the Talmud into Halakha and Aggadah is an artificial one. He also, in general, takes a literary approach, which resonates with me loud and clear, even in ‘Halakhic’ sugyot. For a very long time, I subscribed to the popular notion that people who excel in math will excel in Talmud study. R’ Brandes helped me understand that love of literature can more easily translate into love of Talmud. It’s Aggadah which transforms the Talmud from law to literature, where God peers from the cracks of even the most arcane legalistic details.
One of the first pieces of R’ Brandes’ work that I’ve read was this article on the Aggadot which describe how King David dug the foundations of the Temple (Sukkah 52a-b). If your Hebrew isn’t that good, well, that’s your loss. This is one of the freshest and most exciting pieces of contemporary Jewish thought that I’ve ever read. It made my heart race. And it offered a perspective on the tension between innovation and tradition that really can only be captures in mythic narrative form.
Perhaps I’ll translate it, though it’ll be a lot of work. Maybe Beit Morasha wants to offer me a job as their director of English language publication and marketing (Note: I’m making Aliyah this summer and am looking for a job in Israel). Maybe they’ll let me publish my own book of Talmudic readings (which I hope will one day be as masterful as R’ Brandes’).
My slow posting pace of late has been due to a very hectic schedule and a lack of focus-time with a computer. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my mind continues to wander and explore, and there are plenty of potential posts sitting in my guts, but, alas, there are only so many hours in the day. I have resolved, however, to refrain from what I’ll call ‘reactionary blogging’, i.e., responses to current events or things that other bloggers are writing about, and try to keep to things that I personally have been thinking, learning or reading about.