Ever been totally snookered by Aramaic? Can’t tell your Babylonian Talmud from your Jerusalem Talmud? Is your Talmudic concentration span shorter than Rabban Gamliel’s fuse?
If your answer to these questions is yes, or even “huh?” then the “People’s Talmud” project might well be for you.
The People’s Talmud is an innovate new repository of the Talmud and its wisdom, rendering the ancient text into concepts, cataloguing it all into searchable subjects, and connecting it to leading content providers. It transforms what is, for many, an obscure and indecipherable tome of arcane law and legends into an accessible and relevant source of knowledge and insight for anyone who cares to look inside.
Gedaliah Gurfein, the project’s creator, spent some 30 years working on this labor of love, and has now launched the beta version of the People’s Talmud website.
The project includes a huge list of entries, from the digestive calamities caused by undercooked turnip and the interpretation of dreams about camels to discussions of the Armageddon and the end of days.
If there is a religious commandment you always wanted to understand, a ceremony or ritual you wanted explained, or a Talmudic personality you want to get to know, then the People’s Talmud likely has an explanation.
There are more than 7,000 content entries, 2,500 teasers, and 1,000 subject and category listings which bring to life the thousands of concepts discussed in the 2,711 folio pages of the Babylonian Talmud, all of which is searchable by topic or through a simple search window.
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In addition, every page and topic is linked to an English translation of the pertinent section of the Talmud page provided by the Sefaria online library of Jewish texts.
Relevant content from various educational institutions and Talmudic experts is also linked to every entry, so that a wealth of information on the chosen topic or Talmudic page - beyond the boundaries of the People’s Talmud itself - can be accessed.
There is no restriction
on which institutions can provide content, as long as they do not incite hatred and do not denigrate others, says Gurfein.
This means that institutes from the haredi, Reform, re-constructionist, non-Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religious, national or other self-defining group can provide their own perspective on the topic at hand.
There are ten organizations which are already on board including Yeshiva University, Hillel International, and Web Yeshiva, but Gurfein says he wants to get dozens others involved to provide a smorgasbord of relevant content.
This experience is personally customizable so that users can define which extra content they want to see when they click on a Talmudic page or concept, electing whichever institutions catch their interest.
Rabbis, academics, and other experts will also be able to provide their own insight by registering as content providers for the core database.
The website also provides for an online community experience whereby entries and content can be posted to a timeline to start discussion and debate with users that have “bonded” (like friending on Facebook.)
Currently, only content pertaining to the first of the six orders of the Talmud is online, but Gurfein says that the majority of the entries are written and will go online steadily as they are prepared for publication.
The website is accessible without charge, but more advanced features require an annual subscription fee.
“The Talmud is a national treasure of the Jewish people, but many people are alienated from it or think it is only for yeshiva boys,” said Gurfein.
He said he realized that what was required to bring the Talmud to the people was not a translation but “a primer” which takes the concepts and ideas in the text and makes them comprehensible to a modern audience unfamiliar with the Aramaic language of the Talmud and its legalistic style and written conventions.
“It’s an ADHD-sensitive Talmud,” he quipped.
“I wanted to extract these golden nuggets of wisdom and transmit them to the Jewish people who didn’t think Talmud was relevant to them and I think this could be a real blessing for the Jewish world and the whole world,” Gurfein continued.
“Wisdom is only a good thing, it dispels a lot of darkness. When there is darkness in the mind you see the other as hostile whether on a personal, communal, national, or religious level, and so understanding the one God, rooted in wisdom, is the doorway to fixing the world and Tikkun Olam.”
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