When one thinks of Daf Yomi, certain images come to mind, among them, devout Orthodox Jews, intensely studying a page of the Talmud every day and learning its important rules and values relating to Jewish law and life.
What one does not normally think of is a TikTok of a woman talking about the more humorous side of the Gemara, discussing some of the highlights in a way many find hilarious and relatable, while others find offensive.
That is exactly what Miriam Anzovin is doing, and it has left many a TikTok user laughing at her witty takes regarding the Talmud.
To get a good idea about her series Daf Reactions, one need look no further than a recent video covering the daf (double-sided folio page) Moed Katan 9.
“I am recording today from my makeup table in honor of Rav Hisda,” she says at the start of the video. “Yes, I am now a Rav Hisda stan! Ride or die! Let me tell you why.”
She proceeds to recount the discussions in the daf itself, which relate to women wearing makeup on Hol Hamoed, the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. As she explained, Rav Hisda’s wife would always wear makeup then, but she then further tells the drama that unfolded between the rabbi and another scholar, Rav Huna bar Hinnana.
As she explains it, Rav Huna “had the unmitigated chutzpah to sit down next to him and say, ‘you know, only young women are allowed to put on makeup during chol hamoed. It’s not for old women... like your wife.’”
After visually showing her anger at this statement and saying that she has “put Rav Huna bar Hinnana’s name in my burn book,” she then described Rav Hisda’s reaction, which she claims she was “barely paraphrasing.”
“Oh my god! What the actual f*** is wrong with you, you misogynistic ageist dips***.”
This is just a small sample of her catalogue of videos, which focus on humorous takes and stories like this.
But she isn’t doing this to blaspheme or insult the Talmud and Judaism. Rather, it’s quite the opposite.
ANZOVIN GREW up in an Orthodox Jewish home and studied at a Lubavitch middle school. Though she is no longer Orthodox, she has a degree in Jewish studies and is very serious about Talmud study, having consistently studied Daf Yomi every day since the current seven-and-a-third-year-long cycle began two years ago.
Coincidentally, that was also around the same time she first went on TikTok.
At first, she only went on to watch videos as a way to kill time and remain feeling connected to people during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, but eventually she decided to start creating content there herself.
“In the beginning of December, I thought that since I’m doing Daf Yomi already, I could make a video for other people doing Daf Yomi with humorous takes as an in-joke, maybe with a millennial or Gen Z bent,” Anzovin explained.
Though her account is still very new, she has already amassed thousands of followers and her popularity has already hit Israel, something that surprised her.
“I didn’t think it would get much traction, with Daf Yomi being a niche thing,” she said. “I didn’t think it would jump across to Israel, so this is quite fast.”
But content creation is nothing new for her. Anzovin works as a visual artist and as a content creator for Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Jewish Federation serving the greater Boston area, where she lives along with her dog Sansa, a “scientifically implausible Chihuahua-demon hybrid.” She also ran a podcast, Vibe of the Tribe, which is where she developed the idea of dealing with Jewish tradition, literature and history in a fun way.
And that’s important, because despite no longer being Orthodox, the importance of Jewish tradition and literature is something Anzovin takes very seriously.
“I am blessed to interact with this cultural and literary heritage that Judaism has, and I know not everyone has that access. And that is something I truly believe should change,” she explained.
“I want a woman who wants to study Talmud to be able to study. I know now that’s not necessarily the case, and I would really, really like it if everyone had access to engage with Talmud study in their own way.”
THE FACT that she is a woman studying Talmud, something many in the Orthodox Jewish world are staunchly opposed to, is not lost on her, and while she has received many positive comments for her content, she has also received negative ones, including claims that “this is what happens when you let women learn Talmud.”
In response, Anzovin points out that this is simply her authentic reaction to the content of the Talmud, and noted that while her content is often not safe for work (NSFW), neither is much of the Talmud, the content of which can sometimes come off as ridiculous and offensive.
An example she gave was Shabbat 110, a daf that deals with different scenarios regarding snakes - one of which involves women, and a snake crawling into a woman’s vagina.
“In the daf, the rabbis suggest several different things to tell the snake to take a hike [when it approaches a woman],” Anzovin said. “First they suggest the woman have sex with her husband so the snake knows she’s got a man. Second, if the snake is inside her vagina, you should essentially take some food and have a barbecue outside her vagina to entice it out.”
Describing this anatomically impossible “vagina snake” scenario, Anzovin kept laughing, which she also did while reading it in the first place.
“I was laughing the entire time – it was incredibly disrespectful to women, and probably snakes,” she recounted. “But there’s so much comedy to do here because, come on, you’re talking about vagina snakes! No human being should not have to laugh at that.”
But, as she also noted, “It’s like, oh my God, these men did not know how the female body worked.”
AND THIS is a major point she brings up: That for many people who read the Talmud, such as women or someone who is LGBTQ+ or disabled, the content may already be offensive in the first place.
“Sometimes it can be difficult to study – not just make a TikTok but even study – as a woman. And I know other women who study Talmud that say the same thing. Occasionally I can’t talk about some of those things because they’re too painful.”
Indeed, not everything can be made into a joke. Looking through her catalogue of videos, one will notice that although she follows the daily cycle of Daf Yomi, she doesn’t make videos about every daf since she started. This can be for a few reasons: busy with work, or because no joke can be made about the subject matter this time.
“There are some things that are extremely painful to encounter in the Talmud and I occasionally will not go to the place I think they will go,” she said. “I need to go to the place where the daf muse inspires me. I get inspired when I see things I can say ‘in a millennial way.’”
And there is certainly no shortage of options for that in the many pages of the Talmud. This can range from Megila 27, where Anzovin describes how Rav and Rav Huna became “bros” and “besties,” or from Moed Katan 6, which describes using trees as gravestones.
“That’s right,” she says in the video. “Yesterday was Tu Bishvat and all of you were out celebrating the birthday of the trees – and that’s lovely – but I am claiming this daf to celebrate the misunderstood trees. The Goth trees. The trees that look like skeletons and scare you when you go out at night with your dog. Exhibit A: These trees in my backyard.”
ULTIMATELY, ANZOVIN is not attempting to replace traditional Talmud teaching.
“I’m not a replacement, I’m just reacting, sharing my personal feelings and making other people think ‘maybe I could get into Talmud.’”
And this ties in to how she reacts to the negative comments she gets.
“These are just my real authentic reactions to Talmud,” she said.
“And on the day when there are no more agunot [women “chained” to a divorce-refusing husband] and any woman can study whatever they want – and when women are no longer erased from magazines in the name of tzniut [modesty] – then I will consider listening to their criticism.”
In the meantime, Anzovin will continue to study Daf Yomi every day, and it is something she genuinely loves doing.
“Just because I am presenting the Talmud this way does not mean that I am not presenting it with love,” she explained. “I am committed to doing Daf Yomi through the entirety of the cycle. Someone asked me if I was a troll, but that would be a big commitment to troll for seven-and-a-half years.”