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Doing the Daf as Israel Implodes

peled_20230906-103515_1 Pamela Peled

Reviewed by Carol Novis

In January 2020, just before Covid struck, Pamela Peled signed up to join a group studying Daf Yomi, the daily exegesis of a page of Talmud, studied by people all over the world.

Her aim wasn't to become more religious. It was to find meaning – Jewish meaning – and an interesting pursuit, at a time when she was dealing with the shattering aftermath of the death of her beloved husband.

What she found in her study of the Talmud was by turns exasperating, admirable and sometimes even shocking, but always intriguing. The Talmud deals with everything from great moral issues to the smallest details of everyday life; nothing was too trivial for the rabbis to discuss. What, for example, if you sneeze during prayer? (It's OK) What if you burp? (OK if it's involuntary). And that's before getting into the peculiar taboos and rules that govern the bedroom and bathroom.

And thus was born her fascinating book, Doing the Daf as Israel Implodes, which seamlessly interweaves the role of religion in Israel; the day-by-day happenings in the Knesset; how her perspective on Zionism and religion has changed; parallels in Shakespeare; and even a debate about the complicated (and possibly fictional) new love interests of a young widow.

Funny, profound and moving, the book examines the Talmudic-like complexities of life in Israel as it has evolved in recent months. I found it compulsive reading.

When, for example, Peled is made uneasy by a discussion of the treatment of women in the Sotah Tractate, a friend remarks that she doesn't understand the context of the Talmud and sounds ignorant. She argues, "But that's the point. I want to track the development of understanding. The growth of the mind. The relevance to today. I want to show how doing the daily daf can impact on even those who don't have PhDs in Politics."

She may, she openly admits, lack knowledge and background, but "even I know that some of the most beautiful, wisest words in the history of the world are to be found in its parchment."

On the other hand, she wonders, if studying Talmud takes precedence over earning a living and serving in the IDF for the majority of ultra-orthodox men, "Why should my taxes fund this? Really, why?"

And, she considers, does the Talmud sanction the zealots who uproot Arab olive trees as "reasonable revenge" for terror?

Peled makes clear that she is not dissing religion; in fact she sometimes wishes that she shared the wholehearted belief. "Religion builds community. Community is key. It embraces and comforts you when you cry; it shares in your joy and prescribes how you pray. Following the same tried and trusted rules. And they're all laid down in the Talmud. To be dissected daf by daf."

But sadly, she fears losing much of the joy she once felt from simply living in a Jewish state, both because of leaders such as Ben Gvir and Smotrich and also because of the disillusioning mix in Israel today of politics, religion and money. Many of us can identify.

It isn't easy to draw meaning from current events, but this beautifully written and profound account goes a long way to achieving that. Reading the book – which sheds so much light on what has happened and is happening – one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry. We can only hope that reason prevails., 2023, 139 pp

Kindle edition: $9.99

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Thursday, 23 May 2024

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