Come and Hear

What I Saw in My Seven-and-a-Half-Year Journey through the Talmud

Adam Kirsch

Come and Hear

Adam Kirsch

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

256 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth $32.50 ISBN: 9781684580675 Will Publish October 2021
A literary critic’s journey through the Talmud.
 
Spurred by a curiosity about Daf Yomi—a study program launched in the 1920s in which Jews around the world read one page of the Talmud every day for 2,711 days, or about seven and a half years—Adam Kirsch approached Tablet magazine to write a weekly column about his own Daf Yomi experience. An avowedly secular Jew, Kirsch did not have a religious source for his interest in the Talmud; rather, as a student of Jewish literature and history, he came to realize that he couldn’t fully explore these subjects without some knowledge of the Talmud. This book is perfect for readers who are in a similar position. Most people have little sense of what the Talmud actually is—how the text moves, its preoccupations and insights, and its moments of strangeness and profundity. As a critic and journalist Kirsch has experience in exploring difficult texts, discussing what he finds there, and why it matters. His exploration into the Talmud is best described as a kind of travel writing—a report on what he saw during his seven-and-a-half-year journey through the Talmud. For readers who want to travel that same path, there is no better guide.
 
Contents
Introduction
I. Tractate Berachot and Seder Moed: Prayers, Shabbat and Holidays
1. Berachot: On how to pray, whose prayers are granted, and the perils of snubbing a rabbi’s wife.
2. Shabbat: On forbidden labors, set-aside items, and learning the Torah while standing on one leg.
3. Eruvin: On bounaries, interpreting the Torah, and why the Messiah will come on a weekday.
4. Pesachim: On searching for chametz, the Passover sacrifice, and how to calculate the size of hell.
5. Shekalim: On money-changers in the Temple, the appearance of impropriety, and what happened to the Ark of the Covenant.
6. Yoma: On sacred choreography, the meaning of atonement, and the many uses of manna.
7. Sukka: On squaring the circle, using an elephant as a wall, and why the sages juggled torches.
8. Beitza: On newly laid eggs, good table manners, and why the Jewish people need a fiery law.
9. Rosh Hashanah: On the date of Creation, hearing the shofar, and how to trick death.
10. Taanit: On praying for rain, the importance of solidarity, and the inauspicious dates.
11. Megilla: On divine inspiration, rewriting the Bible, and Haman’s years as a barber.
12. Moed Katan: On holidays, making graves, and the right to be beautiful.
13. Hagiga: On divine judgment and the danger of praying into God’s secrets.
II. Seder Nashim: Marriage and Divorce
14. Yevamot: On levirate marriage, converting to Judaism, and a camel that didn’t dance.
15. Ketubot: On marriage contracts, the value of virginity, and how to deal with a disgusting spouse.
16. Nedarim and Nazir: On how to take a vow — and why you shouldn’t.
17. Sota: On magic potions, unfaithful wives, and a worm that chews through stone.
18. Gittin: On divorce, the destruction of the Temple, and the real meaning of tikkun olam.
19. Kiddushin: On betrothal, the duties of parents and children, and why women don’t have to wear tefillin.
III. Seder Nezikin: Civil and Criminal Law
20. Bava Kamma: On negligence, restitution, and the problem with being robbed by a Jewish bandit.
21. Bava Metzia: On ownership, exploitation, and when to ignore the voice of God.
22. Bava Batra: On real estate, inheritance, and surviving catastrophe.
23. Sanhedrin: On capital punishment, the World to Come, and using magic to make dinner.
24. Makkot: On flogging, perjury, and forbidden tattoos.
25. Shevuot: On taking oaths, the burden of proof, and when to throw a duck at a judge.
26. Avoda Zara: On idol worship, intermarriage, and the rabbi who used an emperor as a footstool.
27. Horayot: On mistaken judgments and why scholars outrank kings.
IV: Seder Kodashim and Tractate Niddah: The Temple, Sacrifices, and Ritual Purity
28. Zevachim and Menachot: On animal sacrifices, meal offerings, and how the Jewish people is like an olive tree.
29. Hullin and Bekhorot: On kosher slaughter, separating meat and dairy, and when a firstborn isn’t a firstborn.
30. Arakhin, Temura, and Karetot: On the value of a life, switching sacrifices, and a punishment worse than death.
31. Meila, Tamid, Middot, and Kinnim: On stealing from God, a day in the life of the Temple, and avian brainteasers.
32. Nidda: On menstruation, ejaculation, and why girls are wiser than boys.
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Review Quotes
Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews
"Once again the brilliant and indefatigable Adam Kirsch, one of America's best literary critics, has done the world a great public service. Come and Hear invites us into the world of the Talmud, one of literary history's most daunting and least accessible texts. Kirsch doesn't merely explain or introduce readers to this world; he shows us why it's a world worth exploring, for anyone who cares about how human beings think. Welcome."
Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
“It’s no small feat that Adam Kirsch manages to make a labyrinthine text accessible, an ancient conversation eminently alive. Come and Hear is a rare and invaluable doorway into the long-standing house many of us have felt hesitant to enter: the Talmud. Kirsch makes the rabbinic sages feel like recognizable relatives, and the parsing of legal minutiae feel like thrilling detective work. His writing is crisp and clear, even his chapter headings are inviting. Just as the author confides that ‘doing Daf Yomi was by far the most important Jewish experience of my adult life,’ reading Kirsch’s book may be one of yours."
Dr. Erica Brown, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, The George Washington University
Come and Hear is a clear and incisive introduction for new swimmers in the vast sea of Talmud and for veteran students of its pages who appreciate fresh insights into ancient debates and the rabbinic mindset behind them. Adam Kirsch has placed his own captivating voice into an enduring, quirky and arcane conversation and remarkable textual reclamation project that has brought ancient wisdom in contact with modern life.”
Rabbi Vanessa Ochs, University of Virginia
Come and Hear entices readers to sample the fruits of Kirsch's 7 ½-year Talmud regime, which includes its quirkiest tidbits and the staples of rabbinic debate and wisdom. A joy to read--and a surefire enticement to savor the pleasures of Talmud for oneself."
Aviya Kushner, author of Wolf Lamb Bom
“This beautiful book aims to capture what the Talmud actually is. Come and Hear is helpful, clear, practical, and detailed---and always engaged in conveying the fundamental uniqueness of the Talmud, which Adam Kirsch movingly calls its own genre. This is a love song to the ‘freedom to learn without the obligation to agree,’ and a living example of the Talmud's central role in Jewish continuity—in Hebrew, Aramaic, and now, in a leading contemporary critic's hands, in English."
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