Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens

Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens

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Edited by Jane L. Kanarek & Marjorie Lehman

Finalist, 2017 National Jewish Book Award for Education and Jewish Identity

ISBN: 9781618115133 (hardback) / 9781618115775 (paperback)
Pages: 258 pp.; 8 illus.
Publication Date: October 2016

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Learning to Read Talmud is the first book-length study of how teachers teach and how students learn to read Talmud. Through a series of studies conducted by scholars of Talmud in classrooms that range from seminaries to secular universities and with students from novice to advanced, this book elucidates a broad range of ideas about what it means to learn to read Talmud and tools for how to achieve that goal. Bridging the study of Talmud and the study of pedagogy, this book is an essential resource for scholars, curriculum writers, and classroom teachers of Talmud.

Jane L. Kanarek is Associate Professor of Rabbinics and Associate Dean of Academic Development and Advising at Hebrew College. She is the author of Biblical Narrative and the Formation of Rabbinic Law (Cambridge University Press 2014).

Marjorie Lehman is Associate Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is the author of The En Yaaqov: Jacob ibn Habib’s Search for Faith in the Talmudic Corpus (Wayne State University Press), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award–Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award in the category of Scholarship.

Table of Contents


Introduction. Learning to Read Talmud: What It Looks Like and How It Happens
Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman

Chapter 1. Stop Making Sense: Using Text Guides to Help Students Learn to Read Talmud
Beth A. Berkowitz

Chapter 2. Looking for Problems: A Pedagogic Quest for Difficulties
Ethan M. Tucker

Chapter 3. What Others Have to Say: Secondary Readings in Learning to Read Talmud
Jane L. Kanarek

Chapter 4. And No One Gave the Torah to the Priests: Reading the Mishnah’s References to the Priests and the Temple
Marjorie Lehman

Chapter 5. Talmud for Non-Rabbis: Teaching Graduate Students in the Academy
Gregg E. Gardner

Chapter 6. When Cultural Assumptions about Texts and Reading Fail: Teaching Talmud as Liberal Arts
Elizabeth Shanks Alexander

Chapter 7. Talmud in the Mouth: Oral Recitation and Repetition through the Ages and in Today’s Classroom
Jonathan S. Milgram

Chapter 8. Talmud that Works Your Heart: New Approaches to Reading
Sarra Lev

Postscript. What We Have Learned About Learning to Read Talmud
Jon A. Levisohn



The volume...contains valuable, practical ideas. It should be in academic libraries where Jewish Studies are taught, and in research centers that seek to enhance the value of creative thought.
— Fred Isaac, Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA, AJL Reviews (May/June 2017)
Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens is an invaluable resource for teachers, scholars, and laypeople wishing to experience at close range a rich variety of approaches to the study and teaching of the Talmud, Judaism’s foundational text. Jane Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman have gathered together an impressive group of distinguished scholars and master pedagogues who invite readers inside their classrooms. Readers can peer over their shoulders and observe their teaching methods first hand. Each chapter is a delight to read and is full to the brim with original insight. Nothing quite like this has ever before been attempted.
— Dr. Richard Kalmin, Theodore R. Racoosin Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary
This book is an invaluable treasure of experiences and insights about the teaching of Talmud in a variety of higher education settings, from the secular university to the yeshivah. The scholars in this volume reveal the intricacies of teaching newcomers and seasoned learners alike how to read Talmud. In this exciting and enlightening volume, we witness the future of Talmud pedagogy.
— Lee Shulman, Emeritus Professor of Education, Stanford University
This book makes a significant and exciting contribution to the field of teaching Talmud. Each of the articles is well written, thoughtful, and engaging. The authors ground their work in a rich body of scholarship on reflective practice in teaching and learning in general, as well as more specific literatures on the teaching of historical and rabbinic texts. This is a strong collection of articles that uncover the power of reflective practice in teaching. Indeed, as Jon Levisohn writes in his summation, the variety of pedagogies these instructors practice reveal a shared ‘culture of metacognition’ that is relevant to teachers of Talmud and those engaged in the teaching of primary texts in any field.
— Lisa D. Grant, Professor of Jewish Education, Hebrew Union College