Saturday, November 20, 2010

“A peacock without feathers is like a very unappealing, big chicken,” he said, adding, “There are a lot of people like that.”- Rabbi Steinsaltz

Aleph Art box by marguerita

The original Talmud, written in a mixture of old Hebrew and Aramaic, is all about learning.

The act of learning, according to the rabbi, is the “central pillar” or “backbone” of Judaism — what connects Jews with the Almighty above, with their roots below and with one another.

“This book is essential for our existence,” Rabbi Steinsaltz said.

The Talmud, a compilation and analysis of oral Jewish law and ethics governing everything from marital relations to agriculture, is written as a flowing rabbinic discourse. Though the terms are archaic, many say the Talmud contains founding principles that can still be applied today. But its condensed and obscure style made it largely incomprehensible to all but serious scholars.

By adding vowel markings and punctuation to the ancient text, a modern Hebrew translation that fills in gaps, and contemporary interpretations, the Steinsaltz edition aims to make the Talmud accessible to everyone.

Rabbi Steinsaltz, a diminutive man with straggly hair and an unruly white beard tinged yellow after decades of smoking a pipe, is widely considered one of the most brilliant Jewish scholars of his age.

He was born into what he described as a “not especially religious home”; his father was a Zionist socialist who volunteered in the international brigades in Spain. The rabbi says his religious belief developed gradually in his teens.

“By nature I am a skeptical person, and people with a lot of skepticism start to question atheism,” he said.

His father sent him to a Talmud tutor at the age of 10 so that he would not grow up an “ignoramus.” Later, in college, he specialized in mathematics and physics. As a result, the rabbi has an unusual ability to move easily between different worlds — secular and sacred, scientific and spiritual, earthly and divine.

Though born sickly, Rabbi Steinsaltz has long compensated for the limitations of the human condition with intellectual and metaphysical flights. Among his most popular works is “The Thirteen Petalled Rose,” a journey into Jewish mysticism that he described as “a book for the soul.”

Asking questions, he said, is both the secret of science and the essence of the Talmud, the dialectic forming the character of the Jewish people.

He leads Shefa, an umbrella organization for all his activities and educational institutions, including schools, seminaries and less formal centers of learning for men and women. Rabbi Even Yisrael is the executive director of Shefa, which has a United States affiliate, the Aleph Society.

Known as a sharp social critic, Rabbi Steinsaltz seems to have lost none of his bite. He has little patience for vanity or pretense, and says he admires the unsparing honesty and curiosity of small children, finding them more inspiring than some adult members of the species.

He is also fond of animals and spent time at the zoo, where he says he discovered how a peacock looks “undressed.”

“A peacock without feathers is like a very unappealing, big chicken,” he said, adding, “There are a lot of people like that.”

P.S. I would say out of close observation that besides the peacock, Rabbi Steinsaltz observes, I got my own duck, mazeltov.....

Marguerita Bornstein, a descendant of the rabbinical dynasty of Akiva Eger,from Toledo,in Spain .

No comments: