The Story Of The Talmud


0120130717In the first of two programmes, Rabbi Naftali Brawer delves into one of the greatest books ever written which holds the key to unlocking Jewish thinking and history. Traveling to Jerusalem, he gains rare access to one of the world leading ultra-orthodox yeshivas - the Mir. Here he finds young men who will study these ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, full time, for anything up to 30 or 40 years. They explain how arguing and debate are the ways to understand the ancient wisdom of the rabbis that have contributed to the Talmud though the ages and still telling you everything you need to know to be a Jew today. The Talmud is not about the arrival but the journey and it's less about about finding answers than discovering what the questions are.

Tracing the history of the Talmud, Rabbi Naftali heads to the Galilee to the archaeological site of Beit She'arim, the remains of an ancient city, where shortly after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the first words of this book were written down. He discovers that the Talmud was an audacious project defying one of the key Jewish laws which forbade writing down the Oral Laws of Moses. Its creation was deemed necessary in order to preserve Jewish culture and practice which, at this time, was facing extinction.

In the course of this programme, Rabbi Naftali meets some of the greatest Jewish minds and scholars in the world today: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, described by Time Magazine as a 'one in a millennium scholar', who has published his own edition of the Talmud to Gila Fine - one of the growing number of female orthodox academics working with the Talmud.

The programme ends with a moving story from leading Talmudic scholar and holocaust survivor, David Weiss Halivni, who explains how the Talmud sustained him in the concentration camps.

Produced by Mark O'Brien.

02 LAST20130724In the second of two programmes, Rabbi Naftali Brawer delves into one of the greatest books ever written which holds the key to unlocking Jewish thinking and history. Far from being an ancient text written in Hebrew and Aramaic, Naftali discovers that today, in orthodox circles, the Talmud is causing a Jewish revolution.

He encounters commuters on a train in New York who hold Talmud classes in the last carriage every morning on their way to work. They claim the wisdom of the Talmud informs the decisions they make in business, finance, law and everyday social matters. He discovers that the Chinese and South Koreans have an obsession with the Talmud, thinking it will give them business and financial success. There is even a Talmud hotel in Taiwan. Talking to one of the Jewish world's leading medical ethicists, Naftali hears how the Talmud informs medical decisions from start and end of life matters to genetic research.

Whilst in Jerusalem, Rabbi Naftali finds a twist in the tale of the Talmud. Previously being denied access to the Talmud, a growing number of women are now learning and teaching its ancient texts and wisdom. This in turn is bringing a challenge to orthodox male interpretation and hegemony. Despite being the Jewish Homeland, Israel is facing deep political schisms, financial crises and riots over the determination of the ultra-orthodox community to study the Talmud, and its related literature, rather than enter the employment market and take part in National Service. Talking to Knesset Member Ruth Calderon and ultra-orthodox students from one of Jerusalem's leading yeshivas, Rabbi Naftali encounters the intractable nature of this argument which is threatening the current Israeli coalition government.

Producer: Mark O'Brien.