Book Review: Learning to Read Talmud: What it Looks Like and How it Happens edited by Jane L. Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman


Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 85:3, 334-336.


Learning to Read Talmud is one of the most recent attempts to think about what it means to teach a challenging ancient text to contemporary students. The book offers the serious educator a window into the minds of eight Talmud instructors, each of whom is wrestling with ways to help students make sense and meaning of the Talmud.

In their introduction, the editors, Jane Kanarek and Marjorie Lehman, contextualize their work and that of their colleagues. They note the expansion of the settings in which Talmud is taught, and the many audiences for Talmud study. The settings include secular universities where students may have no assumptions about the nature of the Talmud, or may have assumptions vastly different from those of more traditional learners. This has led to deeper conversations among academics about “how teachers teach their students to read and how students learn to read the Talmud” (p. viii). The book focuses on three questions: (1) What does it mean for students to learn to read Talmud? (2) How do we, as teachers, help them learn to read? (3) What does learning to read look like when it happens? (ix). The eight contributors to the book teach in a variety of settings to a variety of learners; what unites them is a commitment to reflective teaching practices.

Learning to Read Talmud is a treasure trove for teachers of Talmud, regardless of their audience or setting. Whether a teacher is looking for a new way to think about shaping study guides or in-class reading, struggling to convey Talmud in translation, or wondering how to address the ethical or structural complexity of a given sugya, this book offers new ways to think about the craft. The theme that runs through most of the essays in this book – that as Talmud teachers we strive to make accessible that which is unfamiliar and to make what the students see as familiar more complicated – applies to our pedagogy as well as the experience of our students. The reflective practice of the contributors to this book should inspire every teacher of Talmud, if not every teacher, to be open to rethinking how she approaches her work.

Read the entire review at JJE.

Updated: Oct. 03, 2019