Monday, September 15, 2014

Two women and the Talmud

CALDERON AND ANTON: Two articles have come up which highlight the recent contribution of two women to popular awareness of Talmudic and related themes. The first is a specialist with a PhD in Talmud, and also an Israeli politician. The second is a well-informed nonspecialist and author. Both have published well-received historical fiction inspired by the Talmud.

The first: How Ruth Calderon Transforms Israeli Politics — and Talmud. Ruth Calderon Gives Voice to Characters Who Have Been Excluded (Jay Michaelson, The Forward). Excerpt:
It was a surprise when Calderon was elected to the Knesset in 2012. She was 13th on a list (Yesh Atid) that was expected to win half a dozen. Yet it won 19, and there she was, one of us.

It was an even bigger surprise when Calderon’s inaugural speech, in February 2013, included a lesson in Talmud (Ketubot 62b, if you wanted to follow along). Most freshman politicians would have given the pat, expected talk, full of vague and lofty rhetoric. But this was Calderon as Calderon, wasting no time confounding expectations of what a member of Knesset could be.


Interestingly, her first book since this ascendancy is neither a cultural manifesto nor a political memoir; it’s a small collection of tales from the Talmud, clearly Calderon’s first (literary) love. Each excerpt is followed by an expansive retelling by Calderon, filling in the gaps in midrashic style, as well as favoring points of view different from those of the primary narrative. Also following is a reflection on the story from Calderon’s perspective.

For those unfamiliar with this mode of relating to Talmud — and that is, of course, 99% of the world — this slim anthology is an excellent introduction to the literary excavation of classic texts. Not in the scholarly sense; “A Bride for One Night” does not spend much time with the layers of authorship and editing that academics have discovered within the Talmud. Rather, Calderon’s is a literary-personal-philosophical-political project, reclaiming texts that had been kept semi-secret and finding within those texts personalities, voices and themes that are fully three-dimensional, and often heterodox.

The first time one makes this discovery, the thrill can be exhilarating. Many of us encounter Judaism as a set of inexplicable rules: do’s and don’ts, sits and stands. When I was immersed in Talmud study, this superficial Judaism seemed, indeed, like the thin, often dead skin atop a thriving organism. Calderon here focuses on Aggadic material — the narratives of the talmudic rabbis — rather than on the legal, halachic material. But for me, both were revelations, the polar opposite of the bland certitudes with which I had grown up.
More on MK Calderon and her book here and links.

The second: Scholar and bestselling author Maggie Anton to visit Pepper Pike's B'nai Jeshurum Congregation Nov. 3 (Kyla Price, Excerpt:
Bestselling author Maggie Anton, winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, weaves her tale of magic, love, and faith in her latest book, Enchantress. She will be visiting Pepper Pike Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. to give a presentation about her work at B'nai Jeshurum Congregation, located at 27501 Fairmount Blvd.

A religious history scholar with expertise in Jewish women's history, Anton spent numerous years studying ancient religious texts and artifacts to discover the role of magic in the ancient world.

Anton is the award-winning author of historical fiction series "Rashi's Daughters" and "Rav Hisda's Daughter." In addition, she is a Talmud scholar with expertise in Jewish women's history. She was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, Calif., where she still resides. Raised in a secular household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion.


Anton explained the difference between Enchantress and supernatural novels like Harry Potter, Witches of Eastwick, and the Twilight series is that the magic in those stories is clearly fictional. "I use actual, historical, spells and procedures from incantation bowls, amulets, magical instruction manuals, and the Talmud," Anton said.
More on Maggie Anton and her books is here and links.