The Arty Semite

Out and About: Ashkelon's Adult Archeology Camp; Leonard Nimoy Lives Long and Prospers

By Ezra Glinter

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Reimagining the Talmud

By Aaron Roller

Earlier this week, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about the Jewish Austin Powers and the Jewish poetry conspiracy. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli

I knew something exciting was afoot when an e-mail from the poet Jake Marmer popped up in my inbox with the subject header, “Won’t you be my Tosafot?” Jake Marmer is a longtime editor with Mima’amakim who performs improvisatory jazz poetry with the hippest downtown avant gardists. The Tosfos were a group of Talmudic commentators centered mostly in medieval Provence whose work of dense and brilliant legal exposition is compiled in the margins of the Talmud. As many a teacher of Talmud might ask, “So, nu, what’s the connection?”

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Out and About: J.D. Salinger's Favorite Burger; Talmud in Italian

By Ezra Glinter

‘Composition with Mona Lisa’ by Kazimir Malevich, 1914
  • J.D. Salinger was a fan of Burger King, according to letters by the deceased author released today.

  • Forward contributor Sarah Wildman writes in Slate about the “Hitler and the Germans” exhibit at the German Historical Museum in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

  • Google has partnered with Yad Vashem to provide access to the museum’s documents and allow the public to fill in missing information.

  • Anne Applebaum writes about “The Way Back,” the first Hollywood film about the Soviet Gulag.

  • The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art is exhibiting a collection of Russian avant-garde paintings discovered in an “unclaimed shipping container in German customs.”

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30 Days, 30 Texts: 'Nine Talmudic Readings'

By Ari Weiss

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Ari Weiss writes about “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas.

I went book shopping during my first week of college in 1999. I had already bought the necessary books for my classes; my goal during this outing was to find new books and new ideas. Wandering through the aisles of the book store, I surprisingly came across a Talmud book in the philosophy section: “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas. In 14 years of day school and yeshiva education, I had not heard of this Talmudical philosopher (or, perhaps a philosopher of Talmud). In the 10 years since, these nine postmodern readings of the Talmud have been central in thinking about the world, justice and Judaism.

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30 Days, 30 Texts: The Talmud

By Adam Stein

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Adam Stein writes about the Talmud.

Is it cheating to name a huge, multi-volume work when asked to choose one book? Could one even refer to the Talmud as a “book” when, even in the extra-tiny print version on my bookshelf, it spans 20 volumes? Well, maybe it’s cheating, and maybe it’s not a book, but influential, bottomless, and foundational it is.

In rabbinical school, we all looked forward (with dread, that is) to something called the “daf exam.” An oral exam given by three professors, for which we prepared by learning and reviewing 50 pages (front and back) of Talmud over the course of a summer.

I spent that summer studying with several good friends in chevruta, study partners. Three hours with her, three hours with him, a few hours in a small group, and so on: seven, eight, nine hours a day.

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Polishing the Golden Rule

By Jerome Copulsky

The story goes that a certain heathen approached the Jewish sage Shammai and asked to be converted, on the condition that he is taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Indignant at receiving such a ludicrous request, Shammai chased the man away. Undeterred, the heathen then approached the sage Hillel with the same request. Hillel replied with what Jews regard as the golden rule: “That which is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s new book, “Hillel: If Not Now, When?” is a brisk, readable introduction to the life and teachings of Hillel the Elder, one of Judaism’s most revered sages. Not much is known about the historical Hillel, who lived from around 110 B.C.E. to 10 C.E. The outlines of his life are recounted in rabbinic sources, though many of the details belong to the realm of hagiography. (He is arguably best known today for his invention of the Passover “sandwich” that bears his name.)

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