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How to Read and Use The New Jerusalem Talmud

New Jerusalem Talmud pages are organized/ laid out as 'Dafs', or pages in a unique format guided by the structure of the ancient Jewish Talmud.

  • The middle column at the top starts with a list of the participants/ contributors ('Tanaim').
  • Then, near the top of the middle column in the biggest font, is the "Mishnah": a concise statement of the issue, problem, or controversy.
  • Below that is the "Gemara" or main discussion: distilled, brief phrases encapsulating the most outstanding points and central flow of the discussion.
    • This is not a simple article, summary, or standard text debate; rather, it is something that is probably new to you. The phrases have been chosen, through a lengthy editorial process, to be the essential bones of a deeper exploration of the issue. They require 'learning' rather than just reading: an engaged, often difficult, and ideally partnered ('hevruta') approach: two people sit with the 'daf' in front of them and attempt to understand why each piece was included, and to respond and reflect what they read. The discussion as printed is designed to be incomplete: it requires your participation, through this process of 'learning', to be fully fleshed out, hopefully in a way which provokes you as ''talmidim" to bring your own insights and depth to the issue.
  • To each side are columns- the second and fourth columns- in a slightly smaller font than the middle column.
    • These are 'Rashis' or background/ support/ documentation/ context.
    • They are loosely thematic, filled with the most salient side points, data, or well-established positions relating to the central topic.
    • There are often links to sources on the different sides or perspectives.
    • These can be essential to the discussion, yet are usually not 'chidushim' (original to this debate):
      • rather they are things-you-should-know to really grasp the full contextuality of the main discussion.
  • On the far right and far left are smaller columns with smaller font.
  • These are the 'tosefot' or tangents:
    • interesting and relevant side points,
    • directions for further exploration,
    • anecdotes,
    • and sources or noted thinkers or scholars whose work touches upon the main issue.
  • Once you have registered and logged in, you can join the discussion!
    • Click on 'add a comment to the discussion' in the central column if you want to respond directly to the main issue.
    • Click on 'your comment here' in any other column you would like to add your two cents.
    • Click on the '+' symbol at the end of any existing comment if you would like to respond to it directly.
    • Your comment will be moderated by our editorial staff and should appear shortly.
    • Rather than simply go down indefinitely in one text column like most blogs, your comment will appear where it is most relevant.

One 'learns' a 'daf' of the New Jerusalem Talmud by sitting down and facing the issue, with the page in front of you and a learning partner across from you.

  • The goal is to get beyond the simple polarizations and platitudes that so often define and limit our relationship with major issues.
  • Any real engagement with a major controversy requires nuance, context, and depth; if it was so simple, there would not be a debate at all.
  • There may be more than two sides.
  • There may be several levels of a controversy, levels of understanding it, levels of its impact on individuals, societies, and the planet.
  • Even when one side is outright WRONG about something, the simple fact that they exist necessitates an attempt to understand their perspective and priorities, in order to have a hope for conversation, communication, or accomodation or compromise (or better, ultimately: consensus).

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