Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.
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The Order of Things

The reasoning behind the Talmud’s categories and sub-categories isn’t always apparent. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ the Talmud wonders about its own organization.

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To Flog or Not to Flog

Which sinners are to taste the lash, how many strokes of it, in what circumstances, with what intention, and as just punishment in which cases, and with what exceptions: As always, the Talmud leaves no contingency unaccounted for

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Accident or Crime?

How studying Torah could kill a child, and other lessons in involuntary manslaughter from this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study

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Smoke in the Air

In the ‘cosmic and frightening’ Sapir Prize-winning The Ruined House, by Israeli expatriate Ruby Namdar, the secular modern world and the ancient divine mysteries coexist

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On Bearing False Witness

Talmudic rabbis debate what’s to be done with the liars who help hide crimes—and who to believe in such cases—in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’

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Peeking Into the World to Come

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic rabbis delve into the practical questions around the Jewish afterlife. Like: will it be here on Earth? Will the Messiah be there, or will we be led there by his arrival? And what does redemption look like? Also, is the food kosher there?

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The Talmud and the Thought Police

‘Daf Yomi’: Do heretical Jewish thinkers have a say in the World to Come?

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Rebellious Elders

Daf Yomi: Why heresy is rare in Talmudic law, where judicial dissent and tiered courts institutionalized freedom of thought

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Are Jews Exempt from Capital Punishment?

Talmudic rabbis’ lenient interpretation of Biblical laws made the death penalty difficult to impose, even in cases where murder was clearly the intent

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Put to Death For Crimes Yet to Be Committed

‘Daf Yomi’: The odd case of preemptive punishment highlights Talmudic rabbis’ generous interpretation of the Torah’s unenforceable laws

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False Idols

Talmudic rabbis disagree on whether the action or the intention of veneration or protest is more important. Plus: Is magic holy?

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The Anti-Semite Can Cite Talmud for His Purpose

Taken out of context, ancient Rabbinic laws—such as those on capital punishment discussed in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ study—can attract the attention of those who hate us

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The Jew as Pariah

Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian’s 1934 autobiographical novel ‘For Two Thousand Years’ remains a classic document of 20th-century Jewish history

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On Capital Punishment

Talmudic rabbis pondered the most fundamental ethical questions—including the value of human life—in debating death sentences by hanging or stoning

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Surprise, Discovery, Ritual, Meaning, and Wonder

Five years into the seven-year ‘Daf Yomi’ cycle of Talmud study, our columnist pauses to reflect on what the ancient text has taught him about being Jewish today

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Lest Ye Be Judged

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ how Talmudic rabbis carried the life-or-death burden of sitting in judgment of others

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Reading Torah Against the Grain

Daf Yomi: Do Talmudic rabbis seek justification for givens by retrofitting biblical text to their needs? The case of the Sanhedrin courts.

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Follow the Money

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ tough-minded and practical wisdom on financial transactions from the ancient rabbis

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The Art of Forgery

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the rabbis attempt to imagine every possible way to alter a legal document, and a coinciding method to thwart each of them

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What Happens When a Dying Man Doesn’t Die

A question of morals for a loopy Coen-brothers script, in this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study

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How a Cucumber Decides Whether a Son Inherits Over a Donkey

With surprising analogous thinking, ancient Talmudic sages tackled very modern questions—by accident or foresight, depending on how liberal your views—of transgender rights, the rights of unborn fetuses, women’s rights, and wealth distribution

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An Old Jew Is on His Deathbed, and Says to His Son…

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ what’s right—and what’s legal—in matters of inheritance

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The Inheritance

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ one sage overrules the consensus, and men may dispose of their wealth upon their deathbeds at will

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The Talmud’s Hot Tub Time Machine

How Moses could know how his people’s story would end before it was even written is in keeping with the spirit of ‘Daf Yomi’

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Taking a ‘Sharp Knife’ to the Talmud

Daf Yomi: Interpreters of ancient Jewish law ‘often give the impression of doing whatever needs to be done to make the Bible mean what they want it to mean’

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Terms of Service

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ why the law is in the details

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Caveat Emptor

In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi,’ Talmudic sages ask what it is safe to assume in matters of transactions within the law, and what must be specifically proven

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When You Buy a Cow (or a Boat) What Do You Get From the Seller? When Is It Yours? And What Really Is a Cow Anyway?

This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study goes straight to the essence of the matter. Plus, ‘fish tales’ and 750-mile-high waves.

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Going to Lvov

Polish poet and essayist Adam Zagajewski’s extravagant and miraculous new collection, ‘Slight Exaggeration,’ takes on banality and vulgarity through elegant art

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The Art of the Deal

Talmudic rabbis regulated real estate transactions based on biblical principles of ownership and centuries of experience of the practicalities of Jewish life

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