Adam Kirsch is a contributing editor for Tablet Magazine and the author of Benjamin Disraeli, a biography in the Nextbook Press Jewish Encounters book series.
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In the Talmud’s Timeless Laws, a Vast Temple of the Mind

Long after the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, Talmudic rabbis kept it alive in their imaginations, and ours

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How the Talmud Maps Behavior by Exploring Definitions, Not Listing Rules

Daf Yomi: The rabbis examined practical dimensions of deep questions, including those raised around saliva, urine, and sex

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Robert Alter Wants Us To Think More Seriously About the Bible as Literature

The scholar, critic, and masterful translator remains dedicated to uncovering the full subtlety and intelligence of the stories in sacred texts

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Why the Talmud Draws Imaginary Lines All Around Us—and Over Our Heads

Daf Yomi: Our literary critic ambles over rooftops, ruins, and ships, in search of meaning in Jewish commentary

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The Talmud Paints a Vivid Picture of Jewish Family Life in This Week’s Daf Yomi

Daf Yomi: Our literary critic discovers more rules on male authority, Shabbat meals, and how the rabbis thought about wealth

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The Mythmakers

Rachel Kushner’s new novel The Flamethrowers is overly cool and stylish. So, why do the critics swoon for her?

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Who Can Follow These Rules?

This week’s Talmud reading prompts strikingly contemporary questions about observance and belief

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The Irrelevance of Pleasure

As the rabbis remind us again this week, the law is the law—whether it pleases you or not

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Nathaniel Rich’s Apocalypse

The New York of the young novelist’s vividly imagined Odds Against Tomorrow looks an awful lot like us

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You Only Live Once

The Talmudic rabbis saw the world as a wedding—a place of charity and pleasures to be enjoyed while it lasts

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The Talmud’s Absolute Value

Through reasoning, the rabbis brought all of natural creation under the rule of law

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Monster Mash

Helene Wecker’s new The Golem and the Jinni reads like When Harry Met Sally, if Harry and Sally were beasts

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When Messiah Is an Afterthought

The Talmud’s pragmatism and wonder meet in a technical problem about the height of a boundary line

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Crossing the Line

By avoiding authoritative rulings in favor of nuanced debate with the ideas of the past, the Oral Law refuses to simplify

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Crimson-Blooded Americans

In André Aciman’s new Harvard Square, an Egyptian-born Jew and a Tunisian Muslim meet their limits

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Are Truffles Food?

As our Talmud column returns, debates over Oral Law range from the existential to the mundane

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A.B. Yehoshua’s Many Ghosts

The writer’s new novel, The Retrospective, is a surreal study of the contested sources of Israeli identity

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Navigating the Talmud’s Alleys

The range of problems and the variety of answers in the study of Oral Law lead to new pathways of reasoning

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Written in the Stars (Or Not)

To overcome fated lives, the Talmud’s rabbis argued, perform virtuous acts according to Torah

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Leave the Jewish People Alone

Rabbis left enforcement of their Talmudic decrees to communal standards and voluntary commitment

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Ancient Laws for Modern Times

When is a tent just a tent and not like a bed or a hat? To update Jewish laws, the rabbis reasoned by analogy.

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Elements of Stille

Alexander Stille never stopped investigating his parents, as shown by his new memoir about his World War II heritage

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Birth Right

You wouldn’t expect that the tractate on Shabbat would be the place to discuss circumcision. You’d be wrong.

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A World Without Jews

An exhilarating new intellectual history argues that anti-Judaism is at the heart of Western culture

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Can’t Touch This

Talmudic rabbis debate the reach of permissions and prohibitions, and Jews are rewarded for virtuous behavior

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Surrender or Die

A gripping new history of Flavius Josephus portrays a Roman Jewish writer forever wrestling with his identity

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Queen for a Day

The rabbis who reasoned about the day of rest also celebrated it. Plus: The Talmud on iPad and in translation.

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Are Books All We Have Left?

A masterful encyclopedia sums up our history and culture but raises the question of where Jewishness lies today

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Rabbinic Mind Games

Lionizing those who perform feats of memory and logic, who reason strictly from premise to conclusion

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Things Broken and Repaired

In this week’s page of Talmud, the rabbis show their skill at making distinctions between obligation and acting out