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Continued from Page 30
was beginning to ask me ques- understand the Scripture as do
tions, and I found myself prepar- all other nations; you will be
ing for them in advance. I too like them." It was time to get a
had questions to ask. More and new set of books.
To my surprise, the Mintzers
more I was entering the lernen.
One evening, as the ray was remembered me. I asked to go to
reviewing the closing lines of the storeroom.
I walked down the narrow
the volume we had been study-
ing during all the time I had stairwell and into the cellar. At
been in the circle, something the bottom, I opened the door
happened that was to help me , and turned on the light. The
gain some of the assurance I smell of fresh bindings and
had been awaiting. The siyum, musty pages filled my nostrils.
the celebration of the end of a My eyes fell at once upon the
portion of our study, was at wall of Talmuds before me.
hand, and a kind of electricity Ready to scale it, I walked over
was in the air. We were com- to the shelf and ran my slid
pleting more than a book; we over the bindings. I
were turning a corner of our
lives. Rabbi Rotenbush read
aloud the wisdom of the great
sage Rabbi Yochanan:
"Anyone who grasps the
Torah without its mantle will be
buried without his mantle."
I had long since ceased dis-
missing opaque Talmudic dicta
as beyond my comprehension.
Words, phrases and ideas that
seemed unintelligible could be
penetrated. And when we man-
aged to interpret our way
through such a text, those were
the moments of highest intellec-
tual and emotional drama. They
were times during which all of
us seemed held close to the an-
There was a time I would
have had nothing to say, when I refresh the spirit
could not have brought myself
to speak for the Talmud. But with Talmud
that time was over, and now I
knew it. I plunged into the
commentary and excerpted it for
all of us: "The commentaries of
the Tosphot explain that he who
does not learn the Oral Tradi- hand from one shelf to another
tion will be buried by the dense until it stopped at the Steinsaltz
weight of Scripture." I thought editions.
Adin Steinsaltz was a young
for a moment of my attachment
to Scripture and how I was now Israeli who, like me, had once
ready to move beyond it. And confronted the world of lernen as
then I continued: "If we listen an outsider. Now he had mas-
only to the condensed words of tered it. Halfway between the
the written Torah, if we do not bes medresh and the university,
surround it with the mantle of he was capable of reviewing any
the Oral Tradition, if we do not volume of Talmud with all the
lern the Gemara, here shall we attachment of a pious Jew. Yet
be buried. We cannot com- he could also be asked, as he
prehend the full meanings of had been, to give the prestigious
each verse of the Bible, we can- Terry Lectures at Yale. With a
not fathom its depths without new edition of the text, he had
the light of the Talmud. With- found a way to enable modern
out it we are like the dead; you students to enter the immemo-
are as good as buried. That, rial, complex world of the Tal-
gentlemen, is what is meant mud. I piled the books into my
when Rabbi Yochanan says that arms and went uPstairs.
if we try to grasp the Torah
"I see you're getting set to do
without its mantle we shall be some serious studying," Mrs.
buried without our mantle."
Mintzer said as I paid her for
The room was silent. I turned the set of books. "That man has
opened up the Talmud for a
"Terrific!" Ian whispered to whole new generation of schol-
me in English.
ars. Now you will join them."
"A scholar," Shlomo said
As I left Mintzer's with my
chuckling, "he can tern."
books in a brown wrapper, I
made my way to Mea Shearim
On Thursday morning, I went and the Reicher's [religious ad-
back to Mintzer's [a scholar who visers to Heilman]. I hadn't seen
sold religious books from his them in a while and somehow a
home]. All the books I had visit now felt appropriate. Mrs.
selected there on my first visit Reichler greeted me warmly.
"Tea?" she asked. "I'm making
sat on my shelf, new and hardly
ever touched. They had made some anyway."
"Na?" Reb Yosef Moshe
my library grow. They were all
commentaries on the Bible and crinkled his eyes at me. It was
its contents. But I knew now his way of asking me to talk
that "if you have put on the about myself.
mantle of the Talmud, you will
"I've been to Mintzer's again."