Today I had my mid-summer diagnostic. I sat down across from the teacher of my talmud level. I read for her and translated a line of mishna (which is usually in relatively easy Hebrew), a line of Rashi (a prolific commentator, whose commentaries are often in easy Hebrew but are always written in a different script, such that some letters look completely different from conventional Hebrew orthography), and a line of gemara (at least nominally in Aramaic), all on the same topic. I didn't understand every word, but I understood most of them. Even if I couldn't quite figure out how all the words fit together (the talmud is written quite concisely and idiomatically, and missing one longer word might mean missing the whole meaning of a clause, or missing one shorter particle might mean missing the idiom that contextualizes the whole passage), I was still moving through. I was quite proud of myself!
After that, I asked her a bit about how I could actually continue learning talmud on my own after the summer, given that learning without a translation only seems viable in an environment where multiple talented teachers are wandering around waiting to be asked questions or hand you sheets with guiding questions. She promised to address that in class soon. But regardless of the answer, it's clear that I've gained some skills so far this summer.
Later in the afternoon, I went to a one-off session on tefillin, taught by 3 women and geared primarily toward the question of women wearing tefillin. (Even in egalitarian environments where women are permitted and even expected* to perform all of the rituals and fulfill all of the obligations that men are, tefillin still are worn significantly less by women than men. Much more so than many other rituals that women in Orthodox communities don't perform.) I really enjoyed the session in part because I like topics on practical halacha (Jewish law) and in part because I like talking about gender in general and Jewish gender egalitarianism in particular, but mainly because two of the three teachers are the two faculty members I've been friends with for about 10 years. It's so wonderful to be in this great learning environment with them, and even better that they're faculty and it's clear that I have so much to learn from these people close to me!
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