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Fall 2019 Course D. The Talmud’s Greatest Hits

Alumnae Continuing Education
Norris University Center

Course D. The Talmud’s Greatest Hits

Thursdays, 12:45-2:45 p.m.

Instructor: Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, Associate Professor, Religious Studies and Law

This course meets on Thursday afternoons beginning on September 26th.

There will be no class on October 24th and November 28th.

A reader for this course will be available for sale at the first class.

The lectures are as follows:

Sep. 26 The Talmud and History

As a central and ancient canonical text of Judaism, the Babylonian Talmud seems timeless. Our opening class will develop the historical context for understanding when and how this amazing work of literature came into being. An overview of the Talmud’s religious, political, and cultural backstory will be contrasted with the history the rabbis of the Talmud tell in the Talmud about themselves.

Suggested Reading, Wimpfheimer, The Talmud: A Biography, Chapter 1 (pp. 9-40)

Oct. 3 The Talmud as Literature

In this session we turn towards the Talmud’s unique features as a text. Talmud is a genre of literature all its own, and we’ll see how it incorporates and transcends various forms of literature that precede it. The Talmud is remarkable both for the way in which its text embodies real life dialogues and for the way it routinely refuses to resolve ambiguities and open questions.

Oct. 10 Holy Men and Wonder Workers: Honi the circle drawer

The rabbis who produced the Talmud left behind many stories both about members of their own society and about religious figures from the centuries that preceded theirs. These stories dovetail with the picture of religious life we can piece together from the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, an archive of Jewish religious documents from those prior centuries.

Suggested Reading, Mishnah Ta’anit 3:8 and Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 19a; 23a

Oct. 17 Law and Narrative:

One of the most lasting distinctions within the study of the Talmud divides the corpus of the Talmud into two types of text: the legal and the non-legal (often narrative). This division has implications for Judaism as a religion and culture that are palpable down to the present.

Suggested Reading, H. N. Bialik, Law and Legend

Oct. 24 NO CLASS

Oct. 31 Classic Talmudic Law: Finders keepers?

The Talmud is chock full of dialogues between rabbis from different generations about complex and often minute matters of law. This class will examine one of the most famous classical legal discussions— the case of the lost object and the rituals and legal ideas regarding possession and loss that determine how and when an object is considered ownerless and available.

Suggested Readings, Chaya Halberstam, Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature Chaper 2 pp. 42-75.

Nov. 7 Classic Talmudic Dialogues About Theology: Beginning of ‘Abodah Zarah

Though the Talmud’s legal dialogues are arguably its most famous subgenre, there are dialogues around other types of issues including religious thought or theology. The opening of Talmud Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah (Idolatry) contains a dialogue about a fundamental (and by today’s standards problematic) theological notion that the Jews have a special status among the nations of the world because they alone observed the requirements of the Bible.

Suggested Readings: Jeffrey, Rubenstein, Talmudic Stories Chapter 7 pp.212-241.

Nov. 14 Talmudic Stories

The Talmud’s stories were once shameful to scholars because they often describe supernatural or highly unlikely occurrences. Today scholars have embraced these stories as the high artistic canon of the rabbis. The most famous Talmudic story is titled The Oven of Akhnai because its setting is a study hall debate about the purity status of a special oven. The legal particulars are not what makes the story fascinating. In this story the rabbis literally outvote God and establish their unqualified authority over the tradition.

Suggested Readings: Jeffrey Rubenstein, Rabbinic Stories Chapter 9 pp. 80-84.

Nov. 21 Jesus in the Talmud

In addition to the life it has led between the pages, the Talmud has been a bone of contention in world history. In 1240 a disputation was held in Paris in which the Talmud was tried, convicted and executed (24 cartloads of handwritten manuscripts were burned) for its antisocial and anti-Christian content. The anti-Christian content focused on the Talmudic passages that discuss Jesus. We will examine these materials and evaluate whether and to what extent the Talmud is an anti-Christian book.

Suggested Reading: Benjamin Balint, “Talmudic Jesus” First Things June 2007.

Nov. 28 NO CLASS, Thanksgiving

Dec. 5 Ethics and Hermeneutics

One of the Talmud’s remarkable features is its hermeneutic density: the way that it is so explicitly engaged in interpretation—of the Bible, of earlier rabbis by later rabbis, etc. The rabbis who produced this document were remarkably capable intellectuals who balanced admiration for the tradition with their own ethical sensibilities. We will examine in this class how the rabbis dealt with the challenge of one of the Bible’s most disturbing legal case scenarios, Deuteronomy’s case of the stoning of the rebellious son.

Suggested Reading: Moshe Halbertal, “Halakhah and Morality: The Case of the Apostate City” in S’vara 3:1 (1993), pp.67-72.

Parking permit may be requested from this website.

See the event listed as Fall 2019 Parking - Optional

Information is subject to change. Full course and policy descriptions are available at

Course Pricing

One nine-week course $190.00

Discounts for Multiple Registrations for an Individual

Individuals who register for multiple courses may receive discounts on each additional course after the first:

To register for two nine-week courses at the special price of $355.00, select the 2-Course Package.

To register for three nine-week courses at the special price of $520.00, select the 3-Course Package.

To register for four nine-week courses at the special price of $685.00, select the 4-Course Package.

Your email confirmation from Norris Box Office verifies your registration but it is not your entry to class. Be sure to bring your class entry card to each class as it must be shown to the proctors at the entry door. In order to guarantee seating for registered students, those without their card will be given a temporary entry card, but ONE time only. After that one time, a replacement card will be provided at a fee of $30.00.

Refund Policy: Before a refund can be issued, your course card must be returned and the cancellation fee must be purchased on this website. Send your entry card to Alumnae Continuing Education, P.O. Box 2789, Glenview, IL 60025.

Applicable Fees and Withdrawal Schedule:
If the withdrawal request is received prior to the first class, the refund of the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases a $10.00 cancellation processing fee.

If the withdrawal request is received after the first class, but before the second class, the refund of the the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases both the $10.00 cancellation processing fee and the $30.00 per diem fee, per course dropped.

If the withdrawal request is received after the second class, but before the third class, the refund of the original registration will be initiated only after the registrant purchases the $10.00 cancellation processing fee and $60.00 in per diem fees, per course dropped.

  • No refunds will be given after the second class.
  • Credits are not given for future classes.
  • A transfer at no cost to another class offered during the same quarter is an option provided there is space available.
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Online ticket sales ended on 10/8/2019 at 12:45 PM (CT)