Finding a Talmudic Theory of Jewish Practice

Alex Braver, over at the Sh’ma Blog, has written an excellent article on the opening Mishna in the Talmudic tractate, Brachot, titled: “From When Do We Recite Sh’ma in the Evening?: Finding a Talmudic Theory of Jewish Practice.” The title is based on the opening question posed in the Mishna about the proper recitation of the Shema.

Braver introduces the opening Mishna with some technical questions, notes the assumptions expected in Talmudic study, and then arrives at spiritual lessons one can learn from the technical discussion. This is an approach to Talmudic study I wish more Messianic Jews were able to experience and appreciate.

Over time I have been developing my own love and admiration for the intricate conversation of the Talmud, its details, and it development. It is a very difficult body of texts that requires a mastery of its nuances, language, and conversation before you can really begin to understand and appreciate it. One cannot just read a book about the Talmud. Yes … that is how many of us were first introduced to it. But like with anything, one must become acquainted with its technicalities to really understand it. The difficulty of Talmud study is that it is not like reading any other book. You cannot just pick it up and read it like a work of fiction. It is a method that must be learned. But when one does, it opens a new technical world.

Let me be clear that I am not claiming to have mastered learning Gemara. I am simply on a journey like many of you.

The Talmud is a collection of complex conversations between individuals and generations that was eventually codified over time. So it is in a way, like listening in and participating in any other sort of conversation. There are things you will agree with, things you will not, and others that will just challenge you! But the only way to understand it is to participate in the conversation! You must add your own voice to the dialog.

I encourage you to read Braver’s article. Hopefully you too will appreciate his interpretation and the spiritual lessons gleaned from the text. And my challenge to each one of us is to learn to swim in the conversation. To dig deeper and learn to truly appreciate the voices of our people embodied in the pages of Jewish texts, as Braver so nicely does in his blog post.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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7 Responses to Finding a Talmudic Theory of Jewish Practice

  1. Joshua says:

    It is my dream to see the messianic Jewish world full of people participating in Talmudic study. To some it may seem an odd dream, but it makes me so excited just to think about it.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      It is also my dream as well to see a mature form of Messianic Judaism that is able to engage in the discussion of Jewish texts and be able to contribute our unique voice to the ongoing discussion.

  2. James says:

    The Messianic world would have to focus more on being a traditional Judaism and particularly, the Gentile participants would have to support this. Most Messianic congregations are pretty much just Christianity with Jewish window dressing and their members would run for the hills if anyone suggested starting a beginning Talmud study.

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      The points you note are part of what has held us back. IMHO the future of Messianic Judaism and the only possibility for generational continuity of Jewish believers in Yeshua is in fact a greater commitment to Jewish spiritual and ritual life.

      • James says:

        No argument here.

      • We have had discussion about this in the past. A few years back, I was actually rebuked by one of the leaders in our group for talking too much about the Talmud in our studies. I think the conditions for allowing for some serious Talmudic studies within Messianic Judaism are just beginning to show, at least here. I believe the people with whom I worship are becoming more intrigued about the “sea of Talmud” than in times past. I would love to see this movement commit to a serious study of rabbinic sources, particularly the Mishnah & Talmud, rather than using the Cliff Notes version and believing we really know what we’re talking about.

      • This article also comes at a particularly timely moment, as last week I committed to learning Tractate Berachot in memory of the passing of a friend.

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