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Is the People’s Talmud also original art?

The Jerusalem Biennale invited the People’s Talmud to exhibit as part of this year’s festival. The People’s Talmud was an installation of simply a key board and screen linked to our website. The idea was to have the keyboard sit on a “shtender”, the classic book support from the yeshiva world. The “shtender” is where the Talmud was placed. Putting the keyboard on the “shtender” is placing the digital People’s Talmud in that place.


The project’s curator wrote to the People’s Talmud:

"Dear Gedaliah,


I want to thank you for agreeing to include The People’s Talmud in the Not in Heaven exhibition. The Not in Heaven exhibition is part of the larger Jerusalem Biennale, currently in its fourth season, and has attracted many visitors since opening on October 15.


As you know, my goal as curator of this art exhibit was to expose artists and designers to the riches of Talmudic literature. I used the famous “Oven of Akhnai” story as a starting point and was very gratified by the artists’ visual responses to it. The People’s Talmud offered another interesting portal into this corpus of Jewish learning, and in every way The People’s Talmud met the criteria for a true “work-of-art.” Even when you were not there to add your special luster to the presentation, viewers of every stripe explored the site fully and managed to negotiate it easily. The wonderful graphics (each one a treasure) and the engaging texts delighted both young and old, those schooled in Talmud and those exposed for the first time, artists and lay people.


Many thanks for adding your special approach to life and Torah learning to this exhibition.

It was a great enhancement. I look forward to seeing the site continue to develop.


And then they presented the exhibition with this poster:

Just as a canvas is a portal for the painter to enter into the imaginative space within and beyond the picture plane, so The People’s Talmud is a technological point of entry for those curious to enter the landscape of the Talmud. With modern, intelligible translations available worldwide, the Talmud is no longer a closed book, accessible only to those with a highly developed skill-set acquired over time and by those well-versed in Aramaic. Nonetheless, access to specific subject matter is not easy considering that the discussions in the Talmud are highly associative. The dispute about whether the Oven of Akhnai is pure or impure is brought up in another context altogether, the matter of hurtful words. To enter this landscape as it spreads out in its 2,711 folio pages is to undertake a lifelong trek, as opposed to going on an excursion that requires no specialized equipment or fitness level.


Gedaliah Gurfein, a high-tech entrepreneur, rabbi, teacher and lifelong student of Talmud, sought to provide the Talmud with a user-friendly search engine to allow anyone to access the riches hidden inside it. For over 30 years he combed through the Talmud extracting close to 8,000 concepts, subject and category listings. From the digestive calamities caused by undercooked turnips to trapping mice, to times when white lies are permissible, the Talmud’s web of Insights encompasses everything from the natural world to deep philosophical discussions. Each of these Talmudic concepts has been rewritten into a modern narrative, with links to relevant content from a wide variety of sources. As such the People’s Talmud is not a literal translation, but rather a new and engaging narration loyal to the Sages’ original intent.




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