Koren Publishers: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Gabriel: My name is Gabe Kretzmer-Seed, and I live in The Bronx in New York City with my wife Nina, a Jewish educator, and our one year old daughter. As the son of a rabbi, I moved around the US and Canada as a child, living in communities including Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Toronto. I earned BAs in American History from Columbia University, and in Talmud from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTSA), as well as MAs in Talmud and Jewish Education from JTSA. I also received semikhah (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2017, and have been working as a hospital chaplain and now as a rabbi/Jewish chaplain in jails since then. I also give informal shiurim, lead davening and read Torah often, and have worked as a research assistant for a number of Jewish Studies scholars.
Koren Publishers: How long have you been learning Gemara?
Gabriel: I began learning Gemara in Grade 10 at the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, and I still have so much gratitude for my first Gemara teacher Rabbi Yigal Gurvitz. I have since learned Talmud in many different settings including both academic and more traditional approaches.
Koren Publishers: Do you have a hevruta or do you learn by yourself?
Gabriel: I learn both on my own and in hevruta. Right now, I am learning mishnah with my wife a few times per week, as well as doing Daf Yomi and the 929 project (daily perek of Tanakh) each day.
Koren Publishers: Do you use the Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli? If so, how has it been helpful to you?
Gabriel: While I have used the Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary on the Talmud for learning in the past, the availability of the Noé Edition Koren Talmud in English in PDF format was instrumental in my decision to start Daf Yomi this past August. For a long time, I had thought: “I will never be able to do Daf Yomi. I just don’t have the time!” A few months back, I had the idea to give Daf Yomi a shot. I felt like I didn’t have enough Gemara learning in my life at the moment (despite teaching Torah professionally), and thought it was worth giving it a shot. I had been gifted the The Steinsaltz Talmud Bavli – Pesahim a while back, which I had loved learning from and which I made a siyyum on a few years back. Thus I thought that with this amazing translation/commentary, I would be able to give it a shot of fitting Daf Yomi into my life. Since I’m on the go a lot and am just about out of shelf space (a lot of it taken up by Koren books already), I have been using the PDF edition, learning on the computer or an iPad during the week and printing out the daf for Shabbat and Yom Tov. While I had originally planned on starting Daf Yomi with the new cycle in January, after talking with some friends and acquaintances already “in the game,” the consensus was that I should dive in as soon as possible. I began with Keritot in August and am managing to keep up thus far and am loving the experience.
Koren Publishers: What do you enjoy about learning Talmud?
Gabriel: I love the challenge of wrapping my head around all of the language and concepts in the Gemara. Since the Talmud is really the basis for so much of later Jewish law and thought, I find that the more Talmud I learn, the better I understand the halakhic process and the rabbinic mind. It is also amazing how relevant even the “less practical” masekhtot in Kodashim can be. I found myself quoting and teaching Keritot in 3 different shiurim over the past few weeks connected to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. With learning Daf Yomi in particular, I love the feeling of being part of a larger project with tens of thousands of Jews around the world (even if I am primarily learning on my own), the challenge and satisfaction of keeping up with daily learning, and being exposed to parts of the Talmud I might not have ended up learning otherwise.
Koren Publishers: Can you tell us more about your work as a chaplain?
Gabriel: As a Jewish chaplain for incarcerated individuals, I have the unique opportunity to ensure that Jews who find themselves incarcerated are able to observe in the way that they wish, and at the same time exposing those who are exploring Judaism for the first time to our texts and traditions. I teach classes combined with some tefillah and singing five times each week in 3 different jails, on topics such as parashat hashavua, Hebrew reading, holidays and Pirkei Avot. The Koren Talmud translation on Sefaria has been invaluable in creating my source sheets, among other online resources. Since I have no budget for acquiring Jewish books to the individuals I serve, I am grateful to the many individuals and organizations who have sent me books and sefarim to distribute. I am especially grateful to Koren Publishers for donating 65 Hebrew English Jerusalem Bibles which had slight blemishes making them unable to be sold but which were perfect for those thirsting for Jewish knowledge and study.