On this edition of “Learning The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli with…” we meet Rabbi Alon Meltzer of Sydney, Australia. Alon is a rabbi at a local synagogue and Program Director at Shalom.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am originally from Auckland, New Zealand. I grew up in a Modern Orthodox family without a great deal of text based knowledge. I went to the local Jewish day school (the only one in Auckland) and from around 3 years old wanted to be a Rabbi. When I started learning for my Bar Mitzvah I started to take on a chavrutah of Rashi with the Rebbetzin, and then I would later join the Shabbat afternoon Gemara learning (there was learning, but it was also a lot of schmoozing). I spent time after high school in a small Yeshivah in Har Nof, Jerusalem, but it wasn’t until preparing to go to RIETS at Yeshiva University that I jumped into the deep end. I am now a Rabbi in Sydney, Australia, at a shul called Or Chadash, and I am the Director of Programs at a Not For Profit called Shalom, which runs social and educational programming.
How long have you been learning Gemara?
I first held a daf of Gemara during a small stint at a school in Melbourne at age 11, and then picked up another one at around age 14. I remember being given the section that I had to learn for my entrance examination to Yeshiva University – I spent hours pouring over it, often in the middle of the night after full time work and writing a MA thesis. I was nervous and excited to explore these ancient texts in earnest and that excitement lent itself over the next few years. My first year at Yeshiva University we learnt the tractate of Pesachim, and then we were exploring Yevamot, and by the end of the second year I decided to take up Daf Yomi. I didn’t think I would finish all of the Talmud, but I wanted to try. Seven and a half years later, I was sitting on my couch, learning the last Daf with tears running down my face as I realised that this little kid from NZ with no background in texts, has just finished learning all of the Talmud. What a journey over the past seven and a half years it has been.
Do you have a chavruta or do you learn by yourself?
I started learning Berakhot with two people; my neighbour and my three month old. By the end of Berakhot my neighbour decided Daf Yomi wasn’t for him, and my daughter kept learning with me until she started daycare. Since then I have been learning by myself. Often times I will share tidbits with colleagues and my community, but for the most part I have been riding solo.
Do you use The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli? If so, how has it been helpful to you?
The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli has been an incredible tool in my journey of learning through shas. As both a Rabbi and academic I have found the edition to be insightful. It is a truly a shas for Modern Orthodoxy as it allows for the synthesis of full Jewish learning while also realising that this text is not in a vacuum, but rather relies on worldly knowledge, science, language and nuance.
What do you enjoy about learning Talmud?
I love opening up the Gemara and realising that I am having a conversation with two thousand year old personalities, and that it is truly a conversation. Daf Yomi was hard, and I had said that I wasn’t going to do it again, no matter that it was incredibly rewarding. The first day of the cycle came and went, on the second day I was waiting for an electrician, and I felt something lacking, so I picked up Berakhot and over the next hour and a half learnt the first two daf. Now I have started an Instagram feed @insta_talmud to document the journey the second time around with a modern insight into each daf.
What is your dream for your children?
I’m a recently single, primary carer of three daughters, and I want nothing more than to start learning with each one of them in their own time. It won’t be easy, but I want them to feel like they are part of the continued story of our sages, of that beautiful tradition that we have, passed down, generation to generation. Torah learning for women is thriving, and I want my daughters to be part of that rich tapestry.