On this segment of “Learning the Noé Edition Koren Talmud with…” we meet Malka Zeefe of the Washington DC area.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am 41, a mom of two young boys, a lawyer, and a co-founder of a patient advocacy organization championing postpartum pelvic health. My father is a conservative rabbi and my mother has always experienced Judaism with admirable joy and connection from when she was a child. For a long time I considered becoming a rabbi myself, but while I ultimately decided against it, I continue to process much of life through the lens of Judaism.
How long have you been learning Gemara?
If we leave aside a 3rd grade project on Rashi, and an entire lifetime of Pesach seders, January 5, 2020 – the beginning of this current cycle of Daf Yomi – is the first time I have taken on the Talmud in a deliberate way.
Do you have a chavruta or do you learn by yourself?
I am learning by myself in most senses. (Although my mom and I have started checking in with each other on the more dramatic dafs!) But it’s amazing how digital resources and social media can open up my study to feel more collaborative. I preface my reading of the text by reading a daily e-mail from MyJewishLearning.com. Then I read the text interlineated with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary on the Sefaria Project. Then, after posting my own take on the day’s daf in the form of haiku on Instagram (@dafyomihaiku), I enjoy others’ takes on the daf that they post there. And together, it feels that we are somehow creating a virtual havruta.
Do you use the The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli? If so, how has it been helpful to you?
I use The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli made available on Sefaria through its digital partnership with Koren Publishers. While I enjoy reading the brief daily email to begin my day and whet my appetite, for me it has felt important to read the text as well. Having access to a translation I can trust to be both precise and nuanced, and also incorporates insightful commentary to “fill in the blanks,” is invaluable to my informal, non-scholarly, solitary study.
*Editor’s Note* Koren Publishers collaborated with Sefaria to provide the English translation of The Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli. The full notes and Vilna section are available for purchase in the print edition at korenpub.com.
What do you enjoy about learning Talmud?
I enjoy participating in an exercise of foundational Jewish learning.
I enjoy participating in a global cohort of Jewish learning through the synchronized daf yomi cycle.
I enjoy seeing the ways rabbis have grappled with words and ideas, with their repetition, omission, and metamorphosis.
I enjoy seeing the ways rabbis have differed in their interpretations, but even more, considering how those differences often reflected further differences in their personality—and, sometimes, their humanity.
I enjoy seeing ways that an inclination toward inclusivity has been part of our people’s interpretation from the beginning; but also where the old rabbis still had a long way to go.
I enjoy viewing the pages through a woman’s lens, discovering my own always-developing feminism, learning more about women’s roles in Jewish text and Jewish life, and the way women (in both text and life) were treated by the male sages.
I enjoy the process of synthesizing what I’ve read into something creative, methodical, beautiful, and meaningful.
So why @DafYomiHaiku?
Haiku has become a significant outlet for me to process meaningful events, and synthesize complex thoughts. Perhaps there is a connection based on my having been born in Japan. But more than that, I think it has to do with having a personality that thrives on the intersection of math and language, rules and creativity, acknowledging the box but playing with its walls. My relationship with haiku was fortified a couple years ago, when I decided to count down the forty days until turning 40 with a daily haiku. And when I decided to give Daf Yomi a try, haiku seemed like a good way to make the daily reading more personal, the overall task more accessible, and me more accountable.