Monday, December 24, 2018

If All the Seas Were Ink

If All the Seas Were Ink: A MemoirIf All the Seas Were Ink 
Ilana Kurshan 
Memoir, Judaism 

At the age of 27, alone in Jerusalem in the wake of a painful divorce, Ilana Kurshan joined the world s largest book club, learning daf yomi, Hebrew for "daily page" of the Talmud, a book of rabbinic teachings spanning about 600 years and the basis for all codes of Jewish law. A runner, a reader and a romantic, Kurshan adapted to its pace, attuned her ear to its poetry, and discovered her passions in its pages. She brought the Talmud with her wherever she went, studying in airplanes, supermarket lines, and over a plate of pasta at home, careful not to drip tomato sauce upon discussions about the sprinkling of blood on the Temple altar. By the time she completed the Talmud after seven and a half years, Kurshan was remarried with three young children. With each pregnancy, her Talmud sat perched atop her growing belly.

 Wow! I just realized how long it's been since I've reviewed anything in English. Rest assured, I'm still reading, but in Hebrew. If it's relevant for you, check out my Hebrew reviews. 😙

I came across Ilana Kurshan's memoir while babysitting and was immediately drawn to it. The book is a celebration in my eyes of what it means to be a smart modern Jewish woman. 

To me, like most religious women in Israel, the world of the Talmud (or Gemara) has been closed for the most part. Almost every religious high school for boys requires rigorous Talmud study whereas girls' schools don't even offer it. The system goes so far as to separate the girls' and boys' mixed-classes in elementary schools so as to teach the boys Gemara but not the girls. 

Why, you ask? No reason. Tradition. 

But Jewish tradition is not something I (and I believe many others) would want to leave. It's rich and beautiful, an amazing and timeless intellectual and personal challenge. So I was enthralled by Ilana, one of many pioneering woman in Israel today living a dream and learning Torah in the traditional sense but connecting it simultaneously with her life.  

Despite not being able to study the original texts so well on my own, I did grow up on many talmudic tales and halachot, in addition to actively studying currently as an adult. Ilana's study, with a woman's eyes and at once feminine and feminist mindset led to wisdom that is relevant and unique. Thus, I was at home with the stories and the laws but at the same time was exposed to a wonderfully new perspective on them. 

The writer's scholarly journey is naturally intricately intertwined in her thoughts and life, so the writing is association-based and not entirely chronological. This made the book so much more real to me, and was an authentic window to her thoughts and experiences. 

Based on the book, Ilana is clearly an especially capable and qualified woman. She details her time in Harvard and Cambridge, as well as an astounding ability to multi-task. She is an achiever who also can't go a day without running or swimming. 

I think for some, successful women such as her cause a certain amount of backlash, inducing feelings of she's-a-show-off or over-privileged. However, I think when reading her story you won't be able to help empathizing. 

You can be smart and successful - but also be divorced and not good socially. As much as I envied her academic and literary abilities, I wouldn't have traded places with her. 

This book is a true story of lifting yourself up from hard places, of adding your voice to 2000 years of learning, and of a wonderful symbiosis of the two. And also of taking leaps of faith. I loved it. 


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