J. Benedict Roth will never forget the first time he learned Gemara (Talmud) 23 years ago with Pardes faculty member, Leah Rosenthal. “Leah showed me that the Gemara is like a rough diamond,” Benedict explains. “You take a stone which looks rather uninteresting, and you think you can understand it. But then you crack it open, and suddenly you discover countless different facets; you can see it from a myriad of different angles, lights shining from all directions.”
About four years ago, Benedict started teaching in his London community, both formally and informally. He taught Tanakh and Talmud, including a passage from tractate Yoma he had learned with Leah. “There were about 50 people in that class,” says Benedict. “Most had never learned Talmud before. They were just captivated.”
Benedict realized that if he wanted to continue to teach, he needed to deepen his learning and signed on for another Pardes learning experience, one he believes is unique in the Jewish world today. “The Torah being offered in the Diaspora is often very technical,” says Benedict. “People are intent on getting through material, but they rarely ask what is this text really telling me and what difference does it make to my life? They are not teaching Torah in a way that allows it to be internalized. I am very interested in what is going on in the Talmud and what is going on in day to day life and how they link up. Pardes is the best place to explore this connection.”
Both Leah and Benedict were pleasantly surprised to meet again over Gemara in this year’s summer program. “Benedict was in my very first Gemara class,” recounts Leah. “I will always remember every student in that first class.” Another layer to this teacher-student reunion is that Leah’s summer class is on the same tractate of Talmud that she taught to Benedict so long ago.
Leah remarks, “The meeting of two people over a text is what has always excited me. So the meeting of two people again over a text adds a whole new dimension to the learning experience. The fact that we are studying the same section of Talmud that I taught to Benedict so many years ago has been very eye-opening. It is fascinating to see what has changed in our reading of the text 23 years later and how much hasn’t changed at all.”
Benedict concurs, “I see things in the Gemara that I didn’t see that last time we learned it, perhaps as a product of my stage of life, my maturity. This is exciting. I can’t wait to bring this back to my home community. And I can’t wait to learn again with Leah in the future. I’ve already booked my ticket for next summer.”
Benedict is planning an online Gemara course with Leah that meets in London and parallels Leah’s class at Pardes. They will be learning Masechet Mo’ed Katan. For more information, please contact Dean David Bernstein at dav...@pardes.org.il.
Benedict Roth is from London. He received a BA in Hebrew from Oxford University and a Masters in Operations Research from Stanford. He works as a risk management specialist and is the proud father of three grown children.
This piece was written by Karen Feuer, Pardes alumna ’99-00, and Assistant to the Dean.