How do you get your news, and how do you process it?
We all know the problem, excess options and information coming at us from all sides.
As Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks would have said, in his booming voice: “We have been here before!”
Following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jews worried that their information would be lost if they did not write it down. But, how do you write down all the information about a culture in an accessible form?
This was the birth of the Talmud. Today, the Talmud is six volumes, which takes seven years to read, if you read one page per day. It took six centuries to compile.
How did they do it?
First, they recorded the conversations and the names of those who were doing the talking. Then, they organized the material into six tractates that cover everything you may have ever wanted to know but had no idea how to ask. The voices of many, both elite and commoner, are captured.
I have dipped into it here and there. We studied a page in my Jewish history course at Hebrew University back in the day. I remember the first line of the page we studied: “Where do the rains come from?”. Yes, they deal with all kinds of issues.
During the pandemic, I have participated in a weekly Talmud class on Zoom with my niece, Ilana Fodiman Silverman, living in Israel in Israel teaches students from around the world. The other day, when studying the conversation on “What type of prayer should be said after a meal and whom you should or shouldn’t invite to join you in the prayer?” (Berachot 47 A), she mentioned that the Talmudic discussion reminds her of Dr. Seuss’ whimsical world of exploration. She says “Sometimes, the Talmud tests the breadth and depth of an idea by pushing the edges of possibility, by using our most imaginative selves to suggest scenarios and uncover its design.”
The Talmud is an acquired taste, and it is almost impossible to study without a knowledgeable guide. Some have described it as a “sea of knowledge” that you dip into from time to time. It reminds me of the internet today. Due to the internet, and another brilliant teacher, Rav Adin Steinsaltz, Z’l, who passed away very recently, anyone can now have daily access to the Talmud in English by subscribing to his website www.steinsaltz-center.org and their are many tallmudic study groups on Zoom. No one has to do this alone.
So how do I get my news during Covid-19?
Well, I am a regular listener of CBC Radio One – anytime I am eating or taking a break. My favourite programs are IDEAS with Nahlah Ayed, which explores “social issues, culture and the arts, geopolitics, history, science and technology, biology and the humanities”. But, in truth, I will listen to anything that’s on when I feel like a break, including The Doc Project by Acey Rowe, Tapestry with Mary Hines, Writers and Company with Eleanor Wachtel, The current with Matt Galloway and q with Tom Power.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, I subscribe to two newspapers: The National Post and The Gazette on weekends. I also subscribe to online Jewish media, including The Tablet, Commentary, The Jerusalem Post, The Forward, Jewish Journal (California), Honest Reporting, Algemeiner, Mosaic, Tikvah, CIJR BESA, ISGAP, and sites from Rabbinic scholars. These are some of my favourite Rabbinic sites which send regular email offerings:
- Rabbi David Fohrman: Aleph Beta
Rabbi Fohrman illustrates his teachings with animation, making it very palatable even for the youngest among us.
- Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: Covenant and Conversation
His weekly explanations regarding the Torah portion – parsha – of the week with special editions for family conversation
Rabbi David Etengoff – Parashat Hashavua – brief weekly explications regarding the Torah portion in English
- Hebrew College: Seventy Faces of Torah – Reform Judaism’s website with Torah commentary.
I am also subscribed to Netflix and Cable TV, which offer many US channels, including PBS, Fox, and CBS. I reserve these for evenings when my energy is low.
I also participate in regular Zoom classes, some local and some international. Mondays, Rabbi Poupko gives a weekly zoom class. The first half is about the weekly bible portion (the Parsha), and the second half is his take on the news in Montreal, Israel and the US. Tuesdays, there are Zoom classes offered by JMI (Jewish Music Institute in London). Fridays, I am a regular participant in a class with a rotating roster of local Rabbis. I also participate weekly in classes with my Israeli Yeshiva Group Shiviti.
But as Shabbat nears, Friday evening to Saturday night, I stop all of the electronic inputs. I enjoy my festive meals, attend synagogue (that meets all the pandemic protocols), visit a friend living alone after the service, and read books that I have had on my shelves for years but never managed to get to.
We all want to live in a well-informed society. But today, there’s considerably more of it out there than we can ever absorb. I try to diversify my media diet to inform me in what’s truly going on out there. Still, in the end, I need to turn to someone like Rabbi Sacks to articulate the values that will keep me grounded, as he illustrates in this white-board animation, which puts it all into perspective, explaining how science and religion necessarily need to work together.