Local plans are taking shape for participation in the Global Day of Jewish Learning on Sunday, Nov. 7. On that day, for the first time ever, Jews of all ages and levels of learning from around the world will share in a celebration of Judaism’s devotion to religious knowledge.
The inspiration for the event is the completion by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz of his monumental work, the 46-volume translation and commentary on the Talmud. The undertaking by the revered Israeli scholar, teacher, and mystic began 45 years ago, when he was 27.
His goal has been to make Judaism’s primary texts available to everyone — men and women, and even those with only a basic education.
To celebrate the completion, on Nov. 7 Jews from 200 or more communities around the world — ranging from totally secular to ultra-Orthodox and from all denominations — are expected to take part, with events in synagogues, community centers, and private homes. Their plans are being coordinated through a website, www.TheGlobalDay.com, launched on June 15.
The event is billed as a worldwide dialogue about Judaism’s take on “big questions” like good and evil, heaven and hell, sex and relationships, and more. On-line, the international process has already begun, with a debate about the attitude to sex in Judaism, triggered by a question from famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and a joint study — led by Steinsaltz — of a page a week of Ta’anit, the tractate in the Talmud that deals chiefly with the laws and background of fast days.
Locally, the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, an agency of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, is spearheading the arrangements. Events will be held at two main locations, the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany and the Leon & Topy Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, in West Orange. They will provide a host of activities and events for all ages in collaboration with other community institutions and agencies.
Linda Jum, managing director of the Partnership, said, “I want people to save that day. We see it as a great opportunity for the community, for everyone regardless of their denomination or whether or not they’re affiliated with an organization to find a connection that works for them, wherever they are on their Jewish journey.”
She said details for specific events and programs throughout the community will be announced in the coming weeks.
By late July, more than 150 communities around the world had already registered to take part, representing Jews throughout the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe, India, Australia, Turkey, South America, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.
The central figure for the day’s festivities, Steinsaltz, now 72, lives in Jerusalem. He studied physics and chemistry at the Hebrew University, and went on to become an educator. He set up a number of experimental schools, and at 24, became Israel’s youngest school principal.
Three years later, he began his translation and commentary on the Talmud, which he has worked on volume by volume ever since, while also producing 15 other books and hundreds of articles. His book on Kabala, The Thirteen Petalled Rose: A Discourse on the Essence of Jewish Existence And Belief, was published in 1980 and has been translated into eight languages.
In addition to his translation of the whole Talmud into modern Hebrew, Steinsaltz himself has translated parts of the massive work into Spanish, French, and Russian. His own works of scholarship and social commentary have been translated by others into English, Russian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese.
Steinsaltz has also been deeply involved in supporting Soviet Jewry and promoting Jewish scholarship in Russia.
The Global Day of Jewish Learning is being organized by the Aleph Society, the organization established to support Steinsaltz’s work around the world. The society is working in collaboration with the local organizations, partnered by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Community Centers Association, Jewish Education Service of North America, Jewish Federations of North America, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and the Shefa Institute.