Anne Whitehouse

Talmud Class

The generations of rabbis who compiled the Talmud
applied limits where they perceived laws in conflict.
They cared more about process than outcome,
were torn about wealth, and didn’t like priests.

In place of animal sacrifice, they sanctified prayer and study,
even when the laws they studied no longer applied
after the destruction of God’s Temple in Jerusalem.
Historical fact did not concern them, or objective truth.

They liked filling in the gaps in terse Torah prose
with reasoning, description, and speculation,
telling a good story, reconciling contradictions,
following thoughts down meandering paths.

They couldn’t have imagined our co-ed classroom
in a school of Jewish learning, men and women
coming together to study their disputes,
the women dressed in pants and equal to the men.

In their day, women were chattel given in marriage
to form alliances, obligated to serve their husbands,
produce and care for children. Women could not speak up,
acquire learning, work for themselves, leave home.

Though the rabbis talked about women,
they rarely spoke to them. They would not
have recognized us as their descendants,
though we acknowledge them to be our ancestors.


Anne Whitehouse’s poem, The “E-E-E-E-E-E,” was published in The Literary Nest three years ago. The poems in this submission are inspired by a “Contexts” class she is taking at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Among other topics, the course grapples with the notion of free will in the Jewish tradition.

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