A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
What is the Talmud? Pyotr, a Russian soldier, asks that question of Jewish partisans fighting Nazis in Primo Levi’s If Not Now, When? (1982): “Is it your Book of the Gospels?”
How does one explain this collection of Jewish ceremonial law and legend to an outsider? Rather than offer an explanation, a Jew named Pavel draws the man into an experience of the Talmud.
Just what the Talmud is I can explain to you with an example. Now pay close attention. Two chimney sweeps fall down a chimney; one emerges covered with soot, the other emerges perfectly clean. Now I ask you: which of the two goes to wash himself?
Suspecting a trap, Pyotr looked around as if in search of help. Then he gathered his courage, and replied: “The dirty…