Sunday, December 15, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

More Letter-Writing at Beth Jacob

Completing more letters on a restored sefer Torah at Beth Jacob synagogue.

As my apprentice poses for the photograph
Close-up of the kulmus

Sunday, November 24, 2019


I was honoured to teach a workshop on Hebrew calligraphy/soferuth STA"M as a part of Jewbilation in London, Ontario! Great questions and effort from a lovely group of people. One valuable insight came from a participant who compared gaining skill in soferuth to gaining skill knitting: you need time, willingness to be bored, and patience much more than you need inspiration or artistic talent.

I'm very grateful to have been part of what is honestly an important event in London, and humbled to be in the company of talented individuals driven to connect and exchange knowledge.

This table had great consistency and spacing for first-timers
And this table brought a nice variety of bold questions to spice up the conversation

Monday, September 16, 2019

Talmud Tip For Daily Living

Many students who attend the Hamilton Beit Midrash want to continue studying -- usually as much as humanly possible, which is an excellent sign of future progress. However, learning outside of a beit midrash context, especially with a fellow beginner, can be uniquely frustrating and even somewhat perilous. I thought about habits that can bring clarity and forward motion to unsupervised learning, and wrote this:
Dear friends,

This is an email long overdue. It is a tip to assist you when you are struggling through the task of learning on your own or in unsupervised havrutha. Too often we can sort of string definitions together in a sentence, and the definitions will be basically true ones, but the meaning will still be completely off-base, because we have not taken grammar into account.

So this is the tip: PARSE, and then translate.

My major in university was Classics (Greek and Latin) and this is what we were taught to do with any Greek and Latin text. It may have special use as a skill when it comes to textual rather than conversational languages.

To parse a text, look at it, and before you even so much as glance at a Jastrow or Frank, wring whatever grammar you can muster out of it. What's singular, what's plural, what's masculine, what's feminine, what's a verb, what's a particle showing an indirect object, etc? This will right away tell you a little something about what words can go with what other words (e.g. adjectives with nouns, subjects with verbs), and that gives you a lovely head start. In an ideal world, or in a non-ideal world where one is completing an assignment for a Latin professor, every single word is accounted for with multiple notations.

BUT. Don't know much grammar? It's OK. I encourage you to go for the easy kills here and just pick out whatever is clear and what you already know. It IS possible to get false IDs when parsing and you just have to keep that in mind when pursuing a translation afterwards ("Maybe it was one of those masculine nouns that has a feminine plural ending, like avoth..."). You are still doing something very worthwhile, namely, clearing your own path ahead and greatly reducing your chance of fanciful translations.

After you've parsed as much as you can, break out the dictionaries and translate.

I hope this tip will encourage you to keep learning in havrutha even outside of a program. It provides a way for you to assess your own correctness before you resort to checking against a prefab translation.

I'll also use this opportunity to remind people in the Hamilton area that our yearly beit midrash continues Sunday nights from 6-8 pm at Beth Jacob Synagogue, 375 Aberdeen Avenue.

R. Yonah

gender and number? (number should be easy: if it has no plural markers, it's singular)
part of speech? (particle, noun, verb, etc)
if verb, what binyan (find the shoresh as the first step)? or if that is difficult, are there binyanim we can exclude with confidence?
what else in the sentence, if nything, does this "accord" with? A word accords with another if it is similar in gender AND number. In this way you can assign an adjective to a noun or a verb to a subject.