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Men studying the Torah or the Talmud in small groups, using a language as strange as it is foreign while abiding by a protocol and observing certain rituals—this is enough to raise eyebrows in our age of transparency. What on earth are Jews doing when they gather in secret in the early hours of the morning to jabber about in some sort of gibberish?

© Shir Moran, Blue Haired Sister, 2019 Courtesy Alon Segev Gallery

Eight or nine years ago I was offered the chance to participate in a very early Talmud class. I live in New York City, and at the time I was attending a synagogue where I had a bit of a reputation for being a schnorrer [beggar]. R. B. was very frum [pious], but he loved French language and literature, and this had been enough to convince him I was a worthy addition to his group. We set a date. It was a winter morning, and the address I’d been given—although I didn’t know it at the time—was the home of a diamond merchant who welcomed friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to study every weekday at 5 a.m. I walked from the Upper West Side to the south side of the park and, as luck would have it, within a block I ended up at a hotel instead of the apartment building I’d been looking for. I wasn’t quite awake, I’ll admit, and I didn’t know anything about my host’s building. I was therefore unsurprised to find myself in a rather pompous lobby where the receptionist answered my query without hesitation.

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