Whilst I was waiting for the Italian shul to open the other day, this old man came up and started talking to me. After some preliminary conversation, he starts telling me about the business of collecting antiques, and asks me if I collect anything. Transpires he's a museum curator by profession, and for a hobby, collects antiques, and takes bindings of old books apart to look for documents bound into them. Seems old documents often ended up in the binding of old books. I can't quite figure out the whys and wherefores, but I do remember that in Cambridge the set of ש״ס [the Talmud] in the shul there had fragments of Yiddish newspapers bearing dates in 1898 peeking through their broken spines. And by taking old bindings carefully apart, the old man had managed to discover a couple of business letters by "the Ari הקודש" [Rabbi Isaac Luria, the great mystic of fifteenth-century Safed]. Pretty cool, huh?
When I first started davening at Assif, I did not at first feel comfortable the egalitarianism or the desegregated seating. Intellectually I was 100% behind it, but emotionally it took me a while to get used to. Even after I had long got used to it in my home minyan, I found, on the rare occasions I davened in egalitarian minyans elsewhere—such as the Marom Olami seminars I attended in Berlin, Prague and Budapest—that I still felt uncomfortable. I think that might still even have been the case when I davened in Stockholm with rav_hadassah last November—though that might have just been discomfort because we arrived really rather late for the weekday minyan (and I spent just about the entire service catching up).
Here now, in Jerusalem, though, I have discovered I finally now do feel completely at ease in egalitarian, non-segregated minyanim that I am not already used to. Ah well, better late than never.
I was in the Advanced Talmud class the other day and somebody quoted a definition from Jastrow's Dictionary of the Talmud, Midrash and Targumim. I then pointed out that this etymology might be more Jastrow's opinion than the objective truth, as Jastrow has a bias for finding Semitic etymologies of words. The teacher, Dr Joshua Kulp, then asked me where I learned this. "The preface," I said, surprised. To which he responded, "In 12 years of teaching I have never before encountered someone who has read the preface to Jastrow." :o)
Speaking of whom, another quotation from Dr Kulp, trying to bring over the fact that when the Talmud deals with types of behaviour that we would consider unacceptable, in many cases it is considering them only as theoretical cases. "There are all kinds of theoretical instances," he said. "There are passages in the Talmud about a man with two heads, and which head he puts tefillin on." *boggle*, or what?
Finally, another quotation:
lethargic_man: "I read it in The Grapes of Wrath."
spin0za1: "Roth? Roth? Who's Roth? Does Rabbi Roth have grapes?"
(I only realised afterwards that USAns apparently pronounce "wrath" /rath/, rather than /roth/.)