Photo Credit: Jewish Press

When I was a kid, I used to doodle in my Gemara. It began, naturally as someone learning Bava Kama, with pictures of cows. I graduated to small cartoons. The inside cover of my Gemara looked like it had been vandalized with graffiti. Once I began learning more seriously, I stopped doodling and started writing. My margins are filled with sources, questions, translations and attempted insights. You would never find such doodles or notes inside a Sefer Torah. But for generations, we have been writing in the margins of our Gemara. One of my dearest and oldest friends, Shulamith Ross, wrote a poem about this dichotomy:

You never lay hands on the klaf
For Torah scrolls, taking great care means “respected”
The same isn’t true of the daf


Gemaras get glosses and doodles quite merry
They take every thought that might barge in
Many an insight or full commentary
Got started as notes in the margin

Perhaps this duality’s not untoward
Though the treatments may seem independent
It’s a paradox also displayed by the L-rd
Who is eminent while also transcendent.

And that is the magic of Gemara, adding your doodle, gloss, note or idea to the ever-unfolding collection of Jewish ideas through the generations contained on every daf.


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Dovid Bashevkin is the director of education for NCSY and the founder of 18forty. He is the Clinical Assistant Professor of Jewish Values at Yeshiva University and the author of several books. You can find more of his narishkeit on twitter @dbashideas.