Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, PhD, Speaks at Cedars-Sinai Talmud Dedication
Gift of Complete Set of the Talmud Coincides with Seven-Year Cycle of Daily Jewish Learning
Prominent Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, PhD, made a pilgrimage of sorts Tuesday, December 17th, when he visited Cedars-Sinai for the dedication of a complete set of the Talmud, the Jewish books of law and commentary.
“They told me that if I came, I could hold the tablets,” he said.
In a city known more for its movie-making magic than for its holy sites, the tablets Soloveichik is referring to are, of course, movie props. They’re the tablets used in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston. Donated to Cedars-Sinai’s predecessor, Mount Sinai Hospital, by DeMille’s wife, Constance Adams DeMille, the tablets were on display alongside the colorful new English translation Noé Edition Talmud Bavli, a gift to Cedars-Sinai from Koren Publishers of Jerusalem.
“We’re very grateful to Koren Publishers for this gift,” said Rabbi Jason Weiner, director of the Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai, “It’s an incredible feat to translate the entire Talmud, and this is not just any translation,” Weiner said.
The translation uses modern language, along with charts, color photos, historical background information, and archeological diagrams to give perspective on the text.
The gift coincides with the January 4th completion of a 7.5-year cycle of daily Talmud study, known as Daf Yomi. During this cycle, scholars study sequentially one page a day of the Talmud. The completion of one cycle and the beginning of another is cause for celebration around the world. Cedars-Sinai patients and their family members, as well as employees who are participating in Daf Yomi, will have access to the books to continue their studies while at the hospital.
For Soloveichik, a movie buff, there is a connection between movie-making, art, Jewish life, and the study of Jewish law.
“I am obsessed with The Ten Commandments. Not the actual commandments, mostly the movie,” Soloveichik joked. “So I was very intrigued at the prospect of coming to Los Angeles to see so ‘sacred’ an object.”
The Cedars-Sinai tablets, and the meticulous research by DeMille’s team in recreating them, he said, remind him of a 1658 painting by Dutch artist Rembrandt. The painting, like DeMille’s tablets, shows a level of detailed research and understanding of Judaism unique for its time, according to Soloveichik.
In the biblical story, Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. While Moses is away, some of the people believe that he is dead and begin worshipping a statue of a golden calf, an act explicitly forbidden by the law of the time. When Moses returns and finds them doing this, he throws the tablets angrily to the ground, breaking them. According to the story, he later hand-carves a second set of commandments.
While the Rembrandt painting is often called “Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law,” Soloveichik believes that the tablets depicted are in fact these second tablets, and that the depiction of them as a work of people, rather than the divine, is symbolic.
“Moses himself refashioned the tablets from the stone, and in the process, he refashioned himself, restoring the covenant,” Soloveichik said.
This theme of restoring that which has been broken, Soloveichik says, is repeated throughout Jewish scripture and history. And it’s a theme that is sure to resonate with Cedars-Sinai patients, family members and healthcare professionals.
“These second set of tablets embodies something central to our history—the Jewish ability to come back after disaster—to not lose hope after all we had was shattered, to recreate anew what had been destroyed,” said Soloveichik.