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Daf Reactions TikTok Talmudic Commentary: Is it Kosher?

Last week, social media was abuzz when the Jerusalem Post and the Forward published articles about Miriam Anzovin, a millennial TikToker who produces daily TikTok “Daf Reactions” to the daily Daf. Her bite-size video summaries, her humor and her modern-“take” on the daily Daf make the Daf Yomi current and relatable to many in the millennial generation. However, her provocative, profane language, her use of sexual innuendo and her lack of respectful language towards Chazal are very jarring for many who view the debates of Chazal as “divrei Elokim Chayim” – as the words of our living God.  What are we to make of this TikTok Talmudic sensation? I have three reactions to her “Daf Reactions.”

First, this raises some of the same questions for me as the general issue of Torah being taught by non-orthodox teachers. A non-orthodox teacher of Torah can reach people that orthodox teachers cannot reach, and yet, I am uncomfortable with supporting this endeavor. If Torah is being taught without certain foundations, like belief in the classical principles of faith (e.g., Torah is Divine) and respect for Chazal, I wonder if ultimately this type of teaching will bring people closer to Torah values. Communicating Torah in a modern way with language and in a venue that attracts millennials will certainly expose them to Torah to which they would otherwise not be exposed, but I wonder what the long-term value of this is.

Initially, the founders of the reform movement violated certain principles of faith and certain halachot in the 19th century in their attempt to modernize Judaism and make it appealing to the masses. Ultimately, this endeavor was not successful in producing a committed Jewish community. As such, I wonder what the long-term success of this “Daf Reactions” endeavor will be in exposing secular Jews to the beauty of the Talmud. I also wonder how many orthodox Jews are reading these posts and will become desensitized by the language that is used in the context of Torah study. I am a proud proponent of the philosophy of Torah U’madda, of embracing the modern world through the prism of Torah, but I am aware of the dangers of this approach, that by engaging in the broader world we become exposed to secular values which may influence us and desensitize us to Torah values.  As an example, I think that many of us have become desensitized by the use of profanity and racy language not in the context of Torah study, which is not a good thing. At this point in time, when we study Torah or enter a synagogue, we understand that we have to behave in a more refined fashion. We treat our time in the synagogue and our time studying Torah differently than when we are not engaged in this behavior.  However, these types of “Daf Reactions” posts desensitize us to racy and provocative language in the context of environments of kedusha.

On a more positive note, even though I cannot endorse the teaching of Torah that is done in a manner that includes profane and raunchy language and without the proper reverence for Chazal, the success of Miriam Anzovin perhaps has taught Jewish educators about more ways to reach the broader public with the taste of Torah. The Torah remains timeless but the methods to communicate the message change. Even in the days of the Talmud, Rabbah used to start every lecture with a joke or funny anecdote to get his students in a good mood. Finding new ways to ensure that the authentic Torah is perceived as relevant and meaningful, and ensuring that it is accessible in 2022 to as many audiences as possible, is of critical importance. Hopefully some of Miriam Anzovin’s pedagogical methods can be used to enhance the study of Talmud in a manner that is consistent with traditional Torah values.

Finally, I think that the popularity of these TikTok videos points to the timelessness and longevity of Rabbinic Judaism, Daf Yomi and our holy Torah. The fact that there are so many options for the average Jew to study the daf, from daily podcasts of varying lengths – and there are even daily eight-minute summaries and two-minute inspiring messages from the daf – attests to the timeless nature of our holy Talmud.  It is only natural that a work like the Talmud that has become so accessible to so many people and that contains such timeless messages will be utilized in ways that may be inconsistent with our Torah values – but that fact itself points to the popularity and eternal nature of the Torah. As far as I know, we don’t have TikTok daily videos of a daily ancient Egyptian or Greek text, but a Jewish text – in Aramaic no less – is still relevant and so popular 1500 years after it was completed. And that’s something to be proud of.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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