Gershon Hepner

Talmud Scholarship, Tennis and the Balfour Declaration

Racing to the other side

of the net in order to return

your own serve, helps you to provide

yourself the best way you can learn

the value of your questions, and

if you continue to respond

this way you do not understand

that foolishly, you are too fond

of all the answers you have given.

Doing this ad infinitum,

questions, answers, are forgiven,

you the judge of every item,

evaluating your own thinking

like umpires in a tennis match,

never for a moment blinking,

seeing if there is a catch,

stopping only when you hit

objections, which are like a net,

or hitting out of bounds your wit,

to lose the game, if not the set.

Talmud scholarship does this,

When questions’ answers are provided

by the server who may miss

the point he wins although misguided,

without an umpire to decide

if what was asked was on the mark,

and whether he should be denied

applause for any bright remark,

or that in fact his point was out

of bounds that he had failed to score,

but left the game without a doubt,

raising in the process more

of those same questions which the game

of Talmud is dependent on,

no one sequitur the same

as others, many of them non.

While Talmud learning is as high

service as is prayer, over-

hand service was invented by

a Jew, a Rothschild tennis lover,

Rózsika, Weizmann’s introducer

to Balfour, whose great declaration

helped win a love game as producer

of premier state for all her nation.

Reviewing “Hitch-22” by Christopher Hitchens, Jennifer Senior (“Do I Contradict Myself?” NYT Book Review, 6/21/10) writes:

Christopher Hitchens may long to be a cogent man of reason, and he can certainly be a pitiless adversary. But he knows there are two sides to any decent match, and it’s touching, in “Hitch-22,” to see how often he’ll race to the other side of the court to return his own serve. Which may explain why, though he tries to be difficult, he’s so hard to dislike.

In a review by Moira Hodgson, in the WSJ, 10/18/22 of   “The Women of Rothschild: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Dynasty,” by Natalie Livingstone, she writes:

The Rothschild family had generally been opposed to all forms of Zionism, encouraging the anglicization of immigrant Jews and their integration into civic and cultural life. In the early 20th century, however, two women played a pivotal role in the establishment of Israel. Rózsika Rothschild (1870-1940) was a Hungarian intellectual with a passion for Proust who displayed “a reckless joie de vivre” in sports, “vaulting over barrels on ice rinks” and sending shockwaves through society when she introduced the overhand serve to the game of tennis. She also critically negotiated the bank’s generous loans to Hungary. When her friend Dolly Rothschild (1895-1988) was approached by Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s future first president, about establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, Rózsika joined her in persuading British politicians to support the idea, resulting in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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