And there are those who conclude that I must be a holy man, entirely immersed in the world of Torah. You don't believe me? My driving teacher, at the end of my first lesson, asked what I do. As soon as I told him, he started explaining. "Don't think that I'm not religious, just because I don't cover my head. I am. My children went to religious schools. I taught in a religious school myself for many years. But..." I have no idea why he thought that academic Talmud would make me critical of him, but he did.
Then, there are the religious people. Who divide into two types. The kind who was to engage, and ask me innocently why learning in yeshiva wasn't good enough for me. And the "perushim", who end the conversation there and never speak to me again. That happened to me repeatedly in miluim after my first year of studies, and it really hurt.
And then come the academics. Who don't understand how it is possible to study Talmud while focusing on the Middle Ages. Because they know that the Talmud is a phenomenon of Late Antiquity. They have read books in comparative religion. Talmud and medievalism does not go together. I must be wrong. Even a highly intelligent, scholarly and friendly ex-blogger said something like that to me, just yesterday.
Now, the first group doesn't bother me. The second does sometimes, depending on my mood and surroundings. But it's not an argument I have any interest in having, while there are plenty of people who do. The question is why I care about the last group. Do I really feel such a sense of loyalty to the Isaac Wolfson Center of Talmudic Studies?
I think the point is something like this. [Having rewritten this section twice, I still feel it sounds cliched. And so] I just like it. It makes sense to me, to focus on the text for its own sake, and not simply as a historical document. Why medieval halachic texts should be defined as Talmud? Because they are. It is the people who define Talmud narrowly, as a shelf of books produced in between 200 and 500 AD who are being anachronistic.