Ilana Kurshan – If All the Seas Were Ink – A Memoir
At the age of 27, alone in Jerusalem in the wake of a painful divorce, Ilana Kurshan joined the world’s largest book club, learning daf yomi, Hebrew for “daily page” of the Talmud, a book of rabbinic teachings spanning about 600 years and the basis for all codes of Jewish law.
A runner, a reader and a romantic, Kurshan adapted to its pace, attuned her ear to its poetry, and discovered her passions in its pages. She brought the Talmud with her wherever she went, studying in airplanes, supermarket lines, and over a plate of pasta at home, careful not to drip tomato sauce upon discussions about the sprinkling of blood on the Temple altar. By the time she completed the Talmud after seven and a half years, Kurshan was remarried with three young children. With each pregnancy, her Talmud sat perched atop her growing belly.
This memoir is a tale of heartache and humor, of love and loss, of marriage and motherhood, and of learning to put one foot in front of the other by turning page after page. Kurshan takes us on a deeply accessible and personal guided tour of the Talmud, shedding new light on its stories and offering insights into its arguments—both for those already familiar with the text and for those who have never encountered it. For people of the book—both Jewish and non-Jewish—If All the Seas Were Ink is a celebration of learning—through literature—how to fall in love once again.
Praise for If All the Seas Were Ink
“Intriguing.” —Kirkus Reviews
“If All the Seas Were Ink is such a moving memoir. I was taken by the perfect balance Ilana Kurshan achieved between revealing her own story while describing her daily study of the Talmud. This is a book both for those steeped in Jewish learning and for those who aren’t quite sure what the Talmud is. Her portrait of everyday life in Jerusalem enriches her recounting of connecting to centuries of intellectual curiosity and conversing with bygone generations. How wonderful to explore this great volume with a such a sensitive and thoughtful guide.” —Susan Isaacs, author of Long Time No See
“When a woman as incredibly well-read as Ilana Kurshan commits herself to studying the Talmud daily for seven-and-a-half years, the results are mind-expanding, both for her and for readers of If All the Seas Were Ink. In Kurshan’s hands, the Talmud becomes, again and again, a commentary on, and a guide to, her life, both through some very low times and then, happily, much better ones. An utterly original book about the Talmud, long time students of Jewish texts will be reminded of precious talmudic passages they had forgotten, and newcomers will gain a sense of how much wisdom there is in this ancient, but very vibrant, text.” —Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy, Rebbe, and A Code of Jewish Ethics
“In this deeply personal and often hilarious story, Kurshan shows us how the Talmud’s thousands of strange and demanding pages, read at one page a day for seven years, become a conversation about how best to live one’s life in an imperfect world. Kurshan awakens us to our imperfect world’s hidden magnificence—and to the power of literature to inspire human resilience. A stunning, gorgeous memoir.” —Dara Horn, author of The World to Come
“If All The Seas Were Ink is a book about passion of many varieties—romantic passion, religious passion, aesthetic passion, but above all else, passion for knowledge. The word scholarship is too tame to do justice to Kurshan’s wild passion for the written word, whether the word is found on a page of Talmud or in a sonnet of Wordsworth. The blend of her loves makes for a rich and fascinating life, which makes for a rich and fascinating book.” —Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away
“With this memoir, Ilana Kurshan enters the exclusive club of daf yomi learners, a club that was, for generations, restricted to men. With sincerity, humor, and insight, she invites readers into her experience of studying Talmud as a young woman in Jerusalem. Hers is a stunningly original voice in the world of Torah and the world of literature. Go run and read this book.” —Ruth Calderon, author of A Bride for One Night
“Kurshan’s beautiful prose weaves the trials and tribulations of her personal seven-year journey together with the Talmud texts she’s learning. I applaud, and am awed, by this moving and remarkable memoir.” —Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughters
“An intimate and eloquent portrait of a young woman’s passionate loves and fears… Kurshan writes as a woman of (as she puts it) ‘Dickensonian sensibilities:’ clinging to her privacy while exposing her vulnerability, seeking the resonances between her mind, soul and body, and revealing an acutely sensitive intelligence, a wry self-awareness, and an active sense of the absurd. She never desists from her play with texts nor from her desire to thread the polarities of experience onto an expressive continuum. Highly recommended.” —Avivah Zornberg, author of The Murmuring Deep