Confession time: I don’t have TikTok. But anything especially notable or controversial is inevitably shared on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, anyway. I first saw Miriam Anzovin’s viral Talmud account on my Twitter timeline, but by now, I’ve watched as it circulated on just about every Jewish ecosystem that exists on each social media platform.
Anzovin’s account is her version of Daf Yomi — Hebrew for “page of the day” — the Jewish practice in which a person learns one page of Talmud every day. There are 37 tractates that make up the Talmud, so it takes about seven and a half years to learn the Talmud one page at a time. Most people choose to follow a specific calendar so that they are doing Daf Yomi at the same time as tens of thousands of other Jews around the world.
Anzovin is a 30-something Jewish communal professional who has been doing Daf Yomi since the current cycle began. She started uploading reaction videos to TikTok in early December 2021, but the hot take she shared on January 21 is what ultimately went viral.
The video can be difficult to follow for anyone who is not well-versed in the Talmud’s unique logic, lingo and colorful rabbinic personalities. I am most certainly included in this demographic, even though I spent an entire academic year in an egalitarian yeshiva. That time was mostly spent learning how to learn. I can look at a page of Talmud (which looks much more like a Dr. Bronner’s label rather than a text anyone should be expected to understand) and distinguish between the different parts of the page, but I can’t tell you anything about Rav Hisda or Rav Huna bar Hinnana, the protagonists of this anecdote.
But when Anzovin’s video made its way to my feeds, I didn’t need to know anything about these rabbis or any specifics of Jewish law to understand her point. The viral video was, at its simplest, Anzovin praising Rav Hisda for calling out another rabbi for not only insulting his wife, but for being misogynistic and ageist by daring to say that only young women truly need to be able to apply makeup during those days in the middle of a festival where traditional Jewish law relaxes many of its typical holiday prohibitions.
As the clip continued to be shared again and again, I saw some people praise the brilliance of Anzovin’s pedagogical innovation: mixing Talmudic lingo with modern slang like “glam routine,” “stan” and “frenemy” to make a hilarious and timely video about a Jewish text that is more than 1,300 years old.
I also saw an abundance of criticism. Some was entirely predictable: Pearl-clutching internet randos, reply guys telling Anzovin how to properly learn Talmud and religiously right-wing Orthodox rabbis and publications offended by her deployment of explicit language. Comments on Anzovin’s posts ranged from, “This is why women aren’t allowed to learn Gemara [a component of the Talmud]” to, “You’re charming… but you think God likes this?”
Many also found her casual approach disrespectful to the sanctity of the Talmud — as if, in a different tractate, there isn’t an argument about different rabbis literally arguing over whose penis is larger.
One thing I did not predict was seeing these critiques from rabbis, teachers and peers that I have previously learned from in explicitly egalitarian settings. Even my Talmud teacher in yeshiva shared a news story about Anzovin’s fame and flack and simply wrote, “Talmudically Blonde,” trying to play off of “Legally Blonde.”
My Talmud teacher and the hundreds of others who piled on Anzovin on the internet did not see someone who earned a degree in Jewish studies. They did not see someone who movingly explained at the beginning of the Daf Yomi cycle that they were undertaking this enormous commitment to honor their place in the “continuum of the story of the Jewish people.” They did not see a Jewish educator who was not only able to comprehend the Talmud page, but pull out the most interesting or shocking parts of the folio and turn it into an entertaining 90-second TikTok.
Anzovin’s critics did not see past her hair color, her feminine way of speaking or her winged eyeliner. Like many of Judaism’s sacred texts — where women are only spoken of and so rarely are permitted to speak for themselves — Anzovin couldn’t be seen wholly as an innovator, let alone as a knowledgeable Jew with so much to teach us because she is a woman.
So many of those who flooded the Jewish corner of the internet with attempts to delegitimize her because of her choice of words and platform seem to forget that the Daf Yomi cycle as we know it today evolved out of a similar need to meet people where they are at. While men traditionally dedicated hours to learning Talmud in yeshivas, by the early 20th century, more and more men found themselves wanting or needing to work. The Daf Yomi cycle was created to allow these men to dedicate whatever time they had to learn Talmud for an hour or less each day.
Anzovin is reaching thousands of people by sharing her videos on her TikTok and Twitter accounts. I’m willing to bet that a solid chunk of those people aren’t sitting down with the tractate in front of them and learning a page of Talmud every day on their own. Instead, younger generations are being introduced to the Jewish tradition of studying Talmud, and Anzovin is making it more palatable by not only creating entertaining videos, but by going through the entire page and zeroing in on the most interesting arguments, lines or stories.
I can’t help but wonder if her critics even bothered to finish the viral video. She ends it by saying, “People, I’m kvelling,” using the Yiddish phrase for feeling pride. “I’m Miriam, here in 2022, and I am kvelling over the actions of a man who died in 320 CE. That’s the power of Daf Yomi. What a fucking legend.”
I’m also here in 2022, and I am kvelling that the Jewish tradition of interpreting ancient texts and meeting people where they are at is being carried on so unapologetically by people like Miriam Anzovin.