Studying Talmud

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Dear Rabbi Simon
I don’t know if I am studying the Talmud correctly or doing something wrong. For example, I have read Ch. 2 of tractate Avodah Zarah. It may be my ignorance, but I did not really get anything out of it. Should I be doing something after I have read it? I do not know if the English was Mishna or if it contained Gemara. It was from an online resource.
Many thanks,
Tal

Dear Tal
Talmud is an unparalleled source of profound Torah wisdom, but it is best approached incrementally. By way of analogy, geometry and trigonometry are useful and even essential for certain tasks, skills, professions, etc. However, one needs to understand arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and more in order appreciate a text (or lecture) in these more advanced aspects of mathematics.
Torah sources, particularly the Oral Torah, require preliminary skills, principles, understanding, etc. A classic, primary source such as the Mishna (and even more so, Gemara) of tractate Avodah Zarah is in this category. I would recommend reading a book such as Aiding Talmud Study (Aryeh Carmel), or better yet, attending or finding online a class in Intro to Talmud study.
One further thought. An excellent preliminary study that will prepare you for Talmud is Rashi’s Commentary on the Torah. (I can recommend the Artscroll edition, in 5 volumes.) Read this every week and you will acquire a very useful grounding in the rabbinic style and parlance. Perhaps even more important, Rashi’s teachings (my namesake, not me!) are an indispensable body of Torah wisdom in their own right.
I hope this is helpful.
With Torah blessings
Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Tzippy
***
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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