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If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  752 ratings  ·  132 reviews
**WINNER of the 2018 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the 2018 Sophie Brody Medal for achievement in Jewish literature**
**2018 Natan Book Award Finalist**
**Finalist for the 2017 National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies **

The Wall Street Journal: "There is humor and heartbreak in these pages...Ms. Kurshan immerses herself in the demands of daily Talmud
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 2nd 2019 by Picador USA (first published September 5th 2017)
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Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters
Ilana Kurshan makes studying the Talmud - ( a vast compendium of Jewish Law and narrative dating back to the first few centuries of the Common Era), sound like a piece of cake - anybody can do it - male - female - Jew - or - non-Jew.
I mean, all that’s required is study of one daily page a day called “daf yomi”.... or more accurately translated as “daily folio”..... since every page of the Talmud consists of two sides, back and front.....and it will only take seven and a half years.

Like I
Neelam Babul
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have stayed awake all night trying to find the perfect words to describe this book, and I still cannot explain how valuable and spiritually enlightening this book was for me. The book is a memoir of the author who shares her life, love of reading and her decision to read the Talmud and understand it thoroughly.

This is a book that anyone who seeks to find spiritual upliftment and enlightenment should make it a point to read and understand. This book will give you hope and awaken the inner soul
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the kind of spiritual memoir I love: deep, intellectual, doesn't come across as trying to convert you, just informing you on the more intellectual aspects of a faith.

Ilana Kurshan takes you through the daf yomi, a global collective study of the Talmud throughout a 7 year period. She brings together lessons from the Rabbis and her own life experiences. My favorite chapter is the one about prayer.
Ilana Diamant
Jan 14, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another self-indulgent memoir of privileged and arrogant Ivy League youth that finds no meaning in her comfortable Manhattan community neither in Judaism nor in the wider humanity itself, not until she moves to Jerusalem and starts "learning" Talmud. Not studying Talmud, rather, 'learning' is the author's preferred term, as if Yiddishisms are necessary to make it a genuine experience. Every chapter is full of contrived humor attempts that render none of her narratives funny (I'm learning ...more
Andy Jacobs
Jan 13, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for one of my book club get-togethers, and was surprised by how full of stereotypes and cliches it was. Kurshan's memoir is full of a supercilious and arrogant attitude towards anybody and anything that challenges her preconceptions of what Judaism and people (Jews and non Jews), should be like when dealing with her. If we are to believe her account of her professional struggles, she decided to she could only work in Israel because the international book festivals were full of ...more
Laura Boudreau
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful memoir intertwining a woman's years studying Talmud with her professional, spiritual, and personal growth during that time. Ms. Kurshan writes openly, honestly and warmly, celebrating the intellectual and the emotional, the religious and the profane, and everything in between. She creates an approachable take on the Talmud, allowing great learning on the part of her readers, while at the same time reminding us that we are all human, imperfect...and children of God.
Leora Wenger
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish, israeli
She makes me want to study Talmud (I did not enjoy the subject when I was “fortunate” enough to have it forced upon me in high school). She would be fascinating to have as a chavruta (study partner). I found the topic of privacy and how she views it quite telling - she doesn’t say much in real life, but in this book she tells quite a bit, including how she deals with privacy issues. I loved how she managed clever, literary retorts both to an anesthesiologist in the hospital and to a rude guy on ...more
Beth Janus
I loved the beginning of this book. I thought it was masterful how Kurshan saw Talmud in her everyday life. Towards the middle of the book her connections to Talmud seemed more forced. It became more memoir and less connection to Talmud, which was less interesting.
Daniel Sevitt
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
Full disclosure: I've met the author and sometimes I sit next to her husband in shul (Hello, Daniel!).

I loved this, both as a memoir about learning daf yomi and as a book about someone who loves books. It reminded me of Anne Fadiman's essay collection Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader as the author chooses a life surrounded by and informed by literature and reading. I had one glorious moment when she referenced a Wendy Cope poem and I reached out without moving from where I was sitting
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michelle Kidwell

If All the Seas Were Ink

A Memoir
by Ilana Kurshan

St. Martin's Press

Biographies & Memoirs

Pub Date 05 Sep 2017

I am reviewing a copy of If All the Seas Were Ink through St. Martin's Press and Netgalley:

When she is twenty seven, after a painful divorce, Ilana Kurshan joins the world's largest book club, learning daf yomi, (the daily page) of the Talmud, a book of rabionic teachings, spanning a period of six hundred years. Kurshan, a runner, a romantic she adapts to its pace.

Kurshan studied the
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"God's eternal glory could not be described even if the heavens were parchment and the forest quills; if all the seas were ink, as well as every gathered water; even if the earths inhabitants were scribes and recorders of initials."
--Rabbi Meir bar Yizhak

I really looked forward to reading this, and it is even more of a treasure than I anticipated it would be. While I have heard of the Talmud, I didn’t know anything about it before I picked up this book. For a long time, I have been curious about
3.5 stars- I'm a big fan of this genre (and one of my favorites is The Know it All by AJ Jacobs where he undertakes a similarly impressive task to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica) and there was a lot in this book to enjoy- the glimpses of life in Israel, the obscure passages of talmud and how they can be made relevant to one's life, the empowering way the author tackles this project undaunted by the fact that it is an endeavor usually only embarked upon by men, etc. A few things that ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was an absolute delight. I devoured it in two sittings (one Shabbat), pushing aside all the other items on my to-read list, because this was just so perfect for some much needed quality time on my sofa. It was simple yet clever; upbeat yet honest; methodical yet vivid. I love the way Kurshan personalized an intellectual pursuit, weaving Talmud into the very fabric of her life. There's so much to learn from that approach.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading it, immensely. I love the author's insights that unfold when she compares her real life to the tractate she is currently reading. In some instances, the insights surprised her.

I liked being taken on her daily journeys both in her Daf Yomi readings, and towards self-realization.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir will stay with me for a long time. It's just so beautiful and smart and inspiring and honest.

A little background is necessary. Daf Yomi (a page a day) is a practice that's been around for about a century but become very popular in the last ten. In doing "daf yomi," a participant reads one "page" (it's really a folio page which is equal to about 3-4 pages a day usually) of Talmud a day until she finishes the entire thing in seven years. Reading the entire Talmud is a monumental
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In her memoir, "If All the Seas Were Ink," Ilana Kurshan recounts her journey from loneliness and despair to joy and fulfillment. When she was in her twenties, she fell in love, married, and moved to Israel. Unfortunately, the union ended in divorce and at twenty-seven, she felt adrift. Although she has a first-class education and was able to support herself—she is a capable editor, translator, and literary agent--she experienced bouts of depression and self-doubt. At the urging of a friend, she ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this book and, just like Torah, when I read the last page I was ready to start again on a journey for deeper meaning. Although a lot of the Talmud discussion soared right over my head, I enjoyed sharing Kushan's experiences and insights as she revealed how her life changed parallel with her daf yomi studies. I will absolutely read this book again, and hope that one day, I may have the courage to begin daf yomi. I hope this is not the last time we hear from Kurshan! Keep on writing ...more
Rhonda Lomazow
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ilana Kurshan healing from divorce living alone in Jerusalem joins a very special book club something most of us have never heard of daf yomi which translates to a page a day in the Talmud a sacred book in Judaic life.Ilana tells of her day to day life we follow her as she starts to recover &finds happiness &joy in life with daf yomi as a guide.An honest real look into her life her daily existence in.a foreign country on her path to joy.
Lisa Silverman
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This deeply personal memoir weaves stories from the author's life - from divorce to career choices, from a new marriage to the birth of three babies - together with teachings from the Talmud. Tackling a body of work so few choose to read, the author makes daf yomi- the daily 7.5 year study - come alive with her anecdotes and ties to classic Western literature. Kurshan is a wise and insightful teacher.
Gorgeous memoir interweaving talmudical passages made relevant by the authors life in Jerusalem. Quite brilliant and I enjoyed it immensely.
Erika Dreifus
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, jewish-lit
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best memoirs I've read in a long time! Such a beautiful, intimate commentary on the Talmud. Made me want to take up daf yomi again.
Enchanted Prose
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An intimate, enlightening memoir on the meaning of life stirred by seven-and-a-half years studying and embracing the Talmud (Jerusalem, present-day): Ilana Kurshan has written a remarkable, soul-searching memoir.

Scholarly yet wonderfully accessible, spiritual yet infused with the “simple pleasures” of everyday life. For someone who is an extremely private person, it’s remarkably self-exposing. A bold, beautiful leap, though Kurshan says it’s “less an act of courage than a leap of faith.” Her
Liane Wakabayashi
"When it comes to lived life, I am a deeply private person. But when it comes to written life -- to life refracted through artistry--I unclasp the whalebone stays and turn away with lowered eyes as my loosened bodice rustles to the floor." Whew! And I thought Talmudic study was dry and unsexy? This brilliant young happily married mother of four melds two passions—a love of poetry and for studying Talmud, into an eminently readable tale that covers the seven and a half year cycle in which she ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read

I don't quite know how to describe If All the Seas Were Ink. The back page purports that this book is a memoir about Kurshan moving to Jerusalem as a newlywed, her sudden divorce, and how she put her life back together and remarried while engaging in Daf Yomi, a Jewish practice of learning a page of Talmud (the Big Book of Jewish Law Discussions, Ad Nauseam) a day. The Talmud is a BIG book, so Daf Yomi takes about seven and a half years from start to finish--and a page a day is a truly
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this fascinating and engaging memoir Ilana Kurshan chronicles her move to Jerusalem from a successful career in New York City to accompany her new husband. However, the subsequent breakdown of the marriage within a short time of arriving in Jerusalem left her feeling bereft and bewildered and wondering how to re-build her life. A friend suggested she adopt the practice of Daf Yomi, reading and studying a page of the Talmud each day, a task that takes 7 and a half years to complete. This ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 21st-century, memoir
I had a hard time not fangirling over this book. Kurshan's relationship to learning, to texts, to literature both Jewish and British utterly captured how I feel about books and learning. Reading this book was a kind of religious experience in itself and her ability to truly live the Torah she learned and find it in her every day was incredible. But, mostly, I appreciated how she gave voice to so many things that were kicking around my mind. ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I tried to like this. I really wanted to. Instead I was frustrated at the tiny droplets of Talmudic "wisdom" scattered throughout with minimal discussion of the thought process that went into them. Also frustrating was the way the author glossed over the incomprehensible (to modern thought) way the Talmud treats women as uncomprehending chattel. Except for a few rabbis' wives. I also found the author self absorbed.
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written memoir over the seven year period during which the author studied a daily page of Talmud. It chronicles her reaction to a divorce, being single, dating, re-marrying and having a family. It also displays her erudition and love of all things literary. Much of Kurshan's writing is about her reading and the role it plays in her life.
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