Talmud study enables rabbi to honor late fathers memory

Rabbi David Isaac Traub would have turned 100 June 27. He didn't live to mark the occasion, so Rabbi Jacob Traub, his son, did it for him.

At Congregation Adath Israel in San Francisco, the Orthodox synagogue Jacob Traub leads, the rabbi dedicated a siyyum — a special ceremony marking the completed study of one Talmud tractate and the beginning of a new one — to his late father.

"I felt there was no better way to celebrate his birthday than this," Traub said. "He was the one who instilled in me this love of Talmud."

Born in Lithuania, David Traub immigrated to this country in 1927 and served as an Orthodox rabbi in Connecticut for many years. In 1944, he stepped down from the pulpit and became a successful businessman. But his dedication to Judaic study remained with him.

"This was the focal point of his life," his son said.

The siyyum honoring the late Traub's memory marked the completion by Adath Israel members of two books of Talmud, the massive literary reservoir of rabbinic Judaism that discourses on all aspects of Jewish life.

Members of the synagogue's Thursday evening Talmud class, which has met for 30 years and is the city's longest-running Talmud study group, studied the books. A Saturday morning class pored over the texts as well.

Truly studying the Talmud is a massive undertaking. The Talmud contains more than 30 major volumes, each 122 pages, printed on both sides with densely worded opinions, discussions, debates and aphorisms of the rabbinic sages. Text is surrounded by footnotes, digressions and corrections. If a book is studied thoroughly, said Traub, it can take more than 2-1/2 years to study it.

Books of the Talmud generally focus on a specific area of Jewish law or life — the Adath Israel study groups, for example, just completed a book that examines the holiday of Sukkot. When reading such specialized books, it is not only possible that students will veer from the primary topic, Traub said, but "mandatory."

"It's similar to an argument you would have in front of the Supreme Court," Traub said, "when [one] might focus on one area but touch upon all areas in making [one's] points."

About 50 people attended last month's siyyum at Adath Israel, which included a dinner of barbecued turkey that served as a seudat mitzvah, or meal eaten to mark the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

During the celebration — attended not only by members of Adath Israel's Talmud classes, but other adult education classes as well — Traub shared pictures and fond memories of his father, whom he recalls as a gifted scholar and orator.

"He was probably the best public speaker I ever heard in my life," Traub said. "It was not only that he had the ability to fashion a sermon better than anyone I have ever heard; he could bring it all together in a very theatrical, sometimes witty way."

Since Talmud study has been a part of life at Adath Israel for many years, the synagogue has conducted 17 siyyumim.

But congregants agree the latest was special.

"It was exceedingly tender and heartfelt," said Robert Sosnick, Adath Israel president and a member of the Shabbat morning Talmud study group for nearly three decades. Rabbi Traub "even remarked that his first sermon was prepared by his father."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.