Harry Freedman is a British author and entrepreneur. He has a broad career background having worked at senior level across many sectors, including hospitality, technology, healthcare and not for profit. His latest book, The Talmud: A Biography is published by Bloomsbury. We recently chatted to Harry on the phone about his latest book…
Tell us a bit about your new book…. what is it about?
It’s a book about the Talmud, a massive, complex work that dates from the 6th century but which contains a lot of material that is much older. The Talmud is essentially a a compendium and analysis of Jewish law but it contains much more than that; folk tales, mysticism, healing, spirituality, humour, sex, theology, astrology, cosmology… you name it it’s in there.
Apart from its length- 2 million words, the Talmud is notable because nobody sat down to write it. It is an edited record of discussions that went on in the Jewish academies and colleges in Mesopotamia between the 3rd and 6th centuries. But it is edited in such a way that it contains ‘conversations’ between people who lived in different places and at different times, who may never have met each other, but who had differing views on the subject under discussion. None of these people had any idea that their ideas would eventually be recorded in the Talmud.
It is also highly logical, deeply profound and often a very difficult book to study. Every page of the Talmud links dozens of pages of commentaries, commentaries about commentaries and so on. People have been studying the Talmud ever since it was first written, but more people study it today than ever before.
What inspired you to write the book?
As an ancient, complex and well travelled book, the Talmud has a story of its own to tell. It is a classic of world literature and its story deserves to reach a wider audience.
Who do you think will enjoy reading the book?
Anyone with an interest in history, religion, literature or culture. My book is neither a commentary on the Talmud nor an explanation of what it contains.
I call it a biography because that is really what it is- the story of the life of the Talmud. But if you want to know more about the content of the Talmud, rather than its story, I have created www.talmudbiography.com which contains excerpts and selections.
How long did it take you to write The Talmud: A Biography?
About 9 months, off and on.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Pretty random. I do a lot of research but I tend to write up my research as I go along rather than doing all the research first, then structuring the writing. So, although I have an idea before I start about the shape of the book, I still don’t know most of what it will eventually contain when I first sit down to write it.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not very good at concentrating. I get distracted easily, then in the middle of something else I get a thought or an idea- which I have to go and write up quickly before I forget it!
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Most of my research comes from books. I use the British Library a lot, but the internet even more.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I enjoy reading and learning about the development of ideas and culture. I also like watching good TV comedy & dramas and listening to proper, old-fashioned, rock music.
How many books have you written?
More than I have published! I have three novels, one of which, Jerusalem Imperilled, I self-published.
The Gospels’ Veiled Agenda was published by O-books in 2009. In it I show that, because they written by 1st century Jews, the Gospels are best understood in the context of 1st century Jewish literature. Reading them in that way throws up all sorts of different information about what Jesus and the Apostles were really trying to do- and it also identifies the Holy Grail!
I have also written books on careers- including How To Get a Job in a Recession and edited several others. Most recently I edited Pursuing the Quest an anthology of the writings of the eminent Jewish scholar, my late teacher, Louis Jacobs.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Write about what you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it is fact or fiction; as long as it is something you enjoy writing about- and can’t wait to get back to write the next bit.
When is your book available to purchase and from where?
The Talmud: A Biography ispublished by Bloomsbury, and available from all bookshops or Amazon. It is currently available as a hardback or e-book.
You can learn more about Harry Freedman and The Talmud: A Biography below: