Millennial brings Talmud to TikTok

Miriam Anzovin

by Shelley A. Sackett

NATICK — It’s not easy to pigeon-hole Miriam Anzovin of Natick.

The middle of three children, Anzovin, 36, was born in Englewood, NJ and grew up in Amherst in a ba’al teshuva family, moving from secular to orthodox Judaism by her 11th birthday. She attended Chabad day school from grades 6-8.

Yet she considers herself an atheist. She chose to home school herself in high school yet works hard to create learning communities so learners don’t feel alone.

She is a millennial yet her interests span millennia. She is “obsessed” with 21st century social sharing media platforms, especially TikTok. So she uses the platform to take deep dives into another of her passions, the 6th century with Daf Yomi, a regimen of learning the Babylonian Talmud by covering each of the 2,711 dafs (double-sided pages) in sequence. Under this schedule, the entire Talmud is completed, one day at a time, one page at a time, in a cycle of approximately 7.5 years.

The first cycle of Daf Yomi commenced on the first day of Rosh Hashana 5684 (September 11, 1923), with tens of thousands of Jews in Europe, America and Israel learning the first daf of the first tractate of the Talmud, Brachot. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews from all sects and social sectors worldwide take advantage of the free course.

Her chevruta (learning partner) is a former colleague and dear friend. Although the pandemic prevented them from learning in person, they connected over Google Chat.

As they shared responses to the text, Anzovin realized that many of her comments made her partner laugh. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m doing Daf Yomi anyway, and I only share my reactions with my chevruta. What if I made those reactions into short TikTok videos?’” she said, via email. “‘If he laughs, maybe other people will too.’”

Last December, she posted her first “Daf Reactions” on TikTok. The episode opens with Anzovin introducing the tractate she will discuss. She records from her desk in her room at home surrounded by personal items, including a white stuffed doll wearing huge pink headphones. Viewers are invited to share comments and questions, which Anzovin promptly answers.

The response was immediate and positive. “These Daf Reactions are definitely the most Torah I’ve learned in 7 years,” one person wrote. “Forget the Daf! This parody is awesome, we need more like this!” said another.

One look at Anzovin, who describes herself as a “petite blonde makeup aficionado,” and it’s obvious that she is not your typical Talmud commentator. She is saucy, her language is sometimes spicy and her delivery has more in common with Valley Girl speed speak than a Rabbinic sermon. (“This is the daf to end all daf!”) Serious about her Talmud, she sprinkles her posts with slang and humor that make her intellectually challenging topics accessible and unique.

She also knows her way around social media. She spreads “Daf Reaction” content across TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. She says she has tens of thousands of followers and hundreds of thousands of total views.

Occasionally, she departs from her standard Daf Reac­tions, as she did shortly after Ukraine was invaded. “I’ve been busy doomscrolling about Ukraine. It’s too hard to focus on anything else,” she told followers. Then she named organizations working to help those affected.

Miriam Anzovin

The seed for her TikTok channel was planted at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, where Anzovin has worked for five years as a visual artist and content creator/producer, primarily for its site Her introduction to Daf Yomi was through a CJP-sponsored “Lunch and Learn” program. That presentation resonated with her in a powerful way, setting the stage for “Daf Reactions.”

The Talmud’s intensity and challenge appealed to her. “I love Judaism and Jewish learning; it is deeply embedded in my mind and heart,” said Anzovin, who holds a degree in Judaic studies from the University of Massachusetts.

Inspired, she decided to commit to the rigor and discipline of daily Daf Yomi. She had to wait until January 5, 2020 to start, the first day of a new 7.5 year cycle. Around that same time, TikTok also grabbed her attention. Two months later, COVID hit. She credits the social media platform and daily Talmud studies with helping her get through the pandemic.

Homeschooling in Amherst left her with a residual feeling of isolation, which she struggles with still. When it became clear that COVID was not going away quickly, she felt the rumblings of the internal panic she has worked so hard to overcome.

“For all the negative aspects of social media, it has also been an absolute balm in calming that fear of feeling shut away, and it allowed me to get to know so many people I would never have met otherwise. My thinking expanded,” she said.

Her three-minute “Daf Reactions,” which she posts every few days or whenever she feels what she calls “The Daf Muse,” take her hours to prepare. She first fully studies and wrestles with the page so she can distill it into a video that is short, funny and didactic. She learns, records and edits the episode in one day. The pace is punishing, but the rewards are worth it, especially when she gets messages from other people like herself who left Orthodoxy but still have deep and abiding love for Judaism and its heritage.

Anzovin’s path to atheism began when she was 21 and could no longer accept the explanations for some of the ways Orthodox Judaism treated women. Not being counted for minyan, the agunot crisis, where women were trapped in marriages because their husbands wouldn’t give them a divorce, and hearing men recite the morning prayer thanking God for not making them women “burned my soul every day. Believing in a God who would appoint only men as the arbiters of acceptable religious practice was too painful,” she said.

Although Anzovin agrees that today she could be considered an unaffiliated Jew, she openly identifies as an atheist because she wants Jews “who might have moments when they look inside themselves and no longer find Hashem” to know there are options to cutting themselves off completely from Judaism, that they can still learn, connect with Jewish thinking, and participate in Jewish cultural life.

“Discovering one’s internal beliefs have changed can be a source of shame and fear. I don’t want these people to feel alone,” she said. “I believe the Talmud is the cultural and intellectual heritage of all Jews, regardless of gender identity or level of personal observance. I do not believe in gatekeeping.”

She has been overwhelmed with positive messages from people who are delighted to engage in traditional Jewish learning that doesn’t bore, judge or hurt them. Messages from teenage girls who send their own daf reaction videos matter the most to Anzovin, making her “sob with joy,” she said.

“They are powerful, smart, witty and brilliantly savvy. They understand the Gemara and talk about it on their own terms. They make the future seem brighter to me,” she said.

Her posts have also become a lightning rod for those who believe she is desecrating something holy and object to her “Daf Reactions” based on her millennial language, her status as a nonreligious Jew and the belief that women shouldn’t be allowed to learn — let alone teach — Talmud at all. Anzovin takes these “truly horrific” negative reactions in stride.

“The misogyny and hatred of my detractors, their fears? It only serves to fuel me more, because it means I’m doing something right,” she said.

It’s Summertime, and the Addictions Flow Easy

“My name is Shelley and I am a Words With Friends-aholic.”

Like most addicts, I was unaware that I was one. “Playing” was simply something I enjoyed. All the time. With up to ten people. Simultaneously. I checked the site first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and often in between. I kept my phone plugged in by my pillow, within easy reach in case insomnia struck.

My new best friend was a grammar school classmate who had tracked me down on facebook. Buddy and I would sometimes have five games going at once. We were constantly in cyber-contact. As soon as I played a word, he was right back. Thrust and parry. Not a moment in between until I would look at the clock, and cringe at how long I had been glued to the screen, lost in time and space.

I was a moth and this was my flame.

I started cursing others, out loud, when they racked up a high point word. I began bearing them ill will. These were no longer my friends. They were my adversaries. I checked the leaderboard after every play. Number two was not an option.

It was on a week internet-less vacation in Maine when my spousal equivalent first voiced his unhappiness with my behavior. As soon as we were within WiFi access, I whipped out my phone and checked out. Deprivation at the cabin resulted in unbridled binging. I was entitled. I ignored bucolic scenery. I preferred interactions with my fellow WWF-aholics to interacting with local lobstermen. He said I was rude, obsessed and unsociable. I said he was petty, selfish and needy. He said I spent more time with Buddy than I did with him. I said he was ridiculous and jealous.

Still, I didn’t stop. Instead, I began sneaking.

I stayed in the car at gas stations, lingered in the grocery store and “rested” at rest stops. I thought about WiFi. All the time. And stewed with resentment.

On that tense ride home, I realized I had better at least pretend to see the light. I admitted that I needed to stop, or at least to moderate my consumption. I acknowledged that my hobby was becoming an “issue” in our relationship. I would be more sensitive and less obsessed. I could do this. I would do this.

Not so easy, I discovered. Especially when my buddy Buddy-the-enabler was not on the same page. I finally conceded I couldn’t beat this alone.

Fate was on my side. WWF Anonymous had just started weekly meetings at my local Unitarian church. I saw the ads in the paper and began circling them, first in pencil and then in red pen. At last, one day I went.

The group was small and sat in a circle. I recognized a few faces and tried not to register surprise or relief. I took a seat and listened.

“Welcome to Words With Friends Anonymous.”

To be continued.

My Virgin Visit to Nordstom’s Makeup Department

I have been to Las Vegas, Reno and Aruba, and left without putting a single quarter into a slot. I have all the television stations and have never seen a single episode of “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars” or “Survivor.” Nordstrom opened in Peabody on April 17, 2009, and I had never stepped foot inside its doors. As a 60-something Jewish female, it was time.

I wanted to sport visible proof of my deflowering. What better way than letting the beautician Chanelle use my face as a canvas for her palette of expensive face paint?

In truth, I had a headshot photo shoot scheduled the next day, and oral surgery the previous week had left me looking, well, my age.

Chanelle was gentle with me, cooing encouragement as she removed my glasses and examined every pore with evaluative eyes. She described the procedures I would be undergoing, defining why each product was necessary to achieving her goal. The list was long.

Feeling like an obedient preschooler, I submitted to her authority. My makeup regime is limited to concealer, blush, mascara and lipstick, and then only when attending a gala wedding at the Four Seasons. I had no idea what the four beigecolored pots de maquillage were. Chanelle’s explanation left me feeling I had been living on borrowed time, and that each product would be critical to my survival going forward.

Even in my naked myopia, I could sense the array of clinical instruments to my left, laid out neatly by shape and function. There was no turning back.

Coat after coat was applied, brushed, reapplied and rebrushed. I counted six different brushes, more than the Impressionists ever used to create masterpieces. The makeup had names like primer, foundation, concealer, highlighter and bronzer. I felt like the outside of my house. The functions sounded inherently contradictory: an illuminating concealer, a lightweight foundation and one that lifted as it covered. Even my eyelids needed camouflaging. When I looked atmyself in the mirror, I saw a Prendergast oil painting rather than the captured glow of pubescent skin. I burst out laughing.

Chanelle, bless her heart, soldiered on. Next came the eyes. I was immediately reminded why contact lenses and I had never gotten along. The approaching mascara wand in my peripheral vision elicited a textbook Pavlovian response of watering and blinking. Before the eyeliner had been imbedded between each lash (“Never draw a line across your lids!”), I was fantasizing about makeup removers and a long shower.

The one that really got me, however, was the creation of eyebrows. I truthfully had never felt disadvantaged by my lightly endowed eyebrows. In fact, my girlfriends who are slaves to plucking and waxing are green with envy. I thought they were a lifestyle asset. Not so, apparently. My face would look much more youthful with the framing eyebrows would provide. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a cross between my grandmother and Martin Scorsese.

By contrast, the blush was fun. Unsurprisingly, the one named Orgasm is their top seller. Luckily, it did not match my skin tone, as it was predictably out of stock. My lined dry lips required a $30 remedy. The case, at least, was exquisite, worthy of Faberge. I did not escape purchase-free, but I only added one item to my shopping list of blush, lipstick and gargantuan quantities of concealer (which I would apply with a paint roller, if such a product existed). That add-on purchase? A case full of autumn eye shadows. The included free eyeliner had clinched the deal.

I tried my best to gush and cluck as I gave myself a parting glance in the blindingly lit mirror, but I’m sure I fooled no one. Especially not Chanelle. In the privacy and muted, conventional lighting of my kitchen, however, I did ooh and aah, and yes, admire. Those eyebrows did lift my face, and I’ll be darned if my skin didn’t look 25 years younger. (Okay, maybe closer to 10.) I wondered if the store’s bright lights are deliberately of torture quality to terrify and encourage equity loan-caliber purchases. Ponce de Leon’s ghost holds court in Nordstrom’s makeup department, where he is healthy, wealthy and wrinkle-free.

I am a 60-something Jewish female who has never had Botox or any of its iterations. Don’t count on an article chronicling a change in that status any time soon.


Pictured above: The author, after Chanelle did her magic.