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Talmud and kung fu movies shed light on each other in new play

In trying to understand the often esoteric arguments of the Talmud, people often turn to teachers, dictionaries and a range of other study aids. Jesse Freedman has found another helpful, albeit unexpected source: kung fu movies.

Five or six years ago, the Jewish director and playwright was watching the martial arts film “Canton Viper” when he realized that it reminded him of something in the Talmud, which he spent some time studying in college.

“Then I learned more Talmud and watched more kung fu movies and then I thought, ‘The Talmud reminds me of kung fu movies and kung fu movies remind me of the Talmud,’” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Among the many similarities Freedman found between the two are the relationships between students and teachers, who often debate and feud over the small intricacies of their respective traditions.

The structure of the works are similar, too: In kung fu movies, narrative scenes are interspersed with choreographed fight scenes that propel and comment on the plot. In the weighty compendium of Jewish law and lore, legal discussions are interspersed with anecdotes and parables that may illustrate a principle.

“The relationship between narrative and choreographic material in kung fu movies provides an interesting opportunity to interpret the Talmud for the stage,” Freedman said.

So Freedman, 37, decided to do what he does best: write a play about it. The result is “The Talmud,” which will run Sept. 12-28 at the Target Margin Theater in Brooklyn. The 75-minute play was created by Meta-Phys Ed., a performance company that Freedman founded with Rabbi Bronwen Mullin and for which he is the artistic director.

“That is basically just how I make work,” said Freedman, a Brooklynite who grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. “There are a couple things I’m interested in and I kind of just smash them together.”

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