Definitions

Babylonian Talmud

Talmud

[tahl-mood, -muhd, tal-]

The Talmud (Hebrew: תַּלְמוּד) is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history. It is a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, second only to the Hebrew Bible in importance.

The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the first written compendium of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh.

The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably. The Gemara is the basis for all codes of rabbinic law and is much quoted in other rabbinic literature. The whole Talmud is also traditionally referred to as Shas (ש"ס), a Hebrew abbreviation of shisha sedarim, the "six orders" of the Mishnah.

History

Oral law

Originally, Jewish scholarship was oral. Rabbis expounded and debated the law (that is, the Hebrew Bible) and discussed the Tanakh without the benefit of written works (other than the Biblical books themselves), though some may have made private notes (megillot setarim), for example of court decisions. This situation changed drastically, however, mainly as the result of the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth in the year 70 CE and the consequent upheaval of Jewish social and legal norms. As the Rabbis were required to face a new reality—mainly Judaism without a Temple (to serve as the center of teaching and study) and Judea without autonomy—there was a flurry of legal discourse and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. It is during this period that Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing. The earliest recorded oral law may have been of the midrashic form, in which halakhic discussion is structured as exegetical commentary on the Pentateuch. But an alternative form, organized by subject matter instead of by biblical verse, became dominant about the year 200 C.E., when Rabbi Judah haNasi redacted the Mishnah (משנה).

The Oral Law was far from monolithic, but varied among various schools. The most famous two were the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. In general, all opinions, even the non-normative ones, were recorded in the Talmud.

Mishnah

The Mishnah is a compilation of legal opinions and debates. Statements in the Mishnah are typically terse, recording brief opinions of the rabbis debating a subject; or recording only an unattributed ruling, apparently representing a consensus view. The rabbis recorded in the Mishnah are known as Tannaim. Since it sequences its laws by subject matter instead of by biblical context, the Mishnah discusses individual subjects more thoroughly than the Midrash, and it includes a much broader selection of halakhic subjects than the Midrash. The Mishna's topical organization thus became the framework of the Talmud as a whole. But not every tractate in the Mishnah has a corresponding Gemara. Also, the order of the tractates in the Talmud differs in some cases from that in the Mishnah (see the discussion on each order).

Baraita

In addition to the Mishnah, other tannaitic teachings were current at about the same time or shortly thereafter. The Gemara frequently refers to these tannaitic statements in order to compare them to those contained in the Mishnah and to support or refute the propositions of Amoraim. All such non-Mishnaic tannaitic sources are termed baraitot (lit. outside material, "Works external to the Mishnah"; sing. baraita ברייתא). The baraitot cited in the Gemara are often quotations from the Tosefta (a tannaitic compendium of halakha parallel to the Mishnah) and the Halakhic Midrashim (specifically Mekhilta, Sifra and Sifre). Some baraitot, however, are known only through traditions cited in the Gemara, and are not part of any other collection.

Gemara

In the three centuries following the redaction of the Mishnah, rabbis throughout Israel and Babylonia analyzed, debated and discussed that work. These discussions form the Gemara (גמרא). Gemara means “completion” (from the Hebrew gamar גמר: "to complete") or "learning"(from the Aramaic: "to study"). The Gemara mainly focuses on elucidating and elaborating the opinions of the Tannaim. The rabbis of the Gemara are known as Amoraim (sing. Amora אמורא).

Much of the Gemara consists of legal analysis. The starting point for the analysis is usually a legal statement found in a Mishnah. The statement is then analyzed and compared with other statements in a dialectical exchange between two (frequently anonymous and sometimes metaphorical) disputants, termed the makshan (questioner) and tartzan (answerer). Another important function of Gemara is to identify the correct Biblical basis for a given law presented in the Mishnah and the logical process connecting one with the other: this activity was known as talmud long before the existence of the "Talmud" as a text.

These exchanges form the "building-blocks" of the Gemara; the name for a passage of gemara is a sugya (סוגיא; plural sugyot). A Sugya will typically comprise a detailed proof-based elaboration of a Mishnaic statement.

In a given sugya, scriptural, Tannaic and Amoraic statements are brought to support the various opinions. In so doing, the Gemara will bring semantic disagreements between Tannaim and Amoraim (often ascribing a view to an earlier authority as to how he may have answered a question), and compare the Mishnaic views with passages from the Baraita. Rarely are debates formally closed; in many instances, the final word determines the practical law, although there are many exceptions to this principle.

Halakha and Aggadah

The Talmud contains a vast amount of material and touches on a great many subjects. Traditionally Talmudic statements can be classified into two broad categories, Halakhic and Aggadic statements. Halakhic statements are those which directly relate to questions of Jewish law and practice (Halakha). Aggadic statements are those which are not legally related, but rather are exegetical, homiletical, ethical or historical in nature. See Aggadah for further discussion.

Bavli and Yerushalmi

The process of "Gemara" proceeded in the two major centers of Jewish scholarship, the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Talmud Yerushalmi. It was compiled sometime during the fourth century in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled about the year 500 C.E., although it continued to be edited later. The word "Talmud", when used without qualification, usually refers to the Babylonian Talmud.

Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud)

The Jerusalem Talmud, also known as the Palestinian Talmud, was one of the two compilations of Jewish religious teachings and commentary that was transmitted orally for centuries prior to its compilation by Jewish scholars in Palestine. It is a compilation of teachings of the schools of Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesarea. It is written largely in a western Aramaic dialect that differs from its Babylonian counterpart.

This Talmud is a synopsis of the analysis of the Mishnah that was developed over the course of nearly 200 years by the Academies in Israel (principally those of Tiberias and Caesaria.) Because of their location, the sages of these Academies devoted considerable attention to analysis of the agricultural laws of the Land of Israel. Traditionally, this Talmud was thought to have been redacted in about the year 350 C.E. by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi in the Land of Israel. It is traditionally known as the Talmud Yerushalmi ("Jerusalem Talmud"), but the name is a misnomer, as it was not prepared in Jerusalem. It has more accurately been called the The Talmud of the Land of Israel. It has also often been referred to as the Palestinian Talmud, especially in sources that predate the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Its final redaction probably belongs to the end of the fourth century, but the individual scholars who brought it to its present form cannot be fixed with assurance. By this time Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire and Jerusalem the holy city of Christendom. In 325 CE Constantine, the first Christian emperor, said “let us have nothing in common with this odious people”. This policy made a Jew an outcast and pauper. The compilers of the Jerusalem Talmud consequently lacked the time to produce a work of the quality they had intended. The text is evidently incomplete and is not easy to follow. Any further work on the Jerusalem Talmud probably came to an abrupt end in 425 C.E., when Theodosius II suppressed the Patriarchate and put an end to the practice of formal scholarly ordination.

Despite this, the Jerusalem Talmud remains an indispensable source of knowledge of the development of the Jewish Law in the Holy Land. It was also an important resource in the study of the Babylonian Talmud by the Kairouan school of Hananel ben Hushiel and Nissim Gaon, with the result that opinions ultimately based on the Jerusalem Talmud found their way into both the Tosafot and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides.

There are traditions that hold that in the Messianic Age the Jerusalem Talmud will have priority over the Babylonian. This may be interpreted as meaning that, following the restoration of the Sanhedrin and the line of ordained scholars, the work will be completed and "out of Zion shall go the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem".

Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud)

The Talmud Bavli was transmitted orally for centuries prior to its compilation by Jewish scholars in Babylon about the 5th century CE. Since the Exile to Babylonia in 586 BCE, there had been Jewish communities living in Babylonia as well as in Judea, as many of the captives never returned home. From then till the Talmudic period the Babylonian Jewish population increased through natural growth as well as migration. The most important of the Jewish centres were Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahoza, Pumbeditha and Sura. It was no longer necessary for scholars to travel regularly to Israel to gather authentic traditions.

Talmud Bavli (the "Babylonian Talmud") comprises the Mishnah and the Babylonian Gemara, the latter representing the culmination of more than 300 years of analysis of the Mishnah in the Babylonian Academies. The foundations of this process of analysis were laid by Rab, a disciple of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi. Tradition ascribes the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud in its present form to two Babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina. Ashi was president of the Sura Academy from 375 to 427 CE. The work begun by Ashi was completed by Ravina, who is traditionally regarded as the final Amoraic expounder. Accordingly, traditionalists argue that Ravina’s death in 499 CE is the latest possible date for the completion of the redaction of the Talmud. However, even on the most traditional view a few passages are regarded as the work of a group of rabbis who edited the Talmud after the end of the Amoraic period, known as the Saboraim or Rabbanan Savora'e (meaning "reasoners" or "considerers").

The question as to when the Gemara was finally put into its present form is not settled among modern scholars. Some, like Louis Jacobs, argue that the main body of the Gemara is not simple reportage of conversations, as it purports to be, but a highly elaborate structure contrived by the Saboraim, who must therefore be regarded as the real authors. On this view the text did not reach its final form until around 700. Some modern scholars use the term Stammaim (from the Hebrew Stam, meaning "closed", "vague" or "unattributed") for the authors of unattributed statements in the Gemara. (See eras within Jewish law.)

Comparison of style and subject matter

There are significant differences between the two Talmud compilations. The language of the Jerusalem Talmud is a western Aramaic dialect which differs from that of the Babylonian. The Talmud Yerushalmi is often fragmentary and difficult to read, even for experienced Talmudists. The redaction of the Talmud Bavli, on the other hand, is more careful and precise. The law as laid down in the two compilations is basically similar, except in emphasis and in minor details. The Jerusalem Talmud has not received much attention from commentators, and such traditional commentaries as exist are mostly concerned with comparing its teachings to those of the Talmud Bavli.

The Jerusalem Talmud was never completed, as work on it was abruptly broken off in 425 C.E. In the Bavli, however, Gemara exists only for 37 out of the 63 tractates of the Mishnah: most laws from the Orders Zeraim (agricultural laws limited to the land of Israel) and Toharot (ritual purity laws related to the Temple and sacrificial system) had little practical relevance in Babylonia and were therefore not included. The Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), by contrast, covers all the tractates of Zeraim.

The Babylonian Talmud records the opinions of the rabbis of Eretz Israel as well as of those of Babylonia, while the Jerusalem Talmud seldom cites Babylonian authority. The Babylonian version also contains the opinions of more generations because of its later date of completion. For these reasons it is regarded as a more comprehensive collection of the opinions available.

The influence of the Babylonian Talmud has been far greater than that of the Yerushalmi. In the main, this is because the influence and prestige of the Jewish community of Israel steadily declined in contrast with the Babylonian community in the years after the redaction of the Talmud and continuing until the Gaonic era. Furthermore, the editing of the Babylonian Talmud was superior to that of the Jerusalem version, making it more accessible and readily usable. According to Maimonides, all Jewish communities during the Gaonic era formally accepted the Babylonian Talmud as binding upon themselves, and modern Jewish practice follows the Babylonian Talmud's conclusions on all areas in which the two Talmuds are in conflict.

Language

The Babylonian Talmud, comprising both the Mishnah and the Gemara, contains large swaths of both Hebrew and Aramaic. The central portion is in Hebrew.

While Aramaic was spoken for a long time by ancient Jews, Hebrew, in various forms and at various historical stages, was also continuously used. Hebrew was used for the writing of religious texts, poetry, and so forth, as well as for speech. Even after the introduction of Aramaic, and its influence on Late Biblical Hebrew, Hebrew continued to develop, and today scholars use terms like Mishnaic/Rabbinic Hebrew and Medieval Hebrew.

Not only the Mishnah, but also all the Baraitas quoted and embedded in the Gemara, are in Hebrew, so that Hebrew constitutes somewhat less than half of the text of the Talmud. The rest, including the discussions of the Amoraim and the overall framework, is in a characteristic dialect of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. There are occasional quotations from older works in other dialects of Aramaic, such as Megillat Taanit.

Printing

The first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Italy by Daniel Bomberg during the 16th century. In addition to the Mishnah and Gemara, Bomberg's edition contained the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot. Almost all printings since Bomberg have followed the same pagination. The edition of the Talmud published by the Szapira brothers in Slavuta in 1795 is particularly prized by many hasidic rebbes. In 1835, after an acrimonious dispute with the Szapira family, a new edition of the Talmud was printed by Menachem Romm of Vilna. Known as the Vilna Shas. This edition (and later ones printed by his widow and sons) has been used in the production of more recent editions of Talmud Bavli.

A page number in the Talmud refers to a double-sided page, known as a daf; each daf has two amudim labeled א and ב, sides A and B. The referencing by daf is relatively recent and dates from the early Talmud printings of the 17th century. Earlier rabbinic literature generally only refers to the tractate or chapters within a tractate. Nowadays, reference is made in format [Tractate daf a/b] (e.g. Berachot 23b). In the Vilna edition of the Talmud there are 5,894 folio pages.

The text of the Vilna editions is considered by scholars not to be uniformly reliable. In the early twentieth century Nathan Rabinowitz published a series of volumes called Dikduke Soferim showing textual variants from early manuscripts and printings, and in recent decades the Institute for the Complete Israeli Talmud has started a similar project under the name of Gemara Shelemah. There have been critical editions of particular tractates (e.g. Henry Malter's edition of Ta'anit), but there is no modern critical edition of the whole Talmud. The most recent edition is by the Oz ve-Hadar institute: this is basically an updated version of the Vilna edition, but cites variant texts in footnotes.

Commentary and study

From the time of its completion, the Talmud became integral to Jewish scholarship. This section outlines some of the major areas of Talmudic study.

The Geonim

The earliest Talmud commentaries were written by the Geonim (approximately 800-1000, C.E.) in Babylonia. Although some direct commentaries on particular treatises are extant, our main knowledge of Gaonic era Talmud scholarship comes from statements embedded in Geonic responsa which shed light on Talmudic passages. Also important are practical abridgments of Jewish law such as Yehudai Gaon's Halachot Pesukot, Achai Gaon's Sheeltot and Simeon Kayyara's Halachot Gedolot. After the death of Hai Gaon, however, the center of Talmud scholarship shifts to Europe and North Africa.

Halakhic and Aggadic Extractions

One area of Talmudic scholarship developed out of the need to ascertain the Halakha. Early commentators such as Rabbi Isaac Alfasi (North Africa, 1013-1103) attempted to extract and determine the binding legal opinions from the vast corpus of the Talmud. Alfasi's work was highly influential and later served as a basis for the creation of halakhic codes. Another influential medieval Halakhic commentary was that of Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (d. 1327).

A fifteenth century Spanish rabbi, Jacob ibn Habib (d. 1516), composed the Ein Yaakov. Ein Yaakov (or Ein Ya'aqob) extracts nearly all the Aggadic material from the Talmud. It was intended to familiarize the public with the ethical parts of the Talmud and to dispute many of the accusations surrounding its contents.

Commentaries

The Talmud is often cryptic and difficult to understand. Its language contains many Greek and Persian words which over time became obscure. A major area of Talmudic scholarship developed in order to explain these passages and words. Some early commentators such as Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz (10th c.) and Rabbenu Hananel (early 11th c.) produced running commentaries to various tractates. These commentaries could be read with the text of the Talmud and would help explain the meaning of the text. Another important work is the Sefer ha-Mafteach (Book of the Key) by Nissim Gaon, which contains a preface explaining the different forms of Talmudic argumentation and then explains abbreviated passages in the Talmud by cross-referring to parallel passages where the same thought is expressed in full. Using a different style, Rabbi Nathan b. Jechiel created a lexicon called the Arukh in the 11th century in order to translate difficult words.

By far the best known commentary on the Babylonian Talmud is that of Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, 1040-1105). The commentary is comprehensive, covering almost the entire Talmud. Written as a running commentary, it provides a full explanation of the words, and explains the logical structure of each Talmudic passage. It is considered indispensable to students of the Talmud.

Medieval Ashkenazic Jewry produced another major commentary known as Tosafot ("additions" or "supplements"). The Tosafot are collected commentaries by various medieval Ashkenazic Rabbis on the Talmud (known as Tosafists). One of the main goals of the Tosafot is to explain and interpret contradictory statements in the Talmud. Unlike Rashi, the Tosafot is not a running commentary, but rather comments on selected matters. Often the explanations of Tosafot differ from those of Rashi.

Among the founders of the Tosafist school were Rabbi Jacob b. Meir (known as Rabbeinu Tam), who was a grandson of Rashi, and, Rabbenu Tam's nephew, Rabbi Isaac ben Samuel. The Tosafot commentaries were collected in different editions in the various schools. The benchmark collection of Tosafot for Northern France was that of R. Eliezer of Touques. The standard collection for Spain was that of Rabbenu Asher ("Tosafot Harosh"). The Tosafot that are printed in the standard Vilna edition of the Talmud are an edited version of one or another of the medieval collections.

Over time, the approach of the Tosafists spread to other Jewish communities, particularly those in Spain. This led to the composition of many other commentaries in similar styles. Among these are the commentaries of Ramban, Rashba, Ritva and Ran. A comprehensive anthology consisting of extracts from all these is the Shittah Mekubbetzet of Bezalel Ashkenazi.

There were other commentaries produced in Spain and Provence which were not influenced by the Tosafist style. Two of the most significant of these are the Yad Ramah by Rabbi Meir Abulafia (uncle of the mystic Abraham Abulafia) and Bet Habechirah by Rabbi Menahem haMeiri, commonly referred to as "Meiri". While the Bet Habechirah is extant for all of Talmud, we only have the Yad Ramah for Tractates Sanhedrin, Baba Batra and Gittin.

In later centuries, focus partially shifted from direct Talmudic interpretation to the analysis of previously written Talmudic commentaries. These later commentaries include "Maharshal" (Solomon Luria), "Maharam" (Meir Lublin) and "Maharsha" (Samuel Edels)

Pilpul

During the 15th and 16th centuries, a new intensive form of Talmud study arose. Complicated logical arguments were used to explain minor points of contradiction within the Talmud. The term pilpul (related to the Hebrew word pilpel, meaning "spice" or "pepper ) was applied to this type of study. Usage of pilpul in this sense (that of "sharp analysis") harks back to the Talmudic era and refers to the intellectual sharpness this method demanded.

Pilpul practitioners posited that the Talmud could contain no redundancy or contradiction whatsoever. New categories and distinctions (hillukim) were therefore created, resolving seeming contradictions within the Talmud by novel logical means.

Among Sephardi and Italian Jews some authorities sought to apply the methods of Aristotelian logic, as reformulated by Averroes. This method was first recorded, though without explicit reference to Aristotle, by Isaac Campanton (d. Spain, 1463) in his Darkhei ha-Talmud ("The Ways of the Talmud"), and is also found in the works of Moses Chaim Luzzatto.

In the Ashkenazi world the founders of pilpul are generally considered to be Jacob Pollak (1460-1541) and Shalom Shachna. This kind of study reached its height in the 16th and 17th centuries when expertise in pilpulistic analysis was considered an art form and became a goal in and of itself within the yeshivot of Poland and Lithuania. But the popular new method of Talmud study was not without critics; already in the 15th century, the ethical tract Orhot Zaddikim ("Lights of the Righteous" in Hebrew) criticized pilpul for an overemphasis on intellectual acuity. Many 16th- and 17th-century rabbis were also critical of pilpul. Among them may be noted Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal), Isaiah Horowitz, and Jair Hayyim Bacharach.

By the 18th century, pilpul study waned. Other styles of learning such as that of the school of Elijah b. Solomon, the Vilna Gaon, became popular. The term "pilpul" was increasingly applied derogatorily to novellae deemed casuistic and hairsplitting. Authors referred to their own commentaries as "al derekh ha-peshat" (by the simple method) to contrast them with pilpul.

Brisker method

In the late nineteenth century another trend in Talmud study arose. Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik (1853-1918) of Brisk (Brest-Litovsk) developed and refined this style of study. Brisker method involves the analysis of rabbinic arguments within the Talmud or among the Rishonim, explaining the differing opinions by placing them within a categorical structure. The Brisker method is highly analytical and is often criticized as being a modern-day version of Pilpul. Nevertheless, the influence of the Brisker method is great. Most modern day Yeshivot study the Talmud using the Brisker method in some form. One feature of this method is the use of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah as a guide to Talmudic interpretation, as distinct from its use as a source of practical halakha.

Rival methods were those of the Mir and Telz yeshivas.

Critical method

As a result of emancipation from the ghetto (1789), Judaism underwent enormous upheaval and transformation during the nineteenth century, (see Reform Judaism, Haskala). Modern methods of textual and historical analysis were applied to the Talmud.

Textual emendations

The text of the Talmud has been subject to some level of critical scrutiny throughout its history.

The emendations of R. Solomon Luria and R. Yoel Sirkis are included in all standard editions of the Talmud. The Vilna Gaon emended many texts by genius alone. Many of the Gaon's emendations were later verified by the discovery of the Cairo Genizah. (See Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism.)

In the nineteenth century R. Raphael Nathan Nota Rabinovicz published a multi-volume work entitled Dikdukei Soferim, showing textual variants from the Munich and other early manuscripts of the Talmud, and further variants are recorded in the Gemara Shelemah and Oz ve-Hadar editions (see Printing, above).

Historical analysis

During the early 19th century, leaders of the Reform movement, such as Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim, subjected the Talmud to severe scrutiny as part of an effort to break with traditional rabbinic Judaism. They insisted that the Talmud was entirely a work of evolution and development. The proponents of the more moderate tendency known as "positive-historical Judaism", notably Nachman Krochmal and Zacharias Frankel, developed a new understanding of the Oral Torah. They described the Oral Torah as the result of a historical and exegetical process, emerging over time, through the application of authorized exegetical techniques, and more importantly, the subjective dispositions and personalities and current historical conditions, by learned sages. This position was known as the Historical-Critical school. This was later developed more fully in the five volume work Dor Dor ve-Dorshav by Isaac Hirsch Weiss. (See Jay Harris Guiding the Perplexed in the Modern Age Ch. 5)

Another aspect of this movement is reflected in Graetz's History of the Jews. Graetz attempts to deduce the personality of the Pharisees based on the laws or aggadot that they cite, and show that their personalities influenced the laws they expounded. This is only a valid method if one looks upon the Pharisees as independent exegetes rather than as transmitters of the Oral Law.

This clashes with the traditional understanding of the nature of the Oral Law. The traditional understanding is that in addition to the written law (the Bible), God communicated to Moses additional amplifications and explanations that were passed down orally until written in the Talmud. According to this belief, any attempt to trace a historical "evolution of Halacha" (with the exception of several later enactments) would be erroneous.

See Rashi to Leviticus Ch. 25 V. 1 (quoting a Sifra):

"However, this teaches us that just as the Sabbatical year, its general principles and its finer details were all stated at Sinai, likewise, all of the laws were stated, their general principles together with their finer details were stated at Sinai"

Because the modern method of historical study had its origins in the era of religious reform, the method was immediately controversial within the Orthodox world. In reaction, some Orthodox leaders such as Moses Sofer (the Chatam Sofer) became exquisitely sensitive to any change and rejected modern critical methods of Talmud study.

The leader of Orthodox Jewry in Germany Samson Raphael Hirsch, while not rejecting the methods of scholarship in principle, hotly contested the findings of the Historical-Critical method. In a series of articles in his magazine Jeschurun (reprinted in Collected Writings Vol. 5) Hirsch reiterated the traditional view and pointed out numerous errors in the works of Graetz, Frankel and Geiger.

On the other hand, many of the nineteenth century's strongest critics of Reform, including strictly orthodox Rabbis such as Zvi Hirsch Chajes, utilized this new scientific method. The Orthodox Rabbinical seminary of Azriel Hildesheimer was founded on the idea of creating a "harmony between Judaism and science". Another Orthodox pioneer of scientific Talmud study was David Zvi Hoffman.

Contemporary scholarship

Some trends within contemporary Talmud scholarship are listed below.

  • Orthodox Judaism maintains that the oral law was revealed together with the written law. As such, Orthodox Judaism has resisted any effort to apply the historical method to the Talmud. It also resists imputing motives to the authors of the Talmud.
  • Some non-Orthodox scholars hold that there has been extensive editorial reshaping of the stories and statements within the Talmud. Lacking outside confirming texts, they hold that we cannot confirm the origin or date of most statements and laws, and that we can say little for certain about their authorship. In this view, the questions above are impossible to answer. See, for example, the works of Louis Jacobs and Shaye J.D. Cohen.
  • Some scholars hold that the Talmud has been extensively shaped by later editorial redaction, but that it contains sources which we can identify and describe with some level of reliability. In this view, sources can be identified by tracing the history and analyzing the geographical regions of origin. See, for example, the works of Lee I. Levine and David C. Kraemer.
  • Some scholars hold that many or most the statements and events described in the Talmud usually occurred more or less as described, and that they can be used as serious sources of historical study. In this view, historians do their best to tease out later editorial additions (itself a very difficult task) and skeptically view accounts of miracles, leaving behind a reliable historical text. See, for example, the works of Saul Lieberman, David Weiss Halivni, and Avraham Goldberg.

Modern academic study attempts to separate the different "strata" within the text, to try to interpret each level on its own, and to identify the correlations between parallel versions of the same tradition.

In recent years, the work of R. David Weiss Halivni and Dr. Shamma Friedman has resulted in a paradigm shift in the understanding of the Talmud (Encyclopedia Judaica 2nd ed. entry "Talmud, Babylonian"). The traditional understanding was to view the Talmud as a unified homogeneous work. While other scholars had also treated the Talmud as a multi-layered work, Dr. Halivni's innovation (primarily in the second volume of his Mekorot u-Mesorot) was to differentiate between the Amoraic statements which are generally brief Halachic decisions or inquiries, and the writings of the later "Stammaitic" (or Saboraic) authors which are characterised by a much longer analysis often consisting of lengthy dialectic discussion. It has been noted that the Jerusalem Talmud is in fact very similar to the Babylonian Talmud minus Stammaitic activity (Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd ed.), entry "Jerusalem Talmud").

Shamma Y. Friedman's Talmud Aruch on the sixth chapter of Bava Metzia (1996) is the first example of a complete analysis of a Talmudic text using this method. S. Wald has followed with works on Pesachim ch. 3 (2000) and Shabbat ch. 7 (2006).

Role of the Talmud in Judaism

The Talmud is the written record of an oral tradition. It became the basis for many rabbinic legal codes and customs, of which the most important are the Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch. Orthodox and, to a lesser extent, Conservative Judaism accept the Talmud as authoritative, while Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism do not. This section briefly outlines past and current movements and their view of the Talmud's role.

Sadducees

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect which flourished during the Second Temple period. One of their main arguments with the Pharisees (later known as Rabbinic Judaism) was over their rejection of an Oral Law as well as denying a resurrection after death. The disagreement was not strictly speaking about the Talmud, as this had not been written at the time.

Karaism

Another movement which rejected the oral law was Karaism. It arose within two centuries of the completion of the Talmud. Karaism developed as a reaction against the Talmudic Judaism of Babylonia. The central concept of Karaism is the rejection of the Oral Torah, as embodied in the Talmud, in favor of a strict adherence to the Written Law only. This opposes the fundamental Rabbinic concept that the Oral Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai together with the Written Law. Karaism has virtually disappeared, declining from a high of nearly 10% of the Jewish population to a current estimated 0.2%.

Reform Judaism

With the rise of Reform Judaism, during the nineteenth century, the authority of the Talmud was again questioned. The Talmud was seen by Reform Jews as a product of late antiquity having relevance merely as a historical document. In some cases a similar view was taken of the written law as well, while others appeared to adopt a neo-Karaite "back to the Bible" approach, though often with greater emphasis on the prophetic than on the legal books.

Present day

See also Halakha: How Halakha is viewed today and Halakha: The sources and process of Halakha.

Orthodox Judaism continues to stress the importance of Talmud study and it is a central component of Yeshiva curriculum, in particular for those training to be Rabbis. This is so even though Halakha is generally studied from the medieval codes and not directly from the Talmud. Talmudic study among the Jewish laity was not widespread prior to the 20th century, but changes in education and leisure, the publication of study editions with translations and accessible commentaries in recent decades, and particularly the rise of Yeshiva and Jewish day school education among the Jewish laity, have made reading the Talmud more widespread in Orthodox Judaism, with daily or weekly Talmud study particularly common in Haredi Judaism and with Talmud study a central part of the curriculum in Orthodox Yeshivas and day schools. The regular study of Talmud among laymen has been popularized by the Daf Yomi, a daily course of Talmud study initiated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923; its 12th cycle of study began on March 2, 2005. See also: Orthodox beliefs about Jewish law and tradition.

Conservative Judaism similarly emphasizes the study of Talmud within its religious and rabbinic education. Generally, however, the Talmud is studied as a historical source-text for Halakha. The Conservative approach to legal decision-making emphasizes placing classic texts and prior decisions in historical and cultural context, and examining the historical development of Halakha. This approach has resulted in greater practical flexibility than that of the Orthodox. Talmud study is part of the curriculum of Conservative parochial education at many Conservative day schools and an increase in Conservative day school enrollments has resulted in an increase in Talmud study as part of Conservative Jewish education among a minority of Conservative Jews. See also: The Conservative Jewish view of the Halakha.

Reform Judaism does not emphasize the study of Talmud to the same degree in their Hebrew schools, but they do teach it in their rabbinical seminaries; the world view of liberal Judaism rejects the idea of binding Jewish law, and uses the Talmud as a source of inspiration and moral instruction. Ownership and reading of the Talmud is not widespread among Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, who usually place more emphasis on the study of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. See also: The Reform Jewish view of the Halakha and view of the Talmud.

Attacks on the Talmud

Christian accusations against the Talmud have tended to fall into several categories, including alleged:

  1. Anti-Christian or anti-Gentile content
  2. Insults against Jesus or the Virgin Mary
  3. Absurd or sexually immoral content
  4. Falsification of scripture

Such accusations often shade into attacks on Jews or Judaism generally, and should be distinguished from criticisms of the Talmud (including some criticism by Jews) on grounds such as excessive legalism, strained reasoning, unhistoric content and superstitious beliefs.

Middle ages

The history of the Talmud reflects in part the history of Judaism persisting in a world of hostility and persecution. Almost at the very time that the Babylonian savoraim put the finishing touches to the redaction of the Talmud, the emperor Justinian issued his edict against the abolition of the Greek translation of the Bible in the service of the Synagogue. Since the Old Testament of the Bible is the Hebrew Bible, Justinian I's edict essentially banned Jews from using their own Hebrew Bible in their synagogues, at least in a commonly-understood language. This edict, dictated by Christian zeal and anti-Jewish feeling, was the prelude to attacks on the Talmud, conceived in the same spirit, and beginning in the thirteenth century in France, where Talmudic study was then flourishing.

The charge against the Talmud brought by the Christian convert Nicholas Donin led to the first public disputation between Jews and Christians and to the first burning of copies of the Talmud (Paris, Place de Grève, 1242). The Talmud was likewise the subject of a disputation at Barcelona in 1263 between Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman) and Christian convert, Pablo Christiani. This same Pablo Christiani made an attack on the Talmud which resulted in a papal bull against the Talmud and in the first censorship, which was undertaken at Barcelona by a commission of Dominicans, who ordered the cancellation of passages deemed objectionable from a Christian perspective (1264). Censorship of many topics by the Church was widespread during these centuries, such as Catholic censorship of the findings of Galileo.

At the disputation of Tortosa in 1413, Geronimo de Santa Fé brought forward a number of accusations, including the fateful assertion that the condemnations of "pagans," "heathens," and "apostates" found in the Talmud were in reality veiled references to Christians. These assertion were denied by the Jewish community and its scholars, who contended that Judaic thought made a sharp distinction between those classified as heathen or pagan, being polytheistic, and those who acknowledge one true God (such as the Christians) even while worshipping the true monotheistic God incorrectly. Thus, Jews viewed Christians as misguided and in error, but not among the "heathens" or "pagans" discussed in the Talmud. Nevertheless, in the anti-semitic climate of the age, accusations against Jews were widely accepted without the need for proof.

Both Pablo Christiani and Geronimo de Santa Fé, in addition to criticizing the Talmud, also regarded it as a source of authentic traditions some of which could be used as arguments in favour of Christianity. Examples of such traditions were statements that the Messiah was born around the time of the destruction of the Temple, and that the Messiah sat at the right hand of God.

In like manner, references in the Talmud to various historical figures were said to be coded references to Jesus, despite Jewish insistence that the Talmud refers to other, actual persons. A prominent example is Balaam son of Beor, a pagan prophet who lived approximately 1000 years before Jesus, whose actions are portrayed in the Bible, in Numbers 22 through 31. The Talmud's harsh words against Balaam echo the Bible's own condemnation in Deuteronomy 23 and Nehemiah 13. Yet, these references were said to be secretly about Jesus.

Two years later, Pope Martin V, who had convened this disputation, issued a bull (which was destined, however, to remain inoperative) forbidding the Jews to read the Talmud, and ordering the destruction of all copies of it. Far more important were the charges made in the early part of the sixteenth century by the convert Johannes Pfefferkorn, the agent of the Dominicans. The result of these accusations was a struggle in which the emperor and the pope acted as judges, the advocate of the Jews being Johann Reuchlin, who was opposed by the obscurantists; and this controversy, which was carried on for the most part by means of pamphlets, became the precursor of the Reformation .

An unexpected result of this affair was the complete printed edition of the Babylonian Talmud issued in 1520 by Daniel Bomberg at Venice, under the protection of a papal privilege. Three years later, in 1523, Bomberg published the first edition of the Jerusalem Talmud. After thirty years the Vatican, which had first permitted the Talmud to appear in print, undertook a campaign of destruction against it. On the New Year (September 9, 1553) the copies of the Talmud which had been confiscated in compliance with a decree of the Inquisition were burned at Rome; and similar burnings took place in other Italian cities, as at Cremona in 1559. The Censorship of the Talmud and other Hebrew works was introduced by a papal bull issued in 1554; five years later the Talmud was included in the first Index Expurgatorius; and Pope Pius IV commanded, in 1565, that the Talmud be deprived of its very name.

The first edition of the expurgated Talmud, on which most subsequent editions were based, appeared at Basel (1578-1581) with the omission of the entire treatise of 'Abodah Zarah and of passages considered inimical to Christianity, together with modifications of certain phrases. A fresh attack on the Talmud was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII (1575-85), and in 1593 Clement VIII renewed the old interdiction against reading or owning it. The increasing study of the Talmud in Poland led to the issue of a complete edition (Kraków, 1602-5), with a restoration of the original text; an edition containing, so far as known, only two treatises had previously been published at Lublin (1559-76). In 1707 some copies of the Talmud were confiscated in the province of Brandenburg, but were restored to their owners by command of Frederick, the first king of Prussia. The last attack on the Talmud took place in Poland in 1757, when Bishop Dembowski, at the instigation of the Frankists, convened a public disputation at Kamenets-Podolsk, and ordered all copies of the work found in his bishopric to be confiscated and burned by the hangman.

The external history of the Talmud includes also the literary attacks made upon it by Christian theologians after the Reformation, since these onslaughts on Judaism were directed primarily against that work, even though it was made a subject of study by the Christian theologians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1830, during a debate in the French Chamber of Peers regarding state recognition of the Jewish faith, Admiral Verhuell declared himself unable to forgive the Jews whom he had met during his travels throughout the world either for their refusal to recognize Jesus as the Messiah or for their possession of the Talmud. In the same year the Abbé Chiarini published at Paris a voluminous work entitled "Théorie du Judaïsme," in which he announced a translation of the Talmud, advocating for the first time a version which should make the work generally accessible, and thus serve for attacks on Judaism. In a like spirit nineteenth century anti-Semitic agitators often urged that a translation be made; and this demand was even brought before legislative bodies, as in Vienna. The Talmud and the "Talmud Jew" thus became objects of anti-Semitic attacks, for example in August Rohling's Der Talmudjude, although, on the other hand, they were defended by many Christian students of the Talmud.

Despite the numerous mentions of Edom which may refer to Christendom, the Talmud makes little mention of Jesus directly or the early Christians. There are a number of quotes about one or more individuals designated "Yeshu" that once existed in editions of the Talmud, although details about Yeshu do not match the known facts about Jesus' trial and death. The Talmud says Yeshu was hanged, not crucified, on the eve of (before) Passover. (This is when Jesus was crucified according to the Gospel of John, but the Synoptic Gospels indicate that the crucifixion occurred on the first day of Passover itself. Scholars have debated the reasons for this apparent discrepancy.) Yeshu had 5 disciples, whose names are different from the 12 apostles of Jesus, except for Matthias (a very common name). The Talmud primarily discusses the legal requirements of how to conduct a trial, and mentions the trial of Yeshu as an example of how a trial should be conducted. In giving those details, a trial that bears no resemblance to the trial of Jesus is described. For example, it claims that Yeshu's execution was preceded by a herald going forth for forty days proclaiming the charges against him, an event of which there is no record in the New Testament and which contradicts the New Testament's assertion that Jesus was arrested by stealth the night before his execution. In another disparaging example Yeshu is identified as a student of Rabbi Joshua the son of Perachia, this was in the times of King Yannai, 5 generations before the destruction of the second temple and the period closest to that of the historical Jesus.

These quotes were self-censored from the main text in order to be able to continue to print the bulk of the Talmud, and were removed due to accusations that they referred to Jesus. Although they were not available for many generations, the removed sections of the Talmud, Rashi, Tosafot, and Maharsha, were preserved through rare printings of lists of errata, known as Chesronos Hashas ("Omissions of the Talmud"). Many of these censored portions were recovered ironically enough from uncensored manuscripts in the Vatican Library. Some modern editions of the Talmud contain some or all of this material, either at the back of the book, in the margin, or in its original location in the text. These passages do not necessarily refer to a single individual and many of the accounts differ significantly from anything written in the New Testament.

Contemporary accusations

Criticism of the Talmud is widespread, in great part through the Internet.

The Anti-Defamation League's report on this topic states:

Rabbi Gil Student, a prolific Internet author, writes:

Translations

Translations of Talmud Bavli

There are five contemporary translations of the Talmud into English:

  • The Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud, Mesorah Publications. In this translation, each English page faces the Aramaic/Hebrew page. The English pages are elucidated and heavily annotated; each Aramaic/Hebrew page of Talmud typically requires three English pages of translation. See also: Mesorah Talmud site
  • The Soncino Talmud, Isidore Epstein, Soncino Press. Notes on each page provide additional background material. This translation is published both on its own and in a parallel text edition, in which each English page faces the Aramaic/Hebrew page. It also exists on CD-ROM. See also Soncino Talmud site
  • The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation, Jacob Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, others. Atlanta: 1984-1995: Scholars Press for Brown Judaic Studies. Complete.
  • The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition Adin Steinsaltz, Random House (incomplete). This work is in fact a translation of Rabbi Steinsaltz' Hebrew language translation of and commentary on the entire Talmud. See also: Steinsaltz Talmud site
  • The Babylonian Talmud, translated by Michael L. Rodkinson (incomplete). This ten volume translation (1918) is also available on the internet. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm

Translations of Talmud Yerushalmi

Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation Jacob Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, others. University of Chicago Press. This translation uses a form-analytical presentation which makes the logical units of discourse easier to identify and follow. This work has received many positive reviews. However, some consider Neusner's translation methodology idiosyncratic. One volume was negatively reviewed by Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Schottenstein Edition of the Yerushalmi Talmud Mesorah/Artscroll. This translation is the counterpart to Mesorah/Artscroll's Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud (i.e. Babylonian Talmud). Mesorah/Artscroll's website for the Schottenstein Edition of the Yerushalmi Talmud

See also

Notes

References

General

  • Maimonides Introduction to the Mishneh Torah (English translation)
  • Maimonides Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah (Hebrew Fulltext), transl. Zvi Lampel (Judaica Press, 1998). ISBN 1-880582-28-7
  • Adin Steinsaltz The Essential Talmud: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition (Basic Books, 2006). ISBN 0-465-08273-4. Read more here See also here
  • Adin Steinsaltz The Talmud: A Reference Guide (Random House, 1996). ISBN 0-679-77367-3
  • Zvi Hirsch Chajes "Mevo Hatalmud", transl. Jacob Shachter: The Students' Guide Through The Talmud (Yashar Books, 2005). ISBN 1-933143-05-3
  • Shmuel Hanagid Introduction to the Talmud, in Aryeh Carmell Aiding Talmud Study (Philipp Feldheim, 1986). ISBN 0-87306-428-3
  • Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo The Infinite Chain : Torah, Masorah, and Man (Philipp Feldheim, 1989). ISBN 0-944070-15-9
  • D. Landesman A Practical Guide to Torah Learning (Jason Aronson, 1995). ISBN 1-56821-320-4
  • Aaron Parry The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Talmud (Alpha Books, 2004). ISBN 1-59257-202-2
  • R. Travers Herford Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (Ktav Pub Inc, 1975). ISBN 0-87068-483-3
  • Carmell, Aryeh, Aiding Talmud Study: Feldheim, 5th ed. 1986 ISBN-10: 0873064283, ISBN-13: 978-0873064286

Talmudic logic and methodology

Modern scholarly works

  • Y. N. Epstein, Mevo-ot le-Sifrut haTalmudim
  • Hanoch Albeck, Mavo la-talmudim
  • Louis Jacobs, "How Much of the Babylonian Talmud is Pseudepigraphic?" Journal of Jewish Studies 28, No. 1 (1977), pp. 46-59
  • Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1950)
  • Jacob Neusner, Sources and Traditions: Types of Compositions in the Talmud of Babylonia (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992).
  • David Weiss Halivni, Mekorot u-Mesorot: Eruvin-Pesahim (Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1982)
  • Yaakov Elman, "Order, Sequence, and Selection: The Mishnah’s Anthological Choices,” in David Stern, ed. The Anthology in Jewish Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 53-80
  • Strack, Herman L. and Stemberger, Gunter, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, tr. Markus Bockmuehl: repr. 1992, hardback ISBN-10: 0567095096, ISBN-13: 978-0567095091, paperback ISBN-10: 0800625242, ISBN-13: 978-0800625245
  • Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud: repr. 1997, hardback ISBN-10: 0819701564, ISBN-13: 978-0819701565, paperback ISBN-10: 0819700150, ISBN-13: 978-0819700155

Historical study

  • Shalom Carmy (Ed.) Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations Jason Aronson, Inc.
  • Richard Kalmin Sages, Stories, Authors and Editors in Rabbinic Babylonia Brown Judaic Studies
  • David C. Kraemer, On the Reliability of Attributions in the Babylonian Talmud, Hebrew Union College Annual 60 (1989), pp. 175-90
  • Lee Levine, Ma'amad ha-Hakhamim be-Erez Yisrael (Jerusalem: Yad Yizhak Ben-Zvi, 1985), (=The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity)
  • Saul Lieberman Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1950)
  • John W. McGinley " 'The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly". ISBN 0-595-40488-X
  • David Bigman, Finding A Home for Critical Talmud Study

External links

General

Full text resources

Manuscripts

Talmudic layout

Pertaining to the "Daf Yomi" program

Refutation of allegations concerning the Talmud

Audio

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