The term "Talmud" (Heb. talmûd, teaching, learning, from the verb lāmad, to learn) designates the authoritative body of post-biblical Jewish laws and traditions, consisting essentially of two parts: an older nucleus, the mishnah, compiled toward the end of the 2d Christian century, and the commentaries on it, the gemarah, which has two forms—the Palestinian, compiled toward the end of the 4th century, and the Babylonian, compiled at the beginning of the 6th century. As a vast collection of various sayings of numerous rabbis (Jewish teachers) over a period of at least six centuries, the Talmud is basically a recording in writing of traditional oral law. From the orthodox Jewish viewpoint, the "oral law" recorded in the Talmud is second only to the "written law," the Sacred Scriptures; in theory it is considered almost on a par with the Scriptures, but in practice it is, in a certain sense, regarded as superior to it. Since the Jewish concept of oral law as found in the Talmud is so important, this article will first treat oral law before describing the origin and nature of the Talmud itself.
Beginning of oral law. Consideration will be given here to oral law before there was any written law, to oral law as a supplement of written law, and to the significance of the Babylonian Exile in the development of oral law.
Oral Law before Written Law. Modern biblical scholars have recognized that oral tradition is ordinarily to be presupposed before its various channels became stabilized in written documents. There were, for instance, from 800 to 1,300 years between the events of the patriarchal age and the written accounts of them in Genesis. Studies in the field of the ancient Near East show more and more conclusively that, despite the long pre-biblical period of predominantly oral transmission, much reliable historical material was preserved and transmitted to the authors of the documentary sources of the pentateuch. This is true, not only of the historical, but also of the legal traditions, i.e., there was unwritten law based on custom before it was standardized and codified. For the time of the Patriarchs, the oral law corresponded more to legal concepts of the ancient Near East in the first half and middle of the 2d millennium b.c. than it did to the law that was later standardized in writing in the Pentateuch; for example, although in Lv 18.18 a man is forbidden to marry the sister of his wife while the latter is still alive, it is related in Gn 29.16–30 that Jacob married two sisters, Lia and Rachel. Marriage with two sisters was not considered illegal at that time in the ancient Near East [see M. Schorr, Urkunden des altbabylonischen Zivilund Prozessrechts (Leipzig 1913) No. 4.5]. The way in which Abraham purchased the tomb of Machpelah (Gn 23.1–20) corresponds to the legal customs of the age of the Patriarchs, although there is nothing about this in the law set down later in the Pentateuch [see M. R. Lehmann, "Abraham's Purchase of Machpelah and Hittite Law," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 129 (1953) 15–18]. This passage, which belongs to the priestly document, the most recent Pentateuchal source, has obviously preserved a point of ancient legal custom.
Oral Law as a Supplement of Written Law. After the laws were stabilized in the Pentateuch, they were still supplemented by oral legal tradition. For example, it is presupposed in Ex 21.2 that there were regulations about the buying and selling of Hebrew slaves that obviously were contained only in the oral legal tradition. According to Dt 17.8–11, the highest court in Jerusalem gave decisions on questions that were not provided for in the written law. Examples of the existence of an oral legal tradition in addition to law fixed in writing can be found also in the Prophets and the other sacred writings. In Jer 17.21–22 the law forbidding the carrying of a load from one place to another on the Sabbath is more specific than the general Pentateuchal prohibition of work on the Sabbath. In Neh 10.32 the prohibition against transacting business on the Sabbath is expressed more clearly than in the Pentateuch. This type of supplementation and interpretation of the written law is referred to in Talmudic literature as tôrâ šebb e'al peh (oral law) as distinct from tôrâ šebiktāb (written law).
Development of Oral Law in the Exile. After the Babylonian devastation of Judah and the deportation to Babylonia of the majority of its surviving inhabitants between 597 and 582 b.c., for people of the Jewish diaspo ra the law of God became the safeguard and the very condition of their existence. Therefore, from then on, they had an intensive concern for this law. The activity of the Pentateuchal priestly writers and, in connection with this, the redaction of the whole Pentateuch were important results of this development; another was the formation of a special class of specialists in Scripture, the scribes. Direct evidence of Jewish Scribes as a professional class, and indeed in Palestine itself, first appears at the beginning of the 2d century b.c. in Josephus Ant. 12.3.3 (for 198 b.c.) and Sir 39.1–11 (c. 180 b.c.), where they are said to be the preservers of tradition and the successors of the Prophets. Yet their profession surely went back to an earlier period. At first, in the Diaspora as well as in Palestine, the interpretation of the Law was reserved especially to men of priestly lineage; but in time the priestly element faded more and more into the background, and lay experts in Scripture came to the fore. Among the Pharisaic Scribes, priests ceased to play any role at all.
The Hebrew term for Scripture scholar is sōpēr (writer, scribe). The first to be mentioned with this title is ezra; in Ezr 7.6 he is called "a Scribe skilled in the Law of Moses." Although his title, "Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven" (Ezr 7.12, 21), in the Aramaic document of Ezr 7.12–26 refers primarily to his official rank in the bureaucracy of the Persian Empire, it was rightly understood by the Jews to mean an expert in Scripture, since an official had to be familiar with specifically Jewish laws as well as the laws of the Persian Empire.
The rise of professional Scribes was furthered also by the gradual formation of the OT canon in the postexilic period. The Scribes were, first of all, what their title signifies, professional copyists, occupied in producing faithful transcripts of the sacred text of the Scriptures. In Kiddushin 30a (unless otherwise specified, tracts cited here refer to the Babylonian Talmud), there is an allusion
to this function of the Scribes: "The ancients were called Scribes [sōp erîm ] because they used to count [hāyû sōp erîm ] the number of letters in the Law"; in typical Talmudic fashion this statement is based on a pun, sōpēr, meaning both writing and counting. With the function of copying was naturally joined that of interpreting the teachings and applying the traditional legal material to the new temporal circumstances.
The later houses of study and those of the synagogal service, the two centers of the developing oral tradition in Judaism, had their origins also in the Babylonian Exile. Jeremiah's letter to the exiles was addressed particularly to the elders, priests, and Prophets among them (Jer 29.1). Moreover, religious meetings of Ezekiel with the elders in Babylonia were referred to (Ez 8.1; 14.1; 20.1). Details are unfortunately lacking on the development from these hypothetical beginnings to the well-known rabbinical academies of Babylonia in the Christian Era. It is certain, however, that the study of law was cultivated by the Jews in Babylonia, nor is it by accident that the two most decisive figures of Judaism in the period of the Second Temple, Ezra and Hillel, came to Palestine from Babylonia.
Significance of oral law in Judaism. The concept of oral law belongs specifically to Pharisaism. It is true that other Jewish groups also (e.g., the Essenes of Qumran) were in possession of legal tradition derived from the OT that had been stabilized in writing since the 2d century b.c.; unequivocal and stricter interpretations of OT laws are found for instance in the Book of Jubilees and the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the latter, because of the proximate eschatological expectation of the priestly apocalyptic circle that sponsored them, contain extraordinarily severe laws, the Pharisaic legal interpretation is distinguished by much greater mildness. Thus, for example, in the Qumran-Essene Damascus Document (11.16.17) it is forbidden to use any instrument in saving a drowning man on the Sabbath, whereas in the Mishnah (Yoma 8.6) it is stated: "Any danger to life supercedes the Sabbath laws." In contrast to the apocalytical groups, the Pharisaic understanding of the Law had a characteristic sense of what was within the realm of the possible [see K. Schubert, "Die Jüdischen Religionsparteien im Zeitalter Jesu," Der historische Jesus und der Christus unseres Glaubens (Vienna 1962)].
Oral Law in Pharisaic Judaism. In the last pre-Christian centuries, oral tradition was of special importance because the Pharisees were of the opinion that after the death of the last three of the Minor Prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the Holy Spirit, i.e., the gift of prophecy, had departed from Israel (Tos. Soṭtah 13.2; Yoma 9b; Soṭtah 48b; Sanh. 11a). According to the opinion of the rabbis, oral tradition was part of the heritage of prophecy as well. Thus, in the Mishnah (Avoth 1.1) it is stated: "Moses received the Law on Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets handed it on to men of the great Sanhedrin." The concept of oral tradition enabled the rabbinical scholars to establish a continuous link between Moses and themselves. For them, even their own interpretations and additions to the Law had already been given orally to Moses on Sinai (Berakhot 5a). According to a haggadic (see haggadah) tradition, the only reason why the Mishnah had not been given to Moses in writing was so that it might not be translated into Greek and thus fall into the hands of the Gentiles. After the latter appropriated the written Law of Moses, God could recognize His chosen people only by their possession of the Mishnah, that is, the oral tradition incorporated in the Mishnah [Pesikta rabbati 14b, ed. M. Friedmann (Vienna 1880)]. Similarly, the well-known Palestinian teacher of the 3d century, Johanan bar Nappaḥa, said, "The Holy One, praised be He, made the covenant with Israel solely for the sake of the orally handed-on word" (Gittin 60b). For the rabbis, oral law was a necessary supplement to the written law and in their eyes of no less value than the latter. Certain precepts that the rabbis considered very old but for which no point of reference could be found in the Bible were given a special designation as "Halakot [plural of halakah] given to Moses on Sinai" (Mishnah Peah 2.6; Mishnah Eduyyot 8.7; Mishnah Yadayim 4.3).
Prohibition against Writing New Religious Books. Closely connected with the idea of oral law was the socalled writing prohibition, regarding whose nature and continuance rabbinical tradition itself was not of one opinion. It probably meant no more than that the legal material was to be presented only orally, and originally it was only orally handed down, although there were not lacking defenders of the opinion that originally also the Haggadah would have fallen under the writing prohibition (Temurot 14b; Gittin 60b; for more details, see Strack, 9–16). Had the latter been the case, the full force of the writing prohibition would have been clearly directed against the various apocalyptical groups and their writings. The specifically Pharisaic character of the writing prohibition is evidenced by the fact that Sirach at the beginning of the 2d century b.c. and the authors of two Books of Maccabees wrote their works apparently without any scruples, but these works were not included in the Pharisaic canon. Likewise, Sirach's grandson, who translated his grandfather's work into Greek, either must not have known about a writing prohibition or else must have ignored it. Since the Book of Sirach did not stand in opposition to Pharisaism, which as such did not come into being until at least a generation after it was written, this book could still be cited on occasion by rabbinical scholars with as much reverence as the hagiographa (the last books in the Hebrew Bible) were cited (as, e.g., Sir 13.15 is quoted in Baba Kamma 92b). The collections of laws, however, that were drawn up independently of Pharisaism and in opposition to it, for example, those from the qumran community, were undoubtedly rejected by the Pharisees [see K. Schubert, The Dead Sea Community (New York 1959)]. Opposition to the writing of religious works in general was typical of early Pharisaism. The literary products of the apocalyptical groups were called apocryphal (hidden) books, and the reading of them was strictly forbidden (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10.1). Pharisaism was thereby able to prevent Judaism from breaking up into numerous groups and to make its own doctrine that of normative Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70.
Toward the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2d Christian century, when the legal material that had been handed down orally in Pharisaic circles became so vast that it had to be organized in writing, obviously no writing prohibition stood in the way. As the so-called Fasting Scroll shows, even in the period before the destruction of the Temple, there was a written list of certain feast days on which there was to be no fasting or mourning. It is suspected, however, that the Fasting Scroll originated among the zealots and not in Pharisaic circles [see M. Hengel, Die Zeloten (Leiden 1961) 19]. In any case, it was severely forbidden to draw the oral law from written sources.
Purpose of Oral Law. The concept of oral law was to make a permanent fixation of Judaism's external form of life impossible. Each generation was to adapt its particular life to the new circumstances in keeping with the Mosaic Law. Two examples may serve to show this: the modification of the Ketuba (marriage document) prescriptions by Simeon ben Shetaḥand the prosbul of Hillel. By prescribing that the money a husband had to pay his wife in the event of a divorce or his death was fixed as a mortgage and surety on his estate, Simeon ben Shetaḥsucceeded both in limiting, in practice, the possibility of a divorce and in protecting a widow against her husband's heirs, who might be unwilling to pay her (Ketubbot 82b). In this, Simeon ben Shetaḥreflected the finer moral sense of his time (the beginning of the 1st century b.c.). Hillel the Elder, a contemporary of Herod the Great, had to take account of the transition from a purely agrarian to a largely capitalistic economy. According to Dt 15.1–11, a creditor was obliged to remit a debt in the sab bath year; in fact, the creditor was to lend money even when the Sabbath year was near and thus had little prospect of recovering his loan. Despite the idealistic purpose of this precept, it was unrealistic in a time of more highly developed finance. The one who was really harmed by it was the poor man for whose good the law was meant but who now had little chance of getting a loan. Hillel's prosbul (πρὸς βουλ[symbol omitted] βουλευτ[symbol omitted]ν, at the council of the councilors) was to put an end to this situation. According to Hillel's enactment, the creditor could declare publicly in court that he would collect the debt, and in this way he was released from the duty of having to cancel it in the seventh year (Mishnah Shebi‘it 10.3, 4; Gittin 36a).
Stabilization of oral law in the written Talmud. After the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem (a.d. 70), Pharisaic Judaism simply became normative Judaism. The other groups were eliminated by the new political circumstances. The members of these groups either were assimilated into Pharisaism or left the ranks of Judaism and joined Judeo-Christian or Gnostic groups. Under these circumstances, it became necessary for Pharisaism to collect, sift, and compile in writing the legal traditions that were scattered within its framework and had hitherto been handed down only by word of mouth. Halakah (moral teaching) and the interest awakened in it were now more in the foreground than ever before. The common bond of Judaism was secured through halakah, even though, as was the case with the Hekhalot mystics (who sought to ascend in spirit to the heavenly hêkālōt or palaces), themes and traditions were taken over from the apocalyptical groups that originally were in competition with Pharisaism (see gnosticism, jewish). Thus it came about that, by the beginning of the 2d Christian century or even earlier, the legal material, which had already swollen in bulk, was organized and edited. This compilation bore the title mishnâ rîshônâ, or first mishnah (see e.g., in Mishnah Sanhedrin 3.4). Further Mishnah compilations were made in the course of the 2d century a.d. by Rabbi akiba ben joseph (on whose method, see Avoth de Rabbi Natan ) and Rabbi Meir. However, the Mishnah that forms the basis of the Talmud is the compilation made by Rabbi judah ha-nasi, who probably completed his work shortly after a.d. 200. Judah ben Samuel ha-levi (Kusari 3.67) dates its completion as 219–220. This date could be approximately correct, because Judah ha-Nasi probably died in 217 [see A. Guttmann, "The Patriarch Judah I: His Birth and His Death," Hebrew Union College Annual 25 (1954) 239–261].
The Mishnah. Medieval Jewish scholars were not in agreement whether the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi had been committed to writing by him. Despite denial by such an authority as rashi (see his comments on Shabbat 13b and on Eruvin 62b), it is taken for granted that the Mishnah was recorded in writing by Judah ha-Nasi himself, to prevent this immense collection of legal material from being forgotten. Also that the teachers who are quoted in the Gemarah adhere very closely to the text of the Mishnah is evidence that it must have been available to them in writing, although in the rabbinical academies it continued to be handed down orally. In doubtful cases, however, a written text could be consulted (see K. Hruby, 116–117). In the generation following Judah ha-Nasi, his Mishnah received some additions. Such are the passages where he himself is quoted as holding a certain opinion or where teachers who were active after his time are quoted.
The Mishnah consists of six s edārîm, or "orders," each of which contains several massēkôt (weavings), or tracts, and these in turn are divided into p erāqîm (sections), or chapters. As divided in the printed editions, the whole Mishnah contains 63 tracts with a total of 525 chapters. The names of the orders and their contents are (1) Zera‘im (seeds), containing 11 tracts, the first of which, berakhot, deals with blessings and prayers. In this way reverence for God is given the primary position among the various laws. The other tracts deal principally with the religious laws connected with agriculture in Palestine. (2) Mo’ed (feast), containing 12 tracts that deal with religious feasts. (3) Nashim (women), containing 7 tracts that treat marital and family law. (4) Neziqin (damages), containing 10 tracts that deal with civil and criminal law. Included in this division of the Mishnah are the Pirke Avoth (chapters of the fathers), which summarizes the ethical doctrine of Pharisaic Judaism from a century before Christ to the time of Judah ha-Nasi. (5) Kodashim (sacred things), containing 11 tracts on the nature of the various sacrifices, on food regulations, and on the directions for the ritual slaughter (š eḥîtā ). (6) Ṭohorot (clean things), containing 12 tracts on the special laws for ritual purity.
The word "Mishnah" (repetition, study, from the verb šānâ, to repeat) signifies both the individual points of doctrine and the collection of these doctrines; the latter is now the usual meaning of the term. In its present form, the Mishnah consists of numerous mišnāyôt, Mishnah precepts. The Mishnah teachers are called Tannaim (literally repeaters, from the Aramaic root tny corresponding to the Hebrew root šny ). There were altogether five generations of Tannaim.
Other Tannaitic Literature. Not all of the teachings of the Tannaim were incorporated into the official Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi. Originally there were other collections of Tannaitic teachings, as can be seen, e.g., in Yerushalmi tractate Horayot 48c. In this passage there are mentioned, along with the Bible and the Mishnah, the Tosephta and "large Mishnah collections, such as the Mishnah rabba of Rabbi Ḥiyya, the Mishnah rabba of Rabbi Hosha‘yah, and the Mishnah of Bar Kappara." R. H: iyyah and Bar Kappara were students and friends of Judah ha-Nasi, and R. Hosha‘yah was a student of the former two. These Mishnah compilations, therefore, were drawn up by men having scholarly connections with Judah ha-Nasi. Of the above-mentioned works, only the Tosephta has been preserved. The compilations of Tannaitic teachings outside the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi were regarded as Baraita (Aramaic for outside thing, i.e., excluded from the Mishnah), and therefore they were not passed on with the same care as the official Mishnah. In both Talmuds, however, Baraitot (plural of Baraita) are frequently quoted as authorities in order to give special weight to the arguments of the Amoraim in their controversies. Other Tannaitic material is contained in the Tannaitic Midrashim (see midrashic literature).
The Tosephta (addition, supplement) is a work in a class by itself; like the Mishnah, it contains six orders. In its presentation, the Tosephta is more diffuse than the Mishnah. [It has been edited by M. S. Zuckermandel (Pasewalk 1881) and S. Liebermann (New York 1955).] Although the Tosephta consists principally of Tannaitic teachings, it acquired also, as did the Mishnah, various additions in the early Amoraic period. As a kind of Tosephta to the Mishnah tract Pirke Avoth (Chapters of the Fathers) is the collection called the Avoth de Rabbi Natan (The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan).
The Gemarah. The scholars who followed the Tannaim are called Amoraim (Hebrew plural of Aramaic 'ămōrā', speaker, explainer). The Amoraim were limited to interpreting the Tannaim, and they could not explain away any Tannaitic doctrine as invalid. They therefore endeavored, by way of interpretation, to make the Tannaitic teachings fit their own ideas. If an Amora held a doctrinal opinion differing from that of his colleague, he endeavored to prove his point by quoting from the Mishnah or the Baraita. His colleague would then try on his part to propose an interpretation of the quotation that would neutralize the other's objection. In Palestine there were five, and in Babylonia, seven, generations of Amoraim who occupied themselves with the teachings handed down by the Tannaim. The disputes and teachings of the Amoraim are called Gemarah (completion). Whereas the Mishnah is in a late form of Hebrew (Mishnaic Hebrew), the Gemarah is mostly in Aramaic, a western dialect of it being used by the Palestinian Amoraim, an eastern one by the Babylonian Amoraim. The Mishnah and the Gemarah that rose in Palestine form what is inaccurately known as the Jerusalem (Heb. y erûšalmî ) Talmud; the Mishnah and the Gemarah that rose in Babylon is called the Babylonian (bablî ) Talmud.
The most important rabbinical academies in Palestine were in Tiberias, Sephoris, Caesarea, and Lydda. The Palestinian Gemarah is much less extensive than the Babylonian. Therefore the Jerusalem Talmud was not regarded in Judaism as highly as the Babylonian, although it contains much old and important material. The shorter compass of the Palestinian Gemarah was a result, in part, of the political condition in Palestine. The 3d century was a century of soldier emperors, and, consequently, a period of inflation and impoverishment for wide sections of the Roman Empire. The decreasing standard of living in Palestine brought about a decline in halakic study. This, in turn, resulted in the increased importance of the Eastern Diaspora of the Jews, which, under the strong Sassanid rulers, enjoyed on the whole, despite a few reverses, a period of increasing prosperity.
The most important academies in Babylonia in the 3d century were in Sura, Nehardea, and Pumbedita; in these cities the greatest Jewish scholars of the century taught. Thus the reputation of these academies soon surpassed that of the Jewish schools in Palestine. This explains the passage in Ketubbot 111a: "Rab Judah [bar Ezechiel] said in the name of [i.e., quoting] Samuel, As it is forbidden to go from Israel to Babylonia, so is it forbidden to go from Babylonia to other countries…. Rab Juda said [in his own name], 'If one lives in Babylonia, it is just as if he lived in Israel."' In the 5th century, the persecutions of the Jews in the Sassanid Empire caused a serious crisis in the academic life of the rabbinical academies. Since it was feared that the merely oral presentation of the Amoraic teaching would be lost to memory, a compilation known as the Babylonian Gemarah, containing the teachings and elaborate discussion of the Babylonian Amoraim, was made in the 5th century. This editing of the Babylonian Talmud was due primarily to the efforts of Rab Ashi, an Amora of the sixth generation, who was head of the rabbinical academy of Mate Maḥseya, where he carried on his work under circumstances that were still politically favorable. In the following, last generation of the Amoraim and under the Saboraim (Hebrew plural of Aramaic sābōrā’, "thinker, opiner") of the 6th century, the Babylonian Talmud received its final form.
Characteristics. The Mishnah itself, despite certain basic attempts at orderly arrangement, is not a digested corpus of law, but rather a collection of opinions by the various rabbis on questions that are more or less connected with the matters under discussion. The much larger Gemarahs are far more disorderly; one point leads to another on some extraneous matter that is then discussed at length, although it may have nothing at all to do with the main topic under discussion. About one third of the Babylonian Gemarah is not even on legal matters but contains digressions full of folklore, legends, history (usually of only little value), midrashic interpretations of biblical passages, moralizing sermons, etc. The style makes no pretense of being literary; short incomplete phrases abound. On the whole, the Talmud is like the notes and jottings made by students at rambling lectures or roundtable discussions.
Later fate. Because of its obscurities and seeming inconsistencies, numerous commentaries on the Talmud were written throughout the centuries by rabbinical scholars. Official decisions on obscure points in the Talmud or adaptations of its teaching to changed conditions were given in the responsa by the Geonim (plural of Gaon), the leaders of the Jewish community in the first post-Talmudic period (6th to 11th centuries). For practical use by ordinary Jews simplified summaries of Talmudic law were drawn up by various Jewish scholars, such as Mishneh Torah (repetition of the Law) by mai monides and the authoritative Shulḥan Arukh (set table) by Joseph caro. Throughout the Middle Ages and, in certain parts of the world, even in recent times all aspects of Jewish life were regulated by the teachings of the Talmud; its influence on Judaism has been enormous.
Since non-Jews understood the important place that this work held for Jewish life, many of the outbreaks of anti-Semitism were accompanied by public burnings of the Talmud; e.g., 24 cartloads of Talmud MSS are said to have been burned in a Paris square on June 17, 1242. This is one of the chief reasons why only one complete MS of the Babylonian Talmud (the Munich Codex of 1369, Heb. MS no. 95) and only one complete MS of the Palestinian Talmud (the Leiden Codex) have been preserved, although several MSS of parts of the Talmud, especially the Babylonian, survive. The Babylonian Talmud was first printed by Daniel Bomberg (Venice 1520); several editions have since then been published. Although critical editions of particular portions of it have been issued, a critical edition of the whole Talmud is still badly needed. An English edition, The Babylonian Talmud, unabridged, with introductions, annotations, and index has been edited by I. Epstein (35 v. London 1938–52).
Bibliography: l. blau, The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer (New York 1901–06) 12:1–37. h. revel and c. a. rubenstein, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York 1939–44) 10:160–168. m. avi-yonah, Geschichte der Juden im Zeitalter des Talmud (Berlin 1962). w. bacher, Die Agada der Tannaiten, 2 v. (Strassburg 1884–90); Die Agada der palästinensischen Amoräer, 3 v. (Strassburg 1892–99); Die Agada der babylonischen Amoräer (Strassburg 1878). e. l. berkovits, Was ist der Talmud? (2d ed. Frankfurt a.M. 1962). l. finkelstein, "The Transmission of the Early Rabbinical Tradition," Hebrew Union Catalog Annual 16 (1941) 115–135. s. funk, Die Entstehung des Talmuds (2d rev. ed. Leipzig 1910). n. glatzer, Untersuchungen zur Geschichtslehre der Tannaiten (Berlin 1933); Geschichte der talmudischen Zeit (Berlin 1937). a. guttmann, Das redaktionelle und sachliche Verhältnis zwischen Mischna und Tosephta (Breslau 1928); "The Problem of the Anonymous Mishna," Hebrew Union Catalog Annual 16 (1941) 137–155. k. hruby, "Die jüdische Liturgie zur Zeit Jesu," Judaica 18 (1962) 104–126. j. z. lauterbach, "Midrash and Mishna," Rabbinical Essays, ed. j. z. lauterbach (Cincinnati, Ohio 1951) 163–256. m. margulies, ed., Entsiklopediyah le-hakhme ha-Talmud veha-geonim, 2 v. (Tel Aviv 1960). g. f. moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era: The Age of the Tannaim, 3 v. (Cambridge, Mass. 1927–30). h. l. strack, Einleitung in Talmud und Midraš (5th rev. ed. Munich 1921). h. albeck, MāvǒleMišnâ (Jerusalem 1959), introduction to the Mishna. m. e. abramsky, "Ha-Tosephtâ biDephûs," Kirjat Sepher 29 (1953–54) 149–161, with complete bibliog.
TALMUD . In form, the Talmud is an extended, multivolume elaboration of selected tractates of the Mishnah, but it must be emphasized that the contents of the Talmud go far beyond its ostensible base. No subject of interest to the ancient rabbis failed to find its way into this immense body of teaching, and for that reason no question arising in later centuries was deemed outside the range that Talmudic teaching might legitimately claim to resolve. A document that seemed merely to elucidate an older text eventually became the all-embracing constitution of medieval Jewish life.
The Mishnah supplied the overall format for the Talmud. Like the former, the Talmud is divided into tractates, which in turn are divided into chapters and then into paragraphs. Each phrase of the Mishnah is discussed, analyzed, and applied for as long as the editors of the Talmud have materials to supply; when such materials are exhausted (sometimes after very long and quite wide-ranging digressions), the discussion simply moves on to the next phrase or paragraph. The digressions can be such that one loses track of the Mishnaic passage under discussion for pages at a time, but the Talmud always picks up again from its base text when the next section begins.
Origins and Development
Very soon after it began to circulate, the Mishnah of Yehudah ha-Nasiʾ (compiled c. 200 ce) assumed a central place in rabbinic study. As time went on, the structure and content of the Mishnah—the meaning and the sequence of its paragraphs—determined the manner in which the growing accumulation of rabbinic lore was organized. Non-Mishnaic legal materials (the so-called outside traditions; Aram., baraitot ) were studied primarily in connection with their Mishnaic parallels, and an entire supplementary collection (Tosefta) that followed the Mishnah's own sequence of orders, tractates, and chapters was compiled. Similarly, post-Mishnaic rabbinic teachings—of law, morality, theology, and so forth—were remembered and discussed primarily as the consecutive study of Mishnaic tractates called them to mind, so that most such teachings eventually came to be linked with one or another specific passage (or, occasionally, several) in the earlier collection.
In this way, great compilations of rabbinic teaching, each in the form of a loose exposition of the Mishnah, came into being. Evidence suggests that various centers of rabbinic study developed their own such collections, though in the end only one overall collection was redacted for the Palestinian centers and one for Babylonia. For several generations, the collections remained fluid. Materials were added, revised, or shifted. Free association led to the production of extended discourses or sets of sayings that at times had little to do with the Mishnaic passages serving as points of departure. Early materials tended to be brief explanations of the Mishnah or citations of parallel texts, but later rabbis increasingly commented as well on remarks of their predecessors or other non-Mishnaic materials. Numerous scholars have seen in the developing tradition two sorts of material: brief, apodictic statements of law and much longer dialectical explanations of the specific laws and their underlying principles. Such discussions in turn eventually gave rise to a new generation of legal dicta, and these in turn provoked new efforts at dialectical complication. Thus the Talmudic tradition grew.
The Hebrew word talmud and its Aramaic equivalent gemaraʾ both mean "study." Each term had other meanings at various times, but in the end gemaraʾ came to be the name of the vast Mishnah commentary that had taken shape, and talmud the name of the combined text (Mishnah plus gemara ʾ) that eventually emerged. The rabbis of the immediate post-Mishnaic period (third to fifth centuries ce) are called amoraʾ from the Aramaic ʾmr, "say, discuss"), because their characteristic contribution to the developing tradition was the extended discussion of the Mishnah they produced.
Through a process that can no longer be traced with certainty, the text of the gemaraʾ underwent periodic reshaping until finally the two Talmuds as we now know them came into being. It should be emphasized that early rabbinic Torah study was oral, so that the gemaraʾ was not so much a fixed text as a more-or-less accepted formulation of accumulated lore. There is therefore no reason to assume that there ever was an authorized "original text" of the Talmud, and there may have been parallel recensions of these collections from the earliest stages of their history preserved in different localities. There is still no altogether accepted standard text, and even the relatively uniform wording of recent centuries has much to do with the eventual predominance of European over Asian and North African Jewry and the standardization that inevitably followed the invention of printing.
The Jerusalem, or Palestinian, Talmud
The so-called Jerusalem Talmud (Heb., Talmud Yerushalmi ) is really the work of the rabbinic academies of the Galilee; it was substantially completed by the middle of the fifth century. The Jerusalem Talmud covers the first four orders of the Mishnah with the exception of two tractates (Avot and ʿEduyyot ); in the last two orders, only half of tractate Niddah has Palestinian gemaraʾ. The Jerusalem Talmud is characterized in general by brevity and an absence of editorial transitions and clarifications. Its discussions frequently seem laconic and elliptical and often take the form of terse remarks attributed to one or another amora with no connective phrasing at all between them. Occasionally, however, such comments are built up into a more integrated dialectical treatment, with objections raised and answered, contradictions cited and resolved, and biblical proof texts adduced as the editors see fit.
The Babylonian Talmud
According to tradition, the redaction of the Babylonian Talmud (Heb., Talmud Bavli ) was completed by the amoraim Ashi and Ravinaʾ around the year 500. It is clear, however, that the distinctive features of this Talmud in contrast to the other are the work of several generations of mostly anonymous rabbis who came after these authorities and are collectively known as the savoraim (from the Aramaic root svr, "consider, hold an opinion"), that is, those who reconsidered the Talmudic text and established its final version. Thanks to the labors of these latter revisers, the Babylonian Talmud is far more thoroughly worked out than the Palestinian. Its arguments are replete with a sophisticated technical terminology for introducing source materials, considering objections and counterobjections, offering refutations and defending against them, and so forth. In addition to their detailed contributions, the savoraim also composed entire sections of the Talmud; in particular, the extended discussion at the beginning of many tractates is attributed to them. In general, the literary superiority of the Babylonian Talmud, its far greater logical clarity, and its considerably larger bulk can be attributed to the savoraim of the sixth and seventh centuries. The Talmud in its current form did not exist until these had done their work.
While the Jerusalem Talmud treats the entire first order of the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud has gemara ʾ only for the first tractate (Berakhot ), which deals with liturgy; the rest of the order treats agricultural rules that were not considered applicable outside the Holy Land. On the other hand, and harder to explain, the great bulk of the fifth order, which regulates the long-destroyed Temple cult and is not to be found in the Jerusalem Talmud, has very substantial Babylonian gemara ʾ. Otherwise, with minor exceptions, the two Talmuds cover the same parts of the Mishnah.
Over the several centuries following the appearance of the two Talmuds, the Babylonian Talmud gradually eclipsed the other. This predominance was rationalized by the claim that the Babylonian Talmud was the more recent, so that its editors already knew the Jerusalem Talmud and could include its acceptable teachings in their own work and suppress those portions for any reason found unworthy. In retrospect, however, it is clear that such a claim was part of the propaganda of the Babylonian geonim of the last centuries of the first millennium ce in favor of their own authority and against the rival authority of the rabbis of the Land of Israel. The eventual predominance of the Babylonian Talmud throughout the Diaspora and even in the Land of Israel probably is to be explained through reference to such factors as the relatively stronger ties of the rising communities of North Africa and Spain to Babylonian Jewry and the relatively more severe decline of Palestinian Jewry, especially under the onslaught of the Crusades. Those parts of Europe, especially Italy, that retained strong ties with the community in the Land of Israel apparently maintained a tradition of study of the Jerusalem Talmud, but by the beginning of the second millennium this process had run its course. From then on, "the Talmud" always meant the Babylonian. It was taken for granted that issues of Jewish law should be resolved by reference to the Babylonian Talmud, not the Palestinian, and that the latter could provide rulings only in cases where the Babylonian Talmud was silent or ambiguous.
Once the primacy of the Babylonian Talmud was established, this primacy was continually reinforced. The Babylonian Talmud received more attention. It was studied by more scholars, it became the subject of more and of better commentaries; it was copied more often and more carefully by larger numbers of scribes. The result is that modern scholars have a more solidly established text of the Babylonian Talmud and a more fully developed exegetical tradition with which to work. Modern critical study of the Jerusalem Talmud has much more fundamental analytical and restorative work to accomplish before a reliable and comprehensible text becomes available.
It should be noted as well that the power of the medieval Christian church affected the development of the Talmud in two important ways. Periodic waves of seizure and destruction reduced the number of Talmud manuscripts available in certain parts of Europe. The most important of these waves took place in thirteenth-century France and in Italy at the time of the Counter-Reformation; the last burning of the Talmud occurred in Poland in 1757. Occasionally thousands of copies of the Talmud or of Talmudic digests and commentaries were destroyed at a time. In addition, Jewish efforts to avoid such destruction often led to voluntary or involuntary submission of the Talmud to censorship by church authorities. As a result, much early rabbinic discussion of Jesus or the Christian religion has been lost or must now be recovered from scattered manuscripts.
Despite its vast size and scope, the Talmud is not without focus. Certain themes and certain styles of argument and discourse strongly predominate in its pages, and as a result both the religion of the Talmudic sages themselves and the forms of Judaism based on the Talmud that flourished during the Middle Ages are more compatible with certain types of spirituality than with others.
The role of law
Well more than half of the Babylonian Talmud and more than three quarters of the Jerusalem Talmud are devoted to questions of law. The Mishnah itself takes the form of a law code, and Talmudic discussions are chiefly concerned with clarifying, extending, and finding new applications for the provisions of Mishnaic law. This concentration on law is related to the ancient rabbis' role in their communities, where they usually served as judges, teachers, or public administrators. Rabbinic piety came to be organized around gratitude for the law and joy in its fulfillment. The law was understood to be a divine gift, and observance of its provisions was seen as the appropriate response to this generosity. To observe the law meant to strengthen one's link to its giver, and in developing the law into a huge accumulation of detailed regulations covering all aspects of day-to-day living, rabbinic teachers sought to multiply occasions for strengthening this link. Study of the law was both the highest intellectual activity in which a Jew might engage and also a practical activity designed to further this expansion of opportunity. Enlarging the scope of the law was not felt to be adding to an already heavy burden; on the contrary, it increased the portion of one's life that could be conducted in response to the voice of God.
The role of study and intellect
While the Mishnah looks like a law code, however, in fact it is probably something other; its numerous unresolved disputes, its sporadic use of biblical proof texts, and its occasional narratives all reflect the value of study as a religious ritual in its own right, and eventually the activity of studying God's law was as important in Talmudic religion as was the content of that study. Even before the Talmud was completed, this enhancement of study as religious rite had led to the creation of an elaborate set of legal corpora, most of which were identified by the name of the master to whom the discrete opinions in each corpus were attributed. The well-known Talmudic penchant for hair-splitting dialectics reflects the rabbis' concern that each of these sets of teachings be internally consistent on the one hand and significantly different from any other such set on the other. Hence the frequency with which the Talmud records the chains of transmission by which individual sayings were passed on. Hence the steadily growing integration of teachings from widely disparate fields of law into a single web, and the often forced effort to find unifying principles behind teachings that seem to have nothing to do with one another. Hence, as well, the relative lack of interest in the personalities of early masters, except, paradoxically, for those few who became the subject of frequently incredible legends.
This intellectual tendency had several important consequences for Talmudic religion. It gave rabbinic studiousness a scholastic tinge that continued to sharpen as later centuries wore on. It made text commentary an important genre of religious literature; a standard edition of the Talmud even today contains several classical commentaries on the page along with the text and many, many more at the back of the volume. Rabbinic intellectualism turned into disciplined argument; the interplay of proof and refutation became a holy activity. It also gave primacy to the correct formulation of sacred texts and recitations; this in turn had important effects on Talmudic and post-Talmudic conceptions of prayer, meditation, and inward spirituality.
Talmudic Learning and Religious Authority
In the ancient rabbis' view there was a connection between their emphasis on learning and the role of leadership to which they aspired. It was taken for granted that only the Torah, when properly and sufficiently studied and understood, could enable the people of Israel to become the "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex. 19:6) that God intended them to be. This in turn meant that only those properly and sufficiently learned in Torah should be allowed to assume leadership over the community, since only such leaders could be trusted to guide the people in a divinely ordained direction.
Inherent in Talmudic and post-Talmudic Judaism is the assumption that Torah learning (once the Talmud was complete, this meant Talmudic learning) is the only proper criterion by which the leaders of the community should be selected. Whenever conditions permitted, rabbis sought to institutionalize their authority over the community. In the early period, this meant reaching an accommodation with the real rulers of the community (e.g., the Roman empire or, in Babylonia, the allegedly Davidic dynasty of the exilarchs). Later, it meant assuring that internal Jewish courts should be dominated by rabbis and that Talmudic law should govern those aspects of life where Jews maintained internal autonomy (marriage and divorce, religious ritual, educational institutions). Although rabbinical authority was not without challengers, it was never overthrown in principle until the breakdown of Jewish self-government, which began in the late eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth.
Talmud Study as Religious Experience
Rabbis saw their own teaching as "oral Torah." They believed the contents of the Talmud represented a part of the revelation to Moses that had been kept oral but faithfully transmitted for centuries before its inclusion in the text of the Talmud. The name Talmud, in fact, can be understood as a short form of the common phrase talmud Torah, or "Torah study." Thus to study Talmud was in fact to let oneself hear the word of God, and to add to the accumulation of commentaries, digests, codes, and the like was to make one's own contribution to the spread of divine revelation in the world. To learn Torah was thus a kind of sober mysticism, a reliving of the events at Sinai, while to add to the growing body of "oral" law was to share in a divine activity. Already in the Talmud God is depicted as studying Torah several hours per day (B. T., ʿA. Z. 3b), but the kinship between the rabbi and God was felt to be even stronger. By increasing the amount of Torah in the world, the rabbi could do what previously only God had been held able to accomplish.
Thus the text of the Talmud became the center of an activity believed to be the most Godlike available to human experience. Everyone (in practice this meant every male) could study some Torah, and no one was considered incapable of adding a few original thoughts to a study session. Talmud study became a widespread activity among later Jewish communities. The degree of commitment to this activity might vary, from the ascetic twenty-hour-per-day devotion of the secluded scholar to one-hour-per-week popular learning on Sabbath afternoons. The climax of a boy's education was the point at which he was ready to learn gemaraʾ. Such "learning" continues even in the present time, even after the functioning authority of Talmudic law has all but disappeared. It represents the most powerful and the most durable inheritance of classical Judaism.
The history and current state of critical scholarship about the two Talmuds is comprehensively reviewed in two essays in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2.19.2 (Berlin and New York, 1979): Baruch M. Bokser's "An Annotated Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Palestinian Talmud," pp. 139–256, and David Goodblatt's "The Babylonian Talmud," pp. 257–336. Both have been reprinted in The Study of Ancient Judaism, vol. 2, edited by Jacob Neusner (New York, 1981). Several of Neusner's students also produced longer examinations of the work of particular modern scholars; he collected these in The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud (Leiden, 1970). Readers can also consult Strack-Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (revised edition, Minneapolis, 1992).
Neusner has also investigated the religious implications of conceiving of Torah study as a holy activity and the theological implications of rabbinic intellectuality; see his concise The Glory of God Is Intelligence (Salt Lake City, Utah, 1978). A more popular effort of the same sort is Morris Adler's The World of the Talmud (New York, 1958). See also my own "Talmud," in Back to the Sources, edited by Barry W. Holtz (New York, 1984), pp. 129–175.
Robert Goldenberg (1987 and 2005)
The Jewish teachings of the sages.
The Pentateuch (Torah), Prophets (Neviʾim), and Hagiographa (Ketuvim) constitute the written law of Judaism. Over the years, that law was discussed, interpreted, and transferred. These teachings of the sages are known as the oral law. Eventually, the oral law (torah she-bʿal peh) was written down and formed the basis of the Talmud. While torah refers only to the written law and talmud to the oral law, both terms essentially carry the same meaning: teaching or study. Since it is incumbent upon the children of Israel to follow the path of their ancestors, it is necessary for the Jewish people to continually teach and study the law until they understand and follow it completely.
Scholars differ as to when the Talmud began to be written down and whether it was based on notes or recorded upon its completion. It is generally accepted that Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi (170–219 c.e.) compiled and edited the first section of the Talmud, the Mishnayot (pl. of mishna, or teaching, to distinguish it from Torah) from a multitude of manuscripts, perhaps in different dialects and languages.
The Mishnayot are organized into six sections, or sedarim, each dealing with a particular subject. The sections are then subdivided into tracts (or mesekhtot, singular mesekhta ) that deal with matters relating to those sections. The sections are: Seeds (or Zeraʿim, which includes laws relating to vegetables; offerings; tithes; and shmitta, the sabbatical year); Festivals (or Moʿed, holidays; the Sabbath; and more general laws affected by the festivals); Women (or Nashim, including marriage and divorce); Damages (or Nezikin, laws of property; penalties; and morals); Sacred Things (or Kodashim, sacrifices; laws of the first born; and slaughtering); Purifications (or Tohorot, defilement and purification in general; and defilement of vessels, tents, and menstruating women).
The Mishnayot were imparted with a degree of sanctity that dictated that nothing could be added to or subtracted from them. Upon their completion, religious colleges were established in Palestine and Babylonia to explain their meaning and to extrapolate the laws that emanated from them. This task was complicated by contradictory Mishnayot and by the discovery of new texts that had not been incorporated in the Mishnayot. The body of knowledge that developed from the discussions and the explanations of the Mishna came to be called Gemara (Aramaic for teaching ). The tractates of the Gemara are arranged like the sections of the Mishnayot. The Mishna opens the tractate and is followed by the Gemara. The Mishna and the Gemara together constitute the Talmud.
At the time of Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi's death, the Roman-dominated Middle East was characterized by political strife, which led many Jews to leave Galilee for Persian-ruled Babylon. The development of the Talmud continued there. The Palestinian Talmud, also known as the Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi), was finalized in about 400 c.e. (although it might have been much later). The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli, which might have developed without its formulators knowing about the Jerusalem Talmud) was finalized in about 500 c.e. Although the Jerusalem Talmud includes more tracts (thirty-nine to the Babylonian's thirty-seven), it is considerably smaller (about one-fourth the size) and less elaborate, especially in the field of religious law (Halakhah). It is stronger in Aggadah, a collection of legends and stories, proverbs, parables, and mystic and veiled religious wisdom. The Babylonian Talmud, with its emphasis on religious law, became the dominant focus of study. This was partially determined by the political situation, which allowed the Jews in exile to study the Talmud to a greater degree than Jews could in Palestine. It is the Babylonian Talmud that continues to dominate today.
Talmudic rulings have served as the basis for religious law in Judaism throughout the generations. A vast rabbinic literature now exists based on discussions and analyses stemming from Talmudic discourse. Whereas elementary school education includes the study of the Pentateuch and Prophets, advanced religious education in higher yeshivot (Torah seminaries) concentrates on the study of the Talmud. Religious traditionalists reject the scientific approach to the study of the Talmud, which has developed in the university. Many similarly reject the desire of a small but increasing number of Orthodox women who wish to take part in intensive religious study, believing that only men are allowed to learn this sacred text.
Gilbert, Martin, ed. The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization: 4,000 Years of Jewish History. New York: Macmillan, 1990.
updated by ephraim tabory
Talmud (tăl´məd) [Aramaic from Heb.,=learning], in Judaism, vast compilation of the Oral Law with rabbinical elucidations, elaborations, and commentaries, in contradistinction to the Scriptures or Written Laws. The Talmud is the accepted authority for Orthodox Jews everywhere. Its two divisions are the Mishna or text of the Oral Law (in Hebrew) and the Gemara (in Aramaic), a commentary on the Mishna, which it supplements. The Mishna is divided into six Orders (Sedarim) and comprises 63 tractates (Massektoth), only 361/2 of which have a Gemara. The redaction of the Mishna was completed under the auspices of Juda ha-Nasi, c.AD 200, who collected and codified the legal material that had accumulated through the exposition of the Law by the Scribes (Soferim), particularly Hillel and Shammai, and its elaboration by the Tannaim of the 1st and 2d cent. AD, particularly Akiba ben Joseph. The Gemara developed out of the interpretations of the Mishna by the Amoraim. Both the Palestinian and Babylonian schools produced Talmuds, known respectively as the Talmud Yerushalmi (compiled c.5th cent. AD) and the Talmud Babli (c.6th cent. AD). The Babylonian Talmud is longer and more comprehensive and sophisticated than the Talmud Yerushalmi. It became the authoritative work due in part to the predominance of Babylonian Jewry and the decline of the Palestinian community by the year 1000. The Talmud touches on a wide range of subjects, offering information and comment on astronomy, geography, historical lore, domestic relations, and folklore. The legal sections of the Talmud are known as the halakah; the poetical digressions, illustrating the application of religious and ethical principles through parables, legends, allegories, tales, and anecdotes, constitute the Aggada. In the Middle Ages there arose a vast literature of commentaries on the Gemara—commentaries on those commentaries—and responsa (questions and answers); Rashi was one of the best-known commentators, and his commentaries are included in standard editions of the Talmud. In the Middle Ages thousands of Talmud manuscripts were destroyed by the Christians. The term Talmud is sometimes used to refer to the Gemara alone.
See The Babylonian Talmud (34 vol., tr. 1935–48); J. Goldin, The Living Talmud (1957, repr. 1964); H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1931, repr. 1969); C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, ed., A Rabbinic Anthology (1970); J. Neuser, Invitation to the Talmud (1973, repr. 1984); A. Steinsaltz, ed., The Talmud (Vol. I–XX, 1989–99) and The Essential Talmud (1992); D. H. Akenson, Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds (1999).
The Talmud is a rabbinic work consisting of the Mishnah, the earliest formulation of rabbinic instruction (ca. 200 c.e.); and the Gemara, an extended commentary and elaboration of the Mishnah composed in the mid-sixth century. The Gemara is built on rabbinic teachings, from Palestine and Babylonia, of the third through the fifth centuries. But its received form, combining approximately equal amounts of attributed teachings and unattributed analysis and argumentation, is the work of Babylonian rabbis. A related work, also called a Talmud, was written by Palestinian rabbis. Still, the Talmud has always been the Babylonian (the Bavli).
Since the early Middle Ages, the Talmud has served rabbis as the authoritative source for halakhic decision-making (halakha = Jewish law). To this day in the traditional Jewish community, no question in Jewish law can be answered without reference to talmudic precedents. For this reason the Talmud is the primary focus of study in traditional yeshivot.
Jewish reformers in the nineteenth century turned their back on the Talmud, and Talmud study continues to demand relatively little time in liberal Jewish schools. Consequently, the majority of contemporary Jews are ignorant of the Talmud. However, in recent years, as many Jews have sought to rediscover the roots of their tradition, the Talmud has regained a measure of popularity. The most outstanding product of this phenomenon is the English talmudic translation and commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. The growing popularity of the Talmud is also a product of its nature: Rather than offering single definitive opinions, the Talmud more often analyzes and supports multiple opinions, hesitating to declare only one correct. The Talmud thus serves as a model of respectful pluralistic dialogue both for communities of Jewish lay-people and for academics who seek historical and theoretical precedents for "postmodern" discourse.
Kraemer, David. The Mind of the Talmud. 1990.
Steinsaltz, Adin. The Essential Talmud. 1976.
TALMUD (Heb. תַּלְמוּד). The word "Talmud" means primarily "study" or "learning" and is employed in various senses. One refers to the opinions and teachings which disciples acquire from their predecessors in order to expound and explain them (Seder Tanna'im ve-Amora'im; cf. Rashi to Suk. 28b; bm 32a–b, et al.). Another sense comprises the whole body of one's learning; e.g., "He from whom one has acquired the greater part of his Talmud is to be regarded as one's teacher" (bm 33a). A third meaning is in the technical phrase talmud lomar, which is used to indicate a teaching derived from the exegesis of a biblical text. A fourth meaning is the analytical aspect of the commandment of Torah study (cf. Maim., Yad, The Laws of Torah Study 1:11). The word "Talmud" is most commonly used, however, to denote the bodies of teaching consisting largely of the traditions and discussions of the amoraim organized around the text of the *Mishnah of R. *Judah ha-Nasi (see *Talmud, Babylonian, and *Talmud, Jerusalem).
In popular parlance two other phrases are used as alternative names for the Talmud. The first is *Shas, an abbreviation consisting of the initial letters of Shishah Sidrei (Mishnah), i.e., the "Six Orders" (of the Mishnah) which serve as the literary foundation for the talmudim. The second is *Gemara (for a full discussion see Albeck, Mevo ha-Talmud (1969), ch. 1).
[Eliezer Berkovits /
Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]
Tal·mud / ˈtälˌmoŏd; ˈtalməd/ • n. (the Talmud) the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Babylonian Talmud (which dates from the 5th century ad but includes earlier material) and the earlier Palestinian or Jerusalem Talmud. DERIVATIVES: Tal·mud·ic / talˈm(y)oōdik; -ˈmoŏdik/ adj. Tal·mud·i·cal / talˈm(y)oōdikəl; -ˈmoŏd-/ adj. Tal·mud·ist / ˈtälmoŏdist; ˈtalməd-/ n.