Sea of the Talmud

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SEA OF THE TALMUD , a post-talmudic expression indicating the vastness of the Talmud, the innumerable subjects it deals with, and its all-embracing character. Although it is not found in the Talmud itself, the comparison between the vastness of knowledge and the sea is already found in the Bible: "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:9); "Canst thou find out the deep things of God?… The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea" (Job 11:9). The same image appears in the Apocrypha: "The first man knew her not perfectly, for her understanding is fuller than the sea, and her counsel is greater than the deep" (Ecclus. 24:28f.). In the Jerusalem Talmud there is a concept which, while not directly comparing the Talmud to the sea, does embody the simile; R. Simeon b. Lakish transmitted: "Just as there are little waves between the great waves of the sea, so are the slightest details, even to the specific teachings of its letters, found in the general laws of the Torah" (tj, Sot. 8:3, 22d). One of the earliest passages where the expression occurs is in the preface to Menorat ha-Ma'or (c. 1300) by Isaac *Aboab: "The precious pearls that lie upon the bed of the sea of the Talmud, the aggadic passages so rich in beauty and sweetness."

[Harry Freedman]