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The Talmud is a record of discussions on laws, customs, legends and stories that expand on the earlier writings in the Torah and Mishnah. The Talmud is the basis for later codes of law (See Jewish law) as well as ethical and historical anecdotes Jewish ethics.

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The two Talmuds

The Talmud is a combination of a core text, the Mishnah and a later commentary, called the gemara ("completion"). There is only one Mishnah, but there are two distinct gemaras, the Yerushalmi and the Bavli. Both gemaras were developed by many rabbis over a few centuries.

Talmud Yerushalmi

The first gemara developed in Israel, near Galilee, and was redacted together in a formal collection around the year 450 CE. Together this gemara and the Mishnah are known as Talmud Yerushalmi (The Jerusalem Talmud); however, the name is a misnomer, as it was not writtem in Jerusalem. As such it is also known more accurately as the Palestinian Talmud or The Talmud of the Land of Israel.

Talmud Bavli

The second gemara developed in Babylonia, and was redacted together in a formal collection by Ashi and Ravina[?], whose work was completed around the year 550 CE. Many books on the Talmud usually use this as the date of the Talmud's composition. However, editorial work continued on this text for the next 250 years, so the much of the text did not reach its final form until around 800 CE.

Modern editions of the gemara are never printed by itself, but it is always printed along with the Mishnah. The Babylonian gemara and Mishnah printed together is called Talmud Bavli (the "Babylonian Talmud"). The canonical edition used is the Vilna edition, typeset by the widow and Brothers Romm, non-Jewish Lithuanians; because the Vilna Shas (another word for Talmud) is used to the exclusion of all other printings, the canonical typesetting, pagination, etc., are frequently thought of as integral to the gemara.

Talmud Bavli was studied most frequently throughout history, and thus has a plethora of commentary; because modern Jews are descended from those who determined their practices from the Bavli, the Bavli's opinion generally trumps Talmud Yerushalmi. Talmud Yerushalami is fragmentary and difficult to read, even for experienced Talmudists. However, the Yerushalmi covers a number of topics specific to the land of Israel which are not covered in the Bavli, such as the agricultural laws. The laws such as leaving the corners of one's field for the poor, leaving one's land fallow every seven years, etc. only apply within the borders of the land of Israel, and thus, the rabbis of the Bavli who had lived in the Diapora for generations, in many cases, did not consider themselves experts in these laws.

When the word "Talmud" is used without specifying which Talmud is meant, it always refers to the Babylonian Talmud.

The Babylonian Talmud is much more complete than the Jerusalem Talmud, and the redaction is much more careful and precise. Still, it is by no means complete. The gemara only exists for 37 out of the 63 tractates of the Mishna. Why did these tractates remain without gemara in Babylonian Talmud? The traditional answer is that the laws of Zeraim and Toharot (except Niddah) had no practical relevance; The agricultural laws were tied only to the land of Israel. In the diaspora these laws simply were of no use. The purity laws (except for family purity) were no longer applicable, because there was no longer a Temple and sacrificial system. One might think then that there would be no Babylonian Talmud gemara on Qodashim - but there is. This is probably because the study of the sacrificial regulations is generally thought of as being on par with actually performing sacrifices.

The contents and function of the Talmud

The gemaras do not stick closely to the Mishnah's text; they offer a huge amount of additional material, some of which is only loosely connected to the Mishnah. They supplement it with haggadic[?] (or aggadic) materials and biblical expositions, and are a source for history and legend. They also bring in sources from the Mishnaic era which were not included in the Mishnah compendium, which are called Tosefta (additions); the Talmud refers to these as beraitot, from the word outside.

In the usual printed editions the Babylonian Talmud comprises the full Mishna, the 37 gemaras, and the extra-canonical (minor) tractates; This comprises folio 5,894 pages, and is much more extensive than the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Talmud is the major source of Jewish practice. One might think that the Torah would serve this role, but the Torah only lists the rules; it tells little about to follow them and how to apply them to different circumstances. Although the Talmuds were not meant to be formal legal codes (other works were created for that purpose) it is the ultimate source material, in that it is used to decide matters of Halakha (Jewish law).

Influence of the Talmud

The Talmud and its study spread from Babylon to Egypt, northern Africa, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, regions destined to become the abodes of the Jewish spirit; and in all these countries intellectual interest centered in the Talmud. The first great reaction against its supremacy was Karaism, which arose in the very strong-hold of the Geonim within two centuries after the completion of the Talmud. The movement thus initiated and the influence of Arabic culture were the two chief factors which aroused the dormant forces of Judaism and gave inspiration to the scientific pursuits to which the Jewish spirit owed many centuries of fruitful activity. This activity did not infringe on the authority of the Talmud; for although it combined other ideals and intellectual aims with Talmudic study, the importance of that study was in no wise decried by those who devoted themselves to other fields of learning.

Within Judaism, the prime competitor to the primacy of Talmud study was the development of Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism), which in its modern form arose in the thirteenth century. During the decline of intellectual life among the Jews which began in the sixteenth century, the Talmud was regarded almost as the supreme authority by the majority of them; and in the same century eastern Europe, especially Poland, became the seat of its study. Even the Bible was relegated to a secondary place, and the Jewish schools devoted themselves almost exclusively to the Talmud; so that "study" became synonymous with "study of the Talmud."

A reaction against the supremacy of the Talmud came with the appearance of Moses Mendelssohn and the intellectual regeneration of Judaism through its contact with the gentile culture of the eighteenth century, the results of this struggle being a closer assimilation to European culture, the creation of a new science of Judaism, and the movements for religious reform. Despite the quasi-Karaite inclinations which appeared in early Reform Judaism, the majority of Jews clung to the Talmud as the primary document through which mainstream Judaism was understood.

Modern culture has gradually alienated from Talmud study most Jews; Talmud is now regarded by most Jews as merely as one of the branches of Jewish theology.

On the whole Jewish learning has done full justice to the Talmud, many scholars of the nineteenth and twentierth century having made noteworthy contributions to its history and textual criticism, and having constituted it the basis of historical and archeological researches. The study of the Talmud has even attracted the attention of non-Jewish scholars; and it has been included in the curricula of universities.

The Talmud as utilized by modern-day Judaism

Orthodox Jews study the Talmud in depth, but rarely use the Talmudic legal methodology to alter Jewish law as codified in later compendia, primarily the sixteenth century Shulchan Aruch, which was created in order to stem the proliferation of different practices which threatened to fragment Judaism. Orthodox Jews study the Talmud for its own sake; this is considered a great mitzvah.

Conservative Jews also consider Halakha as binding, but do not always accept modern (post-1500) legal codes as absolutely binding; as such they use the Talmud in the same way that pre-1500 rabbis used it. This is theoretically still an option in the Orthodox community, but in practice is used very rarely --- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is one notable Orthodox authority who ruled directly from the Talmud.

Reform and Reconstructionist Jews usually do not teach much Talmud 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.

Attacks on the Talmud

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. 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 convert Nicholas Donin led to the first public disputation between Jews and Christians and to the first burning of copies of the work (Paris, 1244). The Talmud was likewise the subject of a disputation at Barcelona in 1263 between Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman) and Pablo Christiani. This same Pablo Christiani made an attack on the Talmud which resulted in a papal bull against it and in the first censorship, which was undertaken at Barcelona by a commission of Dominicans, who ordered the cancelation of passages reprehensible from a Christian point of view (1264).

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 and apostates found in the Talmud referred in reality to Christians. 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 Johann 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 the humanists; 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 Palestinian Talmud. After thirty years the Vatican, which had first permitted the Talmud to appear in print, undertook a campaign of destruction against it. On New-Year's Day (Sept. 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 (Cracow, 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 instance of the Frankists, convened a public disputation at Kamenetz-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 modern anti-Semitic agitators have urged that a translation be made; and this demand has even been brought before legislative bodies, as in Vienna. The Talmud and the "Talmud Jew" thus became objects of anti-Semitic attacks, although, on the other hand, they were defended by many Christian students of the Talmud.


The most renowned Conservative Talmud scholars of the 20th century include Louis Ginzberg, Saul Lieberman, Judith Hauptman[?], David Weiss Halivni[?] and Jacob Neusner.

The most renowned Orthodox Talmud scholars of the 20th century include Rabbis Adin Steinsaltz, Moshe Feinstein[?] (who read the entire Talmud hundreds of times as is said to have memorized it), Joseph B. Soloveitchik[?] (the Rav), Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg[?], Ovadiah Yosef[?], Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[?], (first name?) Henkin, Yisrael Mein Kagan[?] (the Chofetz Chaim, author of the Mishna Berura) and Yechiel Michal Epstein[?] (author of the Aruch HaShulchan).


Tractates in order Zeraim:

  • Berakhot
  • Peah
  • Demai
  • Kilaim
  • Sheviit
  • Terumot
  • Ma'asrot
  • Ma'aser Sheini
  • Hallah
  • Orlah
  • Bikkurim

Tractates in order Moed

  • Shabbat
  • Eruvin
  • Pesachim
  • Shekalim
  • Yoma
  • Sukkah
  • Beitzah
  • Rosh Hashanah
  • Taanit
  • Megillah
  • Moed Katan
  • Hagigah

Tractates in order Nashim

  • Yevamot
  • Ketubot
  • Nedarim
  • Nazir
  • Sotah
  • Gittin
  • Kiddushin
Tractates in order Nezikin
  • Bava Kamma
  • Bava Metzia
  • Bava Batra
  • Sanhedrin
  • Makkot
  • Shevuot
  • Edutoyot
  • Avodah Zarah
  • Avot
  • Horayot

Tractates in order Kodashim

  • Zevahim
  • Menahot
  • Hullin
  • Bekhorot
  • Arakhin
  • Terumah
  • Keritot
  • Me'ilah
  • Tamid
  • Middot
  • Kinnim

Tractates in order Tohorot

  • Keilim
  • Oholot
  • Negaim
  • Parah
  • Tohorot
  • Mikvaot
  • Niddah
  • Makshirin
  • Zavim
  • Tevul Yom
  • Yadaim
  • Uktzin


Translations of Talmud Bavli

The Essential Talmud Adin Steinsaltz Basic Books. An introduction to the Mishnah and Talmud, for the beginner.

The Soncino Hebrew-English Talmud Isidore Epstein, Soncino Press. In this translation, each English page faces the Hebrew page. Notes on each page provide additional background material. Soncino Talmud (http://www.soncino.com/Talmudset)

The Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud, Mesorah Publications The Talmud from Mesorah publications (http://www.artscroll.com)

The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition Adin Steinsaltz, Random House.

Translations of Talmud Yerushalmi

Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation JJacob Neusner, Univ. of Chicago Press. This translation uses a form-analytical presentation which makes the logical units of discourse easier to identify and follow. However, Neusner's translation methodology is idiosyncratic, and this work has received a great deal of criticism.

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