- Talmud and Midrash
▪ JudaismIntroductioncommentative and interpretative writings that hold a place in the Jewish religious tradition second only to the Bible (Old Testament).Definition of termsThe Hebrew term Talmud (“study” or “learning”) commonly refers to a compilation of ancient teachings regarded as sacred and normative by Jews from the time it was compiled until modern times and still so regarded by traditional religious Jews. In its broadest sense, the Talmud is a set of books consisting of the Mishna (“repeated study”), the Gemara (“completion”), and certain auxiliary materials. The Mishna is a collection of originally oral laws supplementing scriptural laws. The Gemara is a collection of commentaries on and elaborations of the Mishna, which in “the Talmud” is reproduced in juxtaposition to the Gemara. For present-day scholarship, however, Talmud in the precise sense refers only to the materials customarily called Gemara—an Aramaic term prevalent in medieval rabbinic literature that was used by the church censor to replace the term Talmud within the Talmudic discourse in the Basel edition of the Talmud, published 1578–81. This practice continued in all later editions.The term Midrash (“exposition” or “investigation”; plural, Midrashim) is also used in two senses. On the one hand, it refers to a mode of biblical interpretation prominent in the Talmudic literature; on the other, it refers to a separate body of commentaries on Scripture using this interpretative mode.Opposition to the TalmudDespite the central place of the Talmud in traditional Jewish life and thought, significant Jewish groups and individuals have opposed it vigorously. The Karaite (Karaism) sect in Babylonia, beginning in the 8th century, refuted the oral tradition and denounced the Talmud as a rabbinic fabrication. Medieval Jewish mystics declared the Talmud a mere shell covering the concealed meaning of the written Torah, and heretical messianic sects in the 17th and 18th centuries totally rejected it. The decisive blow to Talmudic authority came in the 18th and 19th centuries when the Haskala (the Jewish Enlightenment movement) and its aftermath, Reform Judaism, secularized Jewish life and, in doing so, shattered the Talmudic wall that had surrounded the Jews. Thereafter, modernized Jews usually rejected the Talmud as a medieval anachronism, denouncing it as legalistic, casuistic, devitalized, and unspiritual.There is also a long-standing anti-Talmudic tradition among Christians. The Talmud was frequently attacked by the church, particularly during the Middle Ages, and accused of falsifying biblical meaning, thus preventing Jews from becoming Christians. The church held that the Talmud contained blasphemous remarks against Jesus and Christianity and that it preached moral and social bias toward non-Jews. On numerous occasions the Talmud was publicly burned, and permanent Talmudic censorship was established.On the other hand, since the Renaissance there has been a positive response and great interest in rabbinic literature by eminent non-Jewish scholars, writers, and thinkers in the West. As a result, rabbinic ideas, images, and lore, embodied in the Talmud, have permeated Western thought and culture.Content, style, and formThe Talmud is first and foremost a legal compilation. At the same time it contains materials that encompass virtually the entire scope of subject matter explored in antiquity. Included are topics as diverse as agriculture, architecture, astrology, astronomy, dream interpretation, ethics, fables, folklore, geography, history, legend, magic, mathematics, medicine, metaphysics, natural sciences, proverbs, theology, and theosophy.This encyclopaedic array is presented in a unique dialectic style that faithfully reflects the spirit of free give-and-take prevalent in the Talmudic academies, where study was focussed upon a Talmudic text. All present participated in an effort to exhaust the meaning and ramifications of the text, debating and arguing together. The mention of a name, situation, or idea often led to the introduction of a story or legend that lightened the mood of a complex argument and carried discussion further.This text-centred approach profoundly affected the thinking and literary style of the rabbis. Study became synonymous with active interpretation rather than with passive absorption. Thinking was stimulated by textual examination. Even original ideas were expressed in the form of textual interpretations.The subject matter of the oral Torah is classified according to its content into Halakha (Halakhah) and Haggada and according to its literary form into Midrash and Mishna. Halakha (“law”) deals with the legal, ritual, and doctrinal parts of Scripture, showing how the laws of the written Torah should be applied in life. Haggada (“narrative”) expounds on the nonlegal parts of Scripture, illustrating biblical narrative, supplementing its stories, and exploring its ideas. The term Midrash denotes the exegetical method by which the oral tradition interprets and elaborates scriptural text. It refers also to the large collections of Halakhic and Haggadic materials that take the form of a running commentary on the Bible and that were deduced from Scripture by this exegetical method. In short, it also refers to a body of writings. Mishna is the comprehensive compendium that presents the legal content of the oral tradition independently of scriptural text.Modes of interpretation and thoughtMidrash was initially a philological method of interpreting the literal meaning of biblical texts. In time it developed into a sophisticated interpretive system that reconciled apparent biblical contradictions, established the scriptural basis of new laws, and enriched biblical content with new meaning. Midrashic creativity reached its peak in the schools of Rabbi Ishmael (Ishmael ben Elisha) and Akiba (Akiba ben Joseph), where two different hermeneutic (hermeneutics) methods were applied. The first was primarily logically oriented, making inferences based upon similarity of content and analogy. The second rested largely upon textual scrutiny, assuming that words and letters that seem superfluous teach something not openly stated in the text.The Talmud (i.e., the Gemara) quotes abundantly from all Midrashic collections and concurrently uses all rules employed by both the logical and textual schools; moreover, the Talmud's interpretation of Mishna is itself an adaptation of the Midrashic method. The Talmud treats the Mishna in the same way that Midrash treats Scripture. Contradictions are explained through reinterpretation. New problems are solved logically by analogy or textually by careful scrutiny of verbal superfluity.The strong involvement with hermeneutic exegesis—interpretation according to systematic rules or principles—helped develop the analytic skill and inductive reasoning of the rabbis but inhibited the growth of independent abstract thinking. Bound to a text, they never attempted to formulate their ideas into the type of unified system characteristic of Greek philosophy. Unlike the philosophers, they approached the abstract only by way of the concrete. Events or texts stimulated them to form concepts. These concepts were not defined but, once brought to life, continued to grow and change meaning with usage and in different contexts. This process of conceptual development has been described by some as “organic thinking.” Others use this term in a wider sense, pointing out that, although rabbinic concepts are not hierarchically ordered, they have a pattern-like organic coherence. The meaning of each concept is dependent upon the total pattern of concepts, for the idea content of each grows richer as it interweaves with the others.Early compilationsEzra the scribe who, according to the Book of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah, books of), reestablished and reformed the Jewish religion in the 5th century BCE, began the “search in the Law . . . to teach in Israel statutes and ordinances.”His work was continued by soferim (sofer) (scribes), who preserved, taught, and interpreted the Bible. They linked the oral tradition to Scripture, transmitting it as a running commentary on the Bible. For almost 300 years they applied the Torah to changing circumstances, making it a living law. They also introduced numerous laws that were designated “words of the soferim” by Talmudic sources. By the end of this period, rabbinic Judaism—the religious system constructed by the scribes and rabbis—was strong enough to withstand pressure from without and mature enough to permit internal diversity of opinion.At the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, a judicial body headed by the zugot—pairs of scholars—assumed Halakhic authority. There were five pairs in all, between c. 150 and 30 BCE. The first of the zugot also introduced the Mishnaic style of transmitting the oral tradition.The making of the Mishna: 2nd–3rd centuriesHillel and Shammai (Shammai ha-Zaken), the last of the zugot, ushered in the period of the tannaim—“teachers” of the Mishna—at the end of the 1st century BCE. This era, distinguished by a continuous attempt to consolidate the fragmentary Midrashic and Mishnaic material, culminated in the compilation of the Mishna at the beginning of the 3rd century CE. The work was carried out in the academies of Hillel and Shammai and in others founded later. Most scholars believe that Halakhic collections existed prior to the fall of Jerusalem, in 70 CE. Other compilations were made at Yavne (Jabneh), a Palestinian town near the Mediterranean, as part of the effort to revitalize Judaism after the disaster of 70 CE. By the beginning of the 2nd century there were many such collections. Tradition has it that Rabbi Akiba organized much of this material into separate collections of Midrash, Mishna, and Haggada and introduced the formal divisions in tannaitic literature. His students and other scholars organized new compilations that were studied in the different academies.After the rebellion of the Jews against Roman rule led by Simeon Bar Kokhba in 132–135, when the sanhedrin (the Jewish supreme court and highest academy) was revived, the Mishnaic compilation adopted by the Sanhedrin president became the official Mishna. The Sanhedrin reached its highest stature under the leadership of Judah ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince, or President); he was also called Rabbi, as the preeminent teacher.It seems certain that the official Mishna studied during his presidency was the Mishna we know and that he was its editor. Judah aimed to include the entire content of the oral tradition. He drew heavily from the collections of Akiba's pupils but also incorporated material from other compilations, including early ones. Nevertheless, the accumulation was such that selection was necessary. Thus almost no Midrash or Haggada was included. Colleagues and pupils of Judah not only made minor additions to the Mishna but tried to preserve the excluded material, the Baraitot (Baraita) (“Exclusions”), in separate collections. One of these was the Tosefta (“Addition”). Midrashic material was gathered in separate compilations, and later revisions of some of these are still extant. The language of all of the tannaitic literature is the new Hebrew developed during the period of the Second Temple (c. 6th century BCE–1st century CE).The making of the Talmuds: 3rd–6th centuryThe expounders of the Mishna were the amoraim (amora) (“interpreter”), and the two Talmuds—the Palestinian (Palestinian Talmud) (or Jerusalem) and the Babylonian (Babylonian Talmud)—consist of their explanations, discussions, and decisions. Both take the form of a running commentary on the Mishna.The foundations for these two monumental works were begun by three disciples of Judah ha-Nasi: Joḥanan bar Nappaḥa, Rav (Abba Arika), and Samuel bar Abba, in their academies at Tiberias, in Palestine, and at Sura and Nehardea in Babylonia, respectively. Centres of learning where the Mishna was expounded existed also at Sepphoris, Caesarea, and Lydda in Palestine. In time new academies were established in Babylonia, the best known being those at Pumbedita, Mahoza and Naresh, founded by Judah bar Ezekiel, Rava, and Rav Pappa, respectively. The enrollment of these centres often numbered in the thousands, and students spent many years there. Those who no longer lived on the academy grounds returned twice annually for the kalla, a month of study in the spring and fall.Academies differed in their methods of study. Pumbedita, for example, stressed casuistry, while Sura emphasized breadth of knowledge. Students often moved from one academy to another and even from Palestine to Babylonia or from Babylonia to Palestine. This kept open the channels of communication between the various academies and resulted in the inclusion of much Babylonian material in the Palestinian Talmud, and vice versa.Despite the overwhelming similarity of the two Talmuds, however, they do differ in some ways. The Palestinian Talmud is written in the Western Aramaic dialect, the Babylonian in the Eastern. The former is invariably shorter, and, not having been subject to final redaction, its discussions are often incomplete. Its explanations tend to remain closer to the literal meaning of the Mishna, preferring textual emendation to casuistic interpretation. Finally, some of the legal concepts in the Babylonian Talmud reflect the influence of Persian law, for Babylonia was under Persian rule at the time.The main endeavour of the amoraim was to thoroughly explain and exhaust the meaning of the Mishna and the Baraitot. Apparent contradictions were reconciled by such means as explaining that conflicting statements referred to different situations or by asserting that they stemmed from the Mishnayot (Mishnas) of different tannaim (tanna). The same techniques were used when amoraic statements contradicted the Mishna. These discussions took place for hundreds of years, and their content was passed on from generation to generation, until the compilation of the Talmud.The portion of the Palestinian Talmud dealing with the three Bavot (“gates”)—i.e., the first three tractates of the fourth order of the Mishna (for orders and tractates, see Talmudic and Midrashic literature (Talmud and Midrash), below)—was compiled in Caesarea in the middle of the 4th century and is distinguished from the rest by its brevity and terminology. The remainder was completed in Tiberias some 50 years later. It seems likely that its compilation was a rescue operation designed to preserve as much of the Halakhic material collected in Palestinian academies as possible, for by that time the deterioration of the political situation had forced most Palestinian scholars to emigrate to Babylonia.The Babylonian Talmud was compiled up to the 6th century. Some scholars suggest that the organization of the Talmud began early and that successive generations of amoraim added layer upon layer to previously arranged material. Others suggest that at the beginning a stratum called Gemara, consisting only of Halakhic decisions or short comments, was set forth. Still others theorize that no overall arrangement of Talmudic material was made until the end of the 4th century.The statement in the tractate Bava metzia that “Rabina and Rav Ashi were the end of instruction” is most often understood as referring to the final redaction of the Talmud. Since at least two generations of scholars following Rav Ashi (died 427) are mentioned in the Talmud, most scholars suggest that “Rabina” refers to Rabina bar Huna (died 499) and that the redaction was a slow process lasting about 75 years to the end of the 5th century.According to the tradition of the geonim (gaon)—the heads of the academies at Sura and Pumbedita from the 6th to the 11th centuries—the Babylonian Talmud was completed by the 6th-century savoraim (savora) (“expositors”). But the extent of their contribution is not precisely known. Some attribute to them only short additions. Others credit them with creating the terminology linking the phases of Talmudic discussions. According to another view, they added comments and often decided between conflicting opinions. The proponents of the so-called Gemara theory noted above ascribe to them the entire dialectic portion of Talmudic discourse.Talmudic and Midrashic literatureMishnaThe Mishna is divided into six orders (sedarim), each order into tractates (massekhtot), and each tractate into chapters (peraqim). The six orders are Zeraʿim, Moʿed, Nashim, Neziqin, Qodashim, and Ṭohorot.1. Zeraʿim (“Seeds”) consists of 11 tractates: Berakhot, Pea, Demai, Kilayim, Sheviʿit, Terumot, Maʿaserot, Maʿaser sheni, Ḥalla, ʿOrla, and Bikkurim. Except for Berakhot (“Blessings”), which treats of daily prayers and grace, this order deals with laws related to agriculture in Palestine. It includes prohibitions against mixtures in plants (hybridization), legislation relating to the sabbatical year (when land lies fallow and debts are remitted), and regulations concerning the portions of harvest given to the poor, the Levites, and the priests.2. Moʿed (“Season” or “Festival”) consists of 12 tractates: Shabbat, ʿEruvin, Pesaḥim, Sheqalim, Yoma, Sukka, Betza, Rosh Hashana, Taʿanit, Megilla, Moʿed qaṭan, and Ḥagiga. This order deals with ceremonies, rituals, observances, and prohibitions relating to special days of the year, including the Sabbath, holidays, and fast days. Since the half-shekel Temple contribution was collected on specified days, tractate Sheqalim, regarding this practice, is included.3. Nashim (“Women”) consists of seven tractates: Yevamot, Ketubbot, Nedarim, Nazir, Soṭa, Giṭṭin, and Qiddushin. This order deals with laws concerning betrothal, marriage, sexual and financial relations between husband and wife, adultery, and divorce. Since Nazirite (ascetic) and other vows may affect marital relations, Nedarim (“Vows”) and Nazir (“Nazirite”) are included here.4. Neziqin (“Damages”) consists of 10 tractates, the first three of which were originally considered one (the Bavot): Bava qamma, Bava metzia, Bava batra, Sanhedrin, Makkot, Shevuʿot, ʿEduyyot, ʿAvoda zara, Avot, and Horayot. This order deals with civil and criminal law concerning damages, theft, labour relations, usury, real estate, partnerships, tenant relations, inheritance, court composition, jurisdiction and testimony, erroneous decisions of the Sanhedrin, and capital and other physical punishments. Since idolatry, in the literal sense of worship or veneration of material images, is punishable by death, ʿAvoda zara (“Idolatry”) is included. Avot (“Fathers”), commonly called “Ethics of the Fathers” in English, seems to have been included to teach a moral way of life that precludes the transgression of law.5. Qodashim (“Sacred Things”) consists of 11 tractates: Zevaḥim, Menaḥot, Ḥullin, Bekhorot, ʿArakhin, Temura, Keretot, Meʿila, Tamid, Middot, and Qinnim. This order incorporates some of the oldest Mishnaic portions. It treats of the Temple and includes regulations concerning sacrifices, offerings, and donations. It also contains a detailed description of the Temple complex.6. Ṭohorot (“Purifications”) consists of 12 tractates: Kelim, Ohalot, Negaʿim, Para, Ṭohorot, Miqwaʾot, Nidda, Makhshirin, Zavim, Ṭevul yom, Yadayim, and ʿUqtzin. This order deals with laws governing the ritual impurity of vessels, dwellings, foods, and persons, and with purification processes.The Tosefta (“Addition”) closely resembles the Mishna in content and order. In its present form it at times supplements the Mishna, at other times comments on it, and often also opposes it. There is no Tosefta on the tractates Avot, Tamid, Middot, and Qinnim. The Talmud quotes from many other collections of Mishnaiot and Baraitot: some are attributed to tannaim (tanna), and predate the established Mishna; and others, to amoraim. The original material is lost.Talmud (Gemara)Although the entire Mishna was studied at the Palestinian and Babylonian academies, the Palestinian Talmud (Gemara) covers only the first four orders (except chapters 21–24 of Shabbat and chapter 3 of Makkot) and the first three chapters of Nidda in the sixth order. Most scholars agree that the Palestinian Talmud was never completed to the fifth and sixth orders of the Mishna and that the missing parts of the other orders were lost. A manuscript of chapter 3 of Makkot was, in fact, found and was published in 1946.The Babylonian Talmud does not cover orders Zeraʿim (except Berakhot) and Ṭohorot (except Nidda) and tractates Tamid (except chapters 1,2,4), Sheqalim, Middot, Qinnim, Avot, and ʿEduyyot. Scholars concur that the Talmud for these parts was never completed, possibly because their content was not relevant in Babylonia.MidrashimHalakhicHalakhic Midrashim are exegetic commentaries on the legal content of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The five extant collections are Mekhilta, on Exodus; Mekhilta deRabbi Shimʿon ben Yoḥai, on Exodus; Sifra, on Leviticus; Sifre, on Numbers and Deuteronomy; Sifre zuṭa, on Numbers. (Mekhilta means “measure,” a norm or rule; Sifra, plural Sifre, means “writing” or “book.”) Critical analysis reveals that Mekhilta and Sifre on Numbers differ from the others in terminology and method. Most scholars agree that these two originated in the school of Ishmael and the others in that of Akiba. In their present form they also include later additions. Mention should also be made of Midrash tannaim on Deuteronomy, consisting of fragments recovered from the Yemenite anthology Midrash ha-gadol.Haggadic Midrashim originated with the weekly synagogue readings and their accompanying explanations. Although Haggadic collections existed in tannaitic times, extant collections date from the 4th–11th centuries. Midrashic compilations were not authoritatively edited and tend to be coincidental and fragmentary.Most notable among biblical collections is Midrash rabba (“Great Midrash”), a composite of commentaries on the Pentateuch and five Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Lamentations) differing in nature and age. Its oldest portion, the 5th-century Genesis rabba, is largely a verse-by-verse commentary, while the 6th-century Leviticus rabba consists of homilies and Lamentations rabba (end of 6th century) is mainly narrative. The remaining portions of Midrash rabba were compiled at later dates.The Tanḥuma (after the late-4th-century Palestinian amora Tanḥuma bar Abba), of which two versions are extant, is another important Pentateuchal Midrash. Additional Midrashic compilations include those to the books of Samuel, Psalms, and Proverbs. Mention should also be made of Pesiqta (“Section” or “Cycles”) deRab Kahana (after a Babylonian amora) and Pesiqta rabbati (“The Great Cycle”), consisting of homilies on the Torah (Pentateuch) readings that occur on festivals and special Sabbaths.Haggadic compilations independent of biblical text include Avot deRabbi Natan, Tanna deve Eliyyahu, Pirqe (“Chapters”) deRabbi Eliezer, and tractates Derekh eretz (“Correct Conduct”). These primarily deal with ethics, moral teachings, and biblical narrative.Among the medieval anthologies are the Yalquṭ (“Compilation”) Shimoni (13th century), Yalquṭ ha-makhiri (14th century), and ʿEn Yaʿaqov (“Eye of Jacob,” 16th century). The two most important modern Haggadic anthologies are those of Wilhelm Bacher and Louis Ginzberg.CodesThe Talmud's dialectic style and organization are not those of a code of laws. Accordingly, codification efforts began shortly after the Talmud's completion. The first known attempt was Halakhot pesuqot (“Decided Laws”), ascribed to Yehudai Gaon (8th century). Halakhot gedolot (“Great Laws”), by Simeon Kiyyara, followed 100 years later. Both summarize Talmudic Halakhic material, omitting dialectics but preserving Talmudic order and language. The later geonim concentrated on particular subjects, such as divorce or vows, introducing the monographic style of codification.Codification literature gained impetus by the beginning of the 11th century. During the next centuries many compilations appeared in Europe and North Africa. The most notable, following Talmudic order, were the Hilkhot Harif, by Isaac Alfasi (11th century), and Hilkhot Harosh, by Asher ben Jehiel (13th–14th centuries). Though modelled after Halakhot gedolot, the Hilkhot Harif encompasses only laws applicable after the destruction of the Temple but includes more particulars. The Hilkhot Harosh closely follows Alfasi's code but often also includes the reasoning underlying decisions.The most important of the topically arranged codifications were: the Mishne Torah, Sefer ha-ṭurim, and Shulḥan ʿarukh. (1) The Mishne Torah (“The Torah Reviewed”) by Maimonides (12th century), is a monumental work, original in plan, language, and order; it encompasses all religious subject matter under 14 headings and includes theosophy, theology, and religion. (2) The Sefer ha-ṭurim (“Book of Rows,” or “ Parts”), by Jacob ben Asher (14th century), the son of Asher ben Jehiel, introduced new groupings, dividing subject matter into four major categories (ṭurim) reminiscent of the Mishnaic orders; it includes only laws applicable after the destruction of the Temple. (3) The Shulḥan ʿarukh (“The Prepared Table”) by Joseph Karo (Karo, Joseph ben Ephraim) (16th century), the last of the great codifiers, is structured after the Sefer ha-ṭurim, but presents the Sefardic (Middle Eastern and North African) rather than the Ashkenazic (Franco-German and eastern European) tradition, with decisions largely following those of Alfasi, Maimonides, and Rabbi Asher. When the 16th-century Ashkenazic codifier Moses Isserles (Isserles, Moses ben Israel) added his notes, this became the standard Halakhic code for all Jewry.CommentariesThe interpretive literature on the Talmud began with the rise of academies in Europe and North Africa. The earliest known European commentary, though ascribed to Gershom ben Judah (10th–11th centuries), is actually an eclectic compilation of notes recorded by students of the Mayence (Mainz) Academy. Compilations of this kind, known as qunṭresim (“notebooks”), also developed in other academies. Their content was masterfully reshaped and reformulated in the renowned 11th-century commentary of Rashi (acronym of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzḥaqi), in which difficulties likely to be encountered by students are anticipated and detail after detail is clarified until a synthesized, comprehensible whole emerges.The commentaries of Ḥananel ben Ḥushiel and Nissim ben Jacob ben Nissim, the first to appear in North Africa (11th century), are introductory in nature. They summarize the content of Talmudic discussions, assuming that details will be understood once the general idea becomes comprehensible. This style was later followed by the Spanish school, including Joseph ibn Migash and Maimonides. However, as Rashi's work became known, it displaced all other commentaries. (Note its predominant role in the sample page of Talmud.)A new phase in Talmudic literature was initiated by Rashi's grandchildren, Rabbis Isaac, Samuel, and Jacob, the sons of Meir, who established the school of tosafot. (These medieval “additions” are not to be confused with the tannaitic Tosefta discussed above.) Reviving Talmudic dialectic, they treated the Talmud in the same way that it had treated the Mishna. They linked apparently unrelated statements from different Talmudic discourses and pointed out the fine distinctions between seemingly interdependent statements. This dialectic style was soon adopted in all European academies. Even the writings of Ravad (Abraham ben David), Zerahiah ha-Levi, and Yeshaya deTrani, three of the most original Talmudists (12th century), reflect the impact of Tosafist dialectic.The works of Meir Abulafia and Menaḥem Meiri, although of the North African genre, include a strong dialectic element. In Spain such dialectic works were known as ḥiddushim or novellae (since they sought “new insights”), the most famous being those written by four generations (13th–14th centuries) of teacher and pupil: Ramban (Naḥmanides, or Moses ben Naḥman), Rashba (Solomon ben Adret), Ritba (Yomtov ben Abraham), and Ran (Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi).A major role in establishing Talmudic authority was also played by the responsa literature, replies (responsa) to legal and religious questions. Beginning in the 7th century, when the Babylonian geonim responded in writing to questions concerning the Talmud, it developed into a branch of Talmudic literature that continued to the present. Then, as now, Talmudic authorities were approached for explanations and decisions. Among the geonim the best known were Sherira (10th century) and his son Hai. In the Middle Ages the most important were Alfasi, Ibn Migash (Joseph ibn Migash), Maimonides, Ravad (Abraham ben David of Posquières), Ramban, Rashba, Rosh (Asher ben Jehiel), Ran, and Ribash (Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet).Writing and printing of the TalmudsStudy in the academies was always oral; hence the question of when the Mishna and Talmud were first committed to writing has been the subject of much discussion. According to some scholars, the process of writing began with Judah ha-Nasi. Others attribute it to the savoraim.The Palestinian Talmud was first printed in Venice (1523–24). All later editions followed this one. Printing of the Babylonian Talmud was begun in Spain about 1482, and there have been more than 100 different editions since. The oldest extant full edition appeared in Venice (1520–23). This became the prototype for later printings, setting the type of page and pagination (a total of close to 5,500 folios). The standard edition was printed in Vilna beginning in 1886. It carries many commentaries and commentaries upon commentaries. In the sample page—> reproduced here, the Mishna and the Gemara are placed in the centre column of the page and are printed in the heavy type. The commentary of Rashi is always located in the inner column of the page and the tosafot in the outer column. Other commentaries and references to legal codes and to scriptural verses surround the major commentaries, in smaller type. Talmudic citations are made by tractate name, folio number, and side of the folio (a or b).Nonlegal subject matterMain religious doctrinesWhile the Talmudic rabbis never formally systematized their beliefs, their underlying religious concepts are clearly reflected in their decisions, ideas, and attitudes. Preeminent in rabbinic thinking were the concepts of God, Torah, and Israel.The rabbinic God was primarily the biblical God who acted in history, the creator and source of life who was experienced through the senses rather than intellect. In reaction to sectarian teachings (i.e., Gnosticism and early Christianity), however, the rabbis stressed God's universality, absolute unity, and direct involvement with the world. His immanence and transcendence (being present in and beyond the universe) were emphasized, and biblical anthropomorphisms (ascribing human attributes to God) were explained metaphorically. The rabbis also stressed an intimacy into the relationship between God and man. God became the father to whom each individual could turn in direct prayer for his needs. To the names YHWH and Elohim, which traditionally were identified with God's mercy and judgment, respectively, the rabbis added new terms reflecting his other attributes—e.g., Shekhina (“Presence”), representing his omnipresence, or immanence; and Maqom (“Place”), his transcendence.Torah, in the Talmudic sense, refers to all religious and ethical teachings handed down by tradition. According to the rabbis, God created the Torah long before the world. It contained the eternal divine formula for the world's future workings and thus the answers to all problems for all times and all people. God himself is depicted as studying the Torah, for even he cannot make decisions concerning the world that contradict it.The people Israel, according to the rabbis, were chosen by God to be the guardian of his Torah, and, just as God chose Israel, Israel chose God. Thus, the concept of Israel as a nation bound together by an irrevocable commitment to bring the Torah to the world, and bearing corporate responsibility for this mission, was formed. No Jew can free himself from this commitment, but anyone accepting it, regardless of race, becomes a full-fledged Jew with obligations binding him and his descendants.With this in mind, the rabbis repeatedly emphasized the importance of studying Torah. They pointed out that the Torah is not a declaration of religious beliefs. Rather it is a statement of a discipline regulating each detail of life. Any transgression of this discipline hampers the divine plan of establishing God's way of life in this world.The intensive rabbinic religious involvement led to the growth of a new concept of worship. While in the Bible worship was usually centred in the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem (Jerusalem, Temple of), the rabbis, particularly after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), attempted to sanctify all of life. Thus, they said that one must bless God upon arising in the morning, before dressing, before and after meals, and in all ordinary daily actions or routines. Each move in life should be an act of worship glorifying God's name.Messianic kingdomIn rabbinic thinking the establishment of God's kingdom was tied to the messiah, who was to be a descendant of King David, wise, just, a great scholar, a moral leader, and courageous king. He would redeem the Jews from exile and reestablish their independence in the land of Israel. With this the world would be ushered into a new era of righteousness and universal peace. The rabbis referred to this era as “the world to come,” portraying it as an immense academy in which the righteous would study Torah without interruption. They refrained from describing it further, saying that human language and fantasy are inadequate to its wonders.The nature of the Messiah and the time of his arrival raised much speculation. Following the defeat of Bar Kokhba, leader of the revolt against Roman rule (135 CE), the Messiah's coming, in rabbinic thought, faded into the mysterious and distant future, and descriptions concerning his personality assumed supernatural overtones.Doctrine of manThe fate of man, his achievements and failures, his being and nothingness, occupy an important place in Talmudic literature. The rabbis' concept of man was a universal one. While they assumed that Jews are bound by greater religious duties than others, they considered all men equal, all created in the image of God. “Therefore, but a single man was created . . . That none should say to his fellow, ‘My father was greater than thy father”' (tractate Sanhedrin).The world, according to the Talmud, was created for the sake of man, and it is incumbent upon him to keep it in order. His responsibility begins at home. Man must care for his health, marry, build a family, provide for and educate children, honour parents, friends, and elders. He also carries social responsibilities and has to be part of the community. He must learn a trade and work so that he does not become a burden to the community.The uniqueness of man in this world, likened by the Talmud to the uniqueness of God in the universe, lies in his freedom of choice. Nature follows its laws and angels their missions, but man is his own master. In contrast to St. Paul's doctrine that the original sin of Adam made sin an integral part of human nature, the rabbis considered man a wondrous and harmonious being. The duality of his nature was explained by the existence of a good and bad impulse, personified by two angels, yetzer ha-ṭov (the good inclination) and yetzer ha-raʿ (the evil inclination), which enter each man after birth. It is the duty of man to overcome his evil inclination, and it is for this that he is rewarded. Moreover, since there is corporate responsibility, not only is the sinner punished but the community at large also suffers. Here again, however, man is his own master. He can reverse the course of sin and punishment by repentance. Although repentance may be accompanied by formal and ceremonial acts, such as fasting, its basic principle is the renunciation of the sin and the wholehearted decision not to repeat it. When a man transgresses against God, his sin is forgiven by repentance alone, but, when he transgresses against his fellow man, he must make good his wrongdoing as well as repent.Medicine and scienceThe Talmud devoted considerable attention to the maintenance of good health, regarding it a religious duty. A keen understanding of the importance of hygiene in preventing illness was reflected in an emphasis upon bodily cleanliness. The rabbis also stressed the necessity for moderation in eating and drinking and the importance of a proper diet. The Talmud prescribed remedies for illnesses and mentioned surgical techniques, such as cesarean section.Religious concerns surrounding the calendar, prohibitions against planting seeds of different kinds together, dietary laws, and Sabbath-walking limits resulted in an intense rabbinical interest in astronomy, zoology, mathematics, and geometry.Legend and folkloreSide by side with the Midrashic Haggada, which was the outgrowth of Bible exegesis and developed in the academies, the Talmuds and Midrashic collections contain a large quantity of Haggadic material with mythological rudiments, allusions to pagan beliefs and customs, and folkloristic elements of a world strange to the rabbis. Folktales and legends, animal lore, and adventure narratives, containing pagan ideas and beliefs, that were told by their Gentile neighbours were no doubt a major attraction to the common Jews, especially those in the countryside (the ʿam ha-aretz, or “people of the land”). The rabbis realized the great danger involved in this situation and developed their own folk material. They adopted the dramatic and artistic parts of these stories but rejected the unwanted elements, replacing them with their own ideas. Thus the animals and birds in fables quote the Bible and discuss it in the same manner that the rabbis do.Ancient mythology seems to have been well known and liked by the Jewish masses. Again, in order to fight its influence, the rabbis reworked its content in their own spirit. They retained the mythological suspense—the sea tries to drown the earth—but there is no mythological struggle between equal powers; angels try to prevent the creation of man, but they do not possess titanic power. All are subdued by the command of God. Thus, the rabbis transformed the ancient myths into dramatic evidence against polytheism. (See also Jewish myth and legend (Judaism).)Astrology was a recognized science in the ancient world. The rabbis could not reject it entirely, and some concluded that the power of the stars is confined to Gentiles. Others made it part of God's order, saying that stars influence this world in the same way that climate influences plants. The rabbis strenuously objected to omens and other forms of divination because they considered them magic. Dreams were considered by some rabbis as meaningless, while others saw in them an element of prophecy.The rabbis believed in the efficacy of magic but strenuously objected to its practice. They permitted only magic that had been proved effective in healing. They also permitted the use of incantations for the purpose of counteracting the hold of magic. Because of their supposedly protective nature, the use of amulets was also countenanced.The existence of a demonic kingdom was accepted by the rabbis without question. Evil spirits are invisible and fill the nether world. They avoid sunlight and concentrate in waters and deserted places. They also mingle with people, trouble them, and help them. They have passions and are born and die like people. However, they also have some of the traits and powers of angels. The evil eye was considered as dangerous as evil spirits. It was thought that for mysterious reasons some people have the power to injure others by looking at them and that it is generally jealousy that triggers this effect. The rabbis, however, repeatedly emphasized that all of these strange powers are under the divine government and, moreover, that they cannot hurt the pious.Talmudic law and jurisprudenceUnlike the Romans, who considered ritual law (fas) God-given and social law (lex) man-made, the rabbis believed all Jewish law to be of divine origin. Thus, for example, unfairness in labour relations was considered a religious sin and caring for the sick a religious obligation. Though familiar with the concept of natural law (ethical principles inherent in the nature of things and apprehensible through human reason), the rabbis objected to making nature the basis of law. Even rabbinic ordinances were regarded as having validity only because the authority of the rabbis is sanctioned by the Torah.Methods of arriving at legal principle and decisionsAncient Halakha knew no controversy. The earliest controversy dates to the pre-tannaitic zugot. Hillel and Shammai (Shammai ha-Zaken) differed on significant issues, and, with the rise of their schools, Halakhic uniformity began to crumble. Halakha became a scholastic discipline that developed in academic rather than judicial settings, more and more issues remaining unresolved. Over 300 controversies between the schools of Hillel and Shammai (called the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, respectively) are reported in Talmudic sources. As time passed, disputes proliferated even more and were considered legitimate provided they conformed to the rule of Halakhic discipline.No attempt was made to restore Halakhic uniformity until the beginning of the 2nd century CE. Controversies were sometimes resolved by citing old traditions, by establishing precedents, or, when the sages could convene, by vote taking.At Yavne, Gamaliel II, the president of the revived Sanhedrin (c. 80–c. 115 CE), attempted to suppress diversity of opinion, but failed. The right to differ was already established. Moreover, in the Halakhic collection compiled at Yavne (tractate ʿEduyyot), the views of individual scholars were preserved. The sages at Yavne, however, did take a major step toward restoring Halakhic consistency by upholding the generally more lenient views of the House of Hillel over those of the House of Shammai, thus establishing the Hillelite tradition as the main trend of rabbinic Judaism.The principle that differing opinions should be recorded was followed by Judah ha-Nasi in his Mishna. Modern scholars differ as to whether he meant to compile a code of law or merely a Halakhic collection. The amoraim (amora), however, accepted his Mishna as the definitive code and introduced a set of guidelines according to which disputes were decided. Thus, for example, collective (“. . . the sages said”) and individual opinions stated anonymously were taken as law; Akiba's decisions were upheld over those of his colleagues. Similar guidelines developed also with regard to amoraic controversies.With the completion of the Talmud, a new phase in Halakhic development began. Not only were there two different Talmuds and a large Haggadic literature but even within each of the Talmuds diversified opinions were reported. The geonim laid down rules governing the use of this enormous literature for lawmaking. They designated the Babylonian Talmud the highest authority, taking the Palestinian Talmud into consideration only when it did not disagree with the Babylonian or when the latter expressed no opinion on a subject. They also deprived the Haggadic literature of Halakhic authority and set guidelines for the precedence of opinion among amoraim. These geonic (gaon) rules served as the basis of all future codifications.After the geonic period two methods of decision making were applied. The first of these relied primarily upon the authoritative codes. The Mediterranean rabbis, for example, made the code of Maimonides (Maimonides, Moses) the source of all of their lawmaking. The second method relied on the original Talmudic sources for decision making. This method was applied by the Tosafists (tosafot) and their followers, who, though they consulted the older codes, did not accept them as the final authorities. The responsa literature represents a synthesis of these two methods. Although it makes use of codes as the main source of law, its decisions are always accompanied by a discussion and analysis of earlier relevant literature. This approach has been used by rabbis to the present day.In addition to the above, in particular instances throughout the ages rabbinic authorities promulgated ordinances (taqqanot) and edicts (gezerot). These were made in response to pressing needs of time and circumstance, and this form of lawmaking was most frequently used by rabbinic synods in the Middle Ages.Administration of justiceCourts (court)A comprehensive judicial system is described in Talmudic sources. The highest court was the Great sanhedrin. It consisted of 71 members and convened daily in one of the Temple halls. It was the highest legal and religious authority in the country and had exclusive jurisdiction over matters of a national and public nature. It also functioned as the court of appeals, dealing with cases that were not resolved by the lower courts.Next in line of judicial authority was the Lesser Sanhedrin. Each town with a population of 120 or more had a court of this kind. These courts each consisted of 23 members and dealt with cases involving capital punishment.The members of the Sanhedrins had to be ordained, pious, mature in age, sound in mind and body, of wide knowledge, and of pure Jewish descent. Persons who were too old or who had never had children were ineligible, for it was thought that they might not be merciful.The lower courts dealt with all remaining cases. Each consisted of three members and convened on Mondays and Thursdays. In cases involving a penalty the three judges had to be ordained, but in those involving ordinary monetary litigation ordination was not required. In the latter type of case, concerned parties were allowed the alternative of setting up ad hoc arbitration bodies.Rules of evidenceJewish law was extremely strict regarding evidence acceptable in court. In cases entailing physical punishment, no circumstantial evidence, confession, or self-incrimination was recognized. The testimony of two eyewitnesses who confronted the defendant was required. In monetary cases documentary evidence and, at times, oaths were acceptable. Any mental or moral defects or self-interest in the case disqualified witnesses. Relatives could not serve as judges or witnesses.Trial procedureJewish law knows of no lawyers. After the facts were presented, the court investigated, deliberated, and made its decision by voting. Both sides had to be treated equally, even to the point of seeing to it that neither should be dressed more richly than the other. Each side could be heard only in the presence of the other.In the trial procedure of capital (capital punishment) cases, there was a clear tendency toward bias in favour of the defendant. Thus, only the judges could argue for conviction, but all present could argue for acquittal. The most junior judges voted first so that they would not be unduly influenced by their seniors. A majority of one was sufficient for acquittal, but a majority of two was necessary for conviction. A verdict of acquittal could be reached on the same day but one of conviction only on the following day. When the court erred, only its convictions, and not its acquittals, were reversed.In Jewish law, ritual and nonritual transgressions were crimes punishable by court. Each of the 36 most severe transgressions (e.g., adultery, sodomy, idolatry, sorcery, or murder) carried one of four types of death penalty (stoning, burning, beheading, and strangling). Rabbinic law, however, tended to minimize the practice of capital punishment. The rigorous cross-examination of witnesses and the warning of impending punishment that the transgressor had to receive immediately before committing his crime made it almost impossible to reach a death verdict.If despite all of this a death verdict was reached, every legal effort was made to allow for a last-minute reversal. Execution was expedited and carried out in the most humane manner possible, the accused being given an opiate before dying. To show their compassion the judges fasted on the day of execution. According to tradition the death penalty was abolished 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, when the Great Sanhedrin was exiled from the Temple complex.The punishment for 207 other transgressions (e.g., perjury, some forms of incest, the eating of forbidden foods) was flagellation. Here, too, the rabbis tended to be lenient. As in capital cases, a rigorous cross-examination and a warning were required. The maximum number of stripes administered was 39. Prior to flagellation the transgressor was examined medically to determine the number of stripes he could withstand.Side by side with the above penalties, the courts also inflicted makkat mardut (disciplinary stripes) and excommunication in cases where regular flagellation could not legally be applied. These two punishments were generally used in Babylonia, where ordained courts did not exist. It should be mentioned also that the Mishna includes a few obscure references to a form of imprisonment used instead of capital punishment.Civil and social lawAlthough the rabbis considered both ritual and nonritual law sacred, they demonstrated great independence in supplementing the relatively brief relevant scriptural comments and regulations with a comprehensive system of civil and social law. In response to variations in social and economic circumstances, certain differences in Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudic law emerged. The Babylonian rabbis, for example, recognized the law of the state as binding in monetary matters, while the Palestinian rabbis did not. In general, however, Jewish civil law developed relatively autonomously. In instances where the rabbis did adopt alien legal concepts, they elaborated upon them until they could be fully integrated into the spirit and structure of Jewish law.The following are some of the areas covered: (1) Social welfare: a comprehensive social welfare system was worked out, including obligations to provide for children, educate them, and train them for a profession. Regulations of charity, medical assistance, and burial of the dead were established. (2) Torts (tort): included were all damages caused by a person directly or indirectly via his property. The main aim was to compensate for damages. Consequently, no torts were classified as criminal. Even “an eye for an eye” was interpreted to mean financial compensation. (3) Family law: included were regulations concerning marriage and divorce procedures and the innovation of the ketubba (marriage contract), which spells out the mutual obligations of husband and wife in the areas of finance, medical care, clothing, housework, sexual relations, and child care. According to biblical law, the right to inherit belongs to sons first. To protect the rights of wives and daughters, rabbinic law obligated the sons to maintain the widows and unmarried daughters. (4) Financial law: except for Gen. 23:9 ff., Jer. 32:10, and Ruth 4:8, Scripture makes no reference to transaction procedures. The growth of finances, industry, and land estates led the rabbis to develop laws concerning contracts, partnerships, and legal arrangements to circumvent the biblical prohibition against usury. A series of modes of transaction effecting the transfer and acquisition of property evolved. Labour relations, rents, and leases were also carefully regulated.The Talmud todayRole in the Jewish communityWith the rebirth of a Jewish national state (since 1948) and the concomitant revival of Jewish culture, the Talmud has achieved renewed importance. Orthodox (Orthodox Judaism) Jewry has always focussed upon its study and has believed it to be the absolute Halakhic authority. This belief has now become even further intensified. While rabbinic courts in Israel have jurisdiction only in the area of family life, it has become one of the aims of religious (Orthodox) Jewry there to establish Talmudic law as the general law of the state.It should also be noted that, aside from the special case of Israel, the legal system described above has continued to function down to the present day in Jewish communities all over the world. The jurisdiction of rabbinic courts is voluntarily accepted by Orthodox Jews. These courts continue to exert authority, especially in the areas of family and dietary law, the synagogue, and the organization of charity and social activity.Conservative (Conservative Judaism) Jewry, too, has always been committed to rabbinic tradition. It has, however, conceptualized this tradition as an evolutionary process in which Halakha changes to meet the challenge of new conditions. Professional scholarship was considered crucial for understanding the furthering of this process. More recently, however, as a result of revived nationalism, new emphasis has been put upon lay education. Thus, a network of day schools and higher institutions of learning in which rabbinic tradition occupies a major role in the curriculum has been established. Scores of young Conservative Jews now search in the Talmud for answers to crucial problems, such as abortion and civil violence.Classical (19th-century) Reform Judaism not only disassociated itself from the Talmud but negated it. More recently, however, Reform leaders have been inclined to reestablish some measure of ritual practice and rabbinic climate. Thus, it is now not unusual to find them stating their decisions in the form of responsa and using the rabbinic style of argument and even the casuistic type of Talmudic dialectic (pilpul) to justify their religious practices.Talmudic scholarshipAlthough Talmudic scholarship continues to be advanced by individuals in a number of countries, its two main centres are in Israel and the United States. The Israeli centre has tended to focus upon research of a critical nature. Like Bible criticism, this work is divided between source criticism (i.e., discovering the different sources, their dates, and the methods by which Talmudic literature was formed) and textual criticism (i.e., establishing the correct text and reading). Research is also being done on Haggadic concepts and thinking, Talmudic law, and Halakhic (Halakhah) development.Talmudic scholarship in the United States has tended to be more philosophically and historically oriented. There has been great interest in the development of Halakha and in folklore and custom. Essential work has been done and continues to be done in the areas of source criticism. A work unique in scope and method is S. Lieberman's commentary on the Tosefta.Haim Zalman DimitrovskyAdditional ReadingB. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript (1961), contains a description of the methods and techniques by which the oral tradition was transmitted. H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1931); and M. Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, 4th ed. (1968), are still the best introductions for the general reader. The latter is particularly helpful in explaining Talmudic dialectic terminology and debate. The Legends of the Talmud and Midrash are digested and annotated in Louis Ginzberg's classic, Legends of the Jews, 7 vol. (1909–39), also available in a one-volume abridgment (1961). J. Bowker, The Targums and Rabbinic Literature (1969); and E. Deutsch, The Talmud (1895), are both descriptions of the Talmud, the former concentrating upon Talmudic literary compilations and the latter upon Talmudic content. The introduction of J. Goldin, The Living Talmud (1957), contains a vivid description of Talmudic debate. C. Albeck, Introduction to the Talmud, in Hebrew (1969); and Z.H. Chajes, The Student's Guide Through the Talmud (Eng. trans. 1952), are more advanced introductions, the former analytical and scientific and the latter representing the traditional view. J. Neusner (ed.), The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud (1970), contains summaries of some research by modern scholars on the question of how the Talmud was formed. L. Ginzberg, “Introduction to the Talmud,” in A Commentary on the Palestinian Talmud, vol. 1 (1941), is the only introduction to the Palestinian Talmud available in the English language. The Midrash Rabbah has been translated and edited by Harry Freedman and Maurice Simon, 13 vol. in 5, 3rd ed. (1983); and the Midrash on Psalms, by W.G. Braude, 2 vol. (1959). L. Finkelstein, Akiba (1962), is a historical and sociological approach to the development of Halakha. Exploring the interrelationship between the ancient rabbinic world and its Gentile environment are Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, 2nd ed. (1965), and Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 2nd ed. (1962), highly significant, ingenious, and learned illustrations of the influence of Greek culture on the language and exegetical format of the Palestinian rabbis. B. Cohen, Jewish and Roman Law, 2 vol. (1966); and I. Herzog, The Main Institutions of Jewish Law, 2 vol. (1966–67), are the best English descriptions of Jewish law. J. Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (1951); and E.E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, in Hebrew (1969), cover the major aspects of rabbinic theology. I. Heinemann, Paths of the Aggadah, in Hebrew (1970); M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 3rd ed. (1972); and D. Ben Amos, Narrative Forms of the Haggadah: Structural Analysis (1969), discuss Haggadic methods, forms, concepts, and thinking. L. Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden (1892; updated Hebrew translation, 1950), is a thorough historical survey of Haggadic literature. D. Noy, Motif-Index of the Talmudic-Midrashic literature (1954); J.J. Slotki, Index Volume to the Soncino Talmud (1952); M. Gaster, The Exempla of the Rabbis (1924, rev. ed. 1968); and C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938), are very helpful as reference guides; while W.O.E. Oesterley, H. Loewe, and E.I.J. Rosenthal, Judaism and Christianity, rev. ed. (1969); and C. Merchavia, The Church Versus Talmudic and Midrashic Literature, in Hebrew (1970), describe the relationship between the church and rabbinic Judaism. E.R. Bevan and C. Singer (eds.), The Legacy of Israel (1927), deals with the influence of Judaism on world culture. Extensive bibliographies may be found in the works of Gerhardsson, Mielziner, Bowker, and Ben Amos. Jacob Neusner, Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (1981), introduces new methods of textual criticism.Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky Lou Hackett Silberman Ed.
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