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What is the Talmud

What Is The Talmud?

The Talmud and the Jewish holy scriptures

Before answering the question of what ןד the Talmud, one needs to understand the general structure of Jewish holy Scriptures. The Jewish Holy Scriptures can be divided into two important categories: The Written Torah & the Oral Torah. The Written Torah contains the Bible that consists of three important parts:

  1. The five books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
  2. Prophets (Nevi’im)
  3. Writings (Ketuvim)

The first and most important segment of Jewish religious text and literature, are the first five books of Torah found in the Holy Bible.

What does Talmud mean
5 Books of Torah

According to the Jewish tradition, it was dictated by God to the greatest Jewish prophet Moses, on Mount Sinai, after the departure of the Jewish People from Egyptian slavery. It is also believed that the Torah was written to provide the right instructions for a healthy and holy life that serves God.  

Jewish religious texts also believe that Moses did not just receive the Torah on Mount Sinai but also received the correct interpretation of every word written in the book. However, this information was not written along with the Torah. It was given to Moses first, after which it was passed on to the elders of Israel, and by them, to the next generation and so on. 

Talmud and Mishna
Antique Jewish holy scripture

The interpretation of the Torah is seen as the Oral Torah. After the interaction between God and Moses on Mount Sinai, the interpretations have been passed down orally from one generation to another. This continued until the middle of the second century (after the Second Temple was destroyed). 

The major part of the Jewish people accepted the Oral Torah since its inception and considered it as an integral part of religious Jewish texts for a long period of time. However, not all Jews accepted the information in the same manner. Over a period of time, several Jewish sects considered the Torah to be the only legitimate source of Jewish laws. They also rejected the Oral Torah and did not consider it legitimate. 

What is the Talmud in Judaism
Typical Talmud pages – the main Talmud text in the middle

An ancient Samaritan community that resides in Nablus, Israel is a living example of the difficult relations between people who agree and disagree with the writing and interpretations of the Oral Torah & the Written Torah. How can the difference in receiving the Oral Torah authority be expressed?

The oral Torah
Samaritans in a ceremony. They are not considered jews.

There is an example to explain this. The Torah strictly forbids against lighting a fire on the day of Shabbat.  Oral Torah however, says that lighting a fire before Shabbat is acceptable. It allows people to place their food in the same fire, before Shabbat on Friday, which allows them to enjoy the food on the day of Shabbat itself. 

The Samaritans do not accept the teachings of the Oral Torah. They do not entertain any enjoyment of fire throughout Shabbat. Therefore, most of the Jews, who accepted the authority of the Oral Torah, would consume hot food on Shabbat while the Samaritan would stick to eating cold food exclusively. 

Jewish stew casserole

This also led to the birth of classic Jewish food. A casserole stew, called Hamin in Hebrew, is heated on Friday evening and is eaten on Saturday morning after prayer. It is eaten mainly throughout the winter season. However, the Jewish settlement in Israel, reduced dramatically after the destruction of the temple and the Bar Kochva revolution in the middle of the second century AD. Several were sent on an exile from the land of Israel and others were killed.

Because of this, passing on of the Oral Torah from one generation to the other, seemed to be in jeopardize. To bring about a change, Rabbi Yehuda, the President and leader of the Jewish community in Israel, made the decision to start writing the Oral Torah. It was not a simple task as there were several versions readily available. Rabbi Yehuda took care of consolidating all the versions into one. After this, the six sections, Mishna books, were signed. 

Talmud first page
Talmud first page, printed in Austria at 1842

The writing of the Talmud started in the third century. It was built on the content that already existed in the Mishnah and consisted of halachic discussions in various chapters. Every chapter in the Mishnah was analyzed. Several Talmudic scholars debated amongst themselves on how Jewish laws should be interpreted. Every rabbi tried their level best to prove their argument right. In most cases, a decision was made and in very few cases there was no conclusion at all. 

 Discussions on all issues related to the Talmud became quite complex because of the constant debates between Talmudic scholars. Sometimes, a proof of claim would require a proof of proof. A structure is reminiscent of an algorithmic flow chart. Developing the flowchart of the halachic debate, requires the memory of many other sources that support the halakhic argument.

The Talmud
The opening page of Talmud tractate – Rashi (commentator) on the right side, Tosfot (commentators) on the left side

It also requires a well-developed analytical ability to know how to use the algorithmic flowchart of the argument and how to harness it to prove arguments. While the Mishnah was written in ancient Hebrew, the Talmud was written in Aramaic. This added linguistic challenges among English-Yiddish speaking Jews and Hebrew speaking Jews.

Because of this, the Talmud became the center of all religious Jewish texts and gained immense popularity among Yeshiva students (Yeshiva is an ancient and famous Jewish religious institutions). The most talented and brilliant students went on to become religious leaders, rulers of Halakhah and leaders who answer questions of many Halakhic issues. 

Talmud tractate
Additional commentators at the end of each Talmud tractate

Over centuries, the Talmud continued to expand as several commentators were added to it. The main ones appear on the sides of the Talmudic text. This means that each book appears with a certain number of commentators who are considered to be an integral part of Talmudic texts. The Talmud also encouraged the democratization of the debate. The arguments became to be the basis of the Talmud.

The Talmud is the anti-thesis of compulsive thought. It is an orderly and organized anarchy of different views and perspectives. Since the Talmud is a dominant book among Jewish religious texts, it is also seen as the one that shaped Jewish culture over the course of 1500 (fifteen hundred) years. One can probably assume that some of it, is also very important in shaping the Israeli born out of Judaism and still influenced by it.

Talmud page
Rashi writing, unique way of Hebrew writing, used for all Talmud commentators, beside the Talmud content itself

One of the key features of Israeli culture is the inability to accept things as they are and the constant desire to challenge every topic, no matter what it is. It can be an illogical law that people do not understand and therefore will not obey, banal technological solutions or political issues. Israelis like to debate every issue and regularly offer other solutions.

This is the cultural approach that underpins the startup nation. Constant and unending appeal to what is acceptable. Today is seen as a paradox in the Jewish world. On one hand, the world of Yeshivas has grown massively. Dozens of thousands of students sit daily and study the Talmud. On the other hand, several sections of the public do not even know what the Talmud is, when and why it was written, what a section or a page looks like and how it should be studied.

Jewish Yeshiva students
Yeshiva students in Poland, before second world war

However, the Talmud remains one of the cornerstones of the Jewish people and Jewish culture; It is impossible to understand Jewish tradition and culture without knowing what Talmud is 

FAQ

What is the Babylonian Talmud?

The Babylonian Talmud is a Talmud written mainly by Jewish scholars who lived in Babylon (present-day Iraq). Its writing began in the third century AD and ended in the late fifth century. Apart from the Babylonian Talmud, there is also a Jerusalem Talmud written in the Land of Israel and contains about 40% of the total number of words in the Babylonian Talmud. In addition, the Jerusalem Talmud includes topics that do not appear in the Babylonian Talmud.

What is the Talmud in the bible?

The Talmud is not part of the Bible. The Bible is the written Torah and includes the five Torah books, Prophets and Writings. The Talmud is part of the Oral Torah, which according to Jewish tradition was given on Mount Sinai together with the Written Torah. Oral Torah passed down from generation to generation and only in the second century AD, after the destruction of the Jewish Temple, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, decided to write the oral Torah, fearing that it would be forgotten. Oral Torah is the Mishnah, and the Talmud is the commentary on the Mishnah.

How many pages is the Talmud?

There are two Talmuds, Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli, in Hebrew) and Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi, in Hebrew). The main Talmud is the Babylonian Talmud. It includes 37 tractates and 2,711 pages. The term page in the Talmud refers to two sides of the page, namely, two pages. That is, the Talmud has 5,422 pages.

What does the Talmud contain?

The Talmud is an explanation and commentary on the oral Torah. Oral Torah is the Mishnah that was written by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (president) in the second century AD. The Mishna contains six different books, and each book represents a theme. Most of the (Babylonian) Talmud is written on four books out of the six and only a small part of it on the remaining two.

The content of the Talmud consists of Mishna paragraphs, annotations, commentaries and discussions on those sub-sections and Talmudic commentators that have been considered as the most qualified and important throughout the ages, for example: Rashi, Tosafot, Rabbeinu Asher (Harosh), and other commentators.

Apart from discussions, annotations and commentaries, about 20% of the content in the Talmud is legends and stories that reflect the Jewish worldview through the stories of the period.

What is the Talmud in Judaism

The Talmud is one of the pillars of Judaism. It is a vibrant and vivid literary work that reflected the deep liberalism inherent in Jewish thought and later tossed into Israeli culture. The freedom to argue, litigate and challenge almost any concept or opinion. The Talmud is a very challenging intellectual work that has constituted the skeleton of Jewish learning in Yeshivas (Judaism studies institution) throughout the ages.

Knowledge of Talmudic content required knowledge of the entire Jewish content since the Talmud encompassed the Bible, the Mishna, the Jewish moral and ethics.

What is the difference between the Torah and the Talmud?

The Torah is part of the written Torah, the Bible, which includes five Torah books, prophets and scriptures. The Talmud is part of the Oral Torah that includes the Mishnah books.

Is the Talmud part of the Bible?

The Talmud is not part of the Bible but part of the Oral Torah. The Bible is the Written Torah. The Talmud contains content that relates to what is said in various parts of the Bible but is independent and separate from the Bible.

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