Talmud

Hebrew term for "Learning" or "Study." The word acquired a technical sense among Jews as reference to the collections of discussions & debates among generations of rabbis who studied the Mishna. The core of the Talmud is the text of the Mishna itself. Thus, it retains the Mishna's order of tractates. The supplementary discussions, which add material not found in the Mishna, are called the Gemara ["Completion"]. A rabbi whose opinions are cited in the Gemara but not the Mishna has been traditionally called an amora ["speaker"]. Collectively, these later generations of rabbis are referred to as the amoraim.

The Gemara includes a lot of anecdotal material ['aggada] about the early tannaim whose opinions were accepted as authoritative in the Mishna. While obviously legendary & often fanciful these anecdotes represent the genre of ancient Jewish story-telling that is absent from the Mishna. Whatever questions there may be about the value of these reports for reconstructing an accurate historical impression of their subjects, the stories about various rabbinic heroes offer a window into the worldview of ancient Jews that provides a cultural sidelight on early Christian stories about Jesus & his disciples.

Palestinian Talmud. The composition of Talmud began shortly after the publication of the Mishna. Gemara, begun at Tiberias by Johanan bar Nappacha before 250 CE, was subsequently expanded by scholars at Sepphoris & Caesarea to form the recension of Talmud that Jews traditionally---but misleadingly---call Yerushalmi ["Jerusalem Talmud"]. Work on this compendium was discontinued after the abolition of the rabbinic patriarchate [425 CE]. Extant manuscripts are incomplete, with Gemara only for tractates of the first four sedarim.

Babylonian Talmud. In 219 CE Abba Arika, the nephew of the author of the Tosefta [cHiyya bar Abba], returned to his native Mesopotamia to found a rabbinic Academy at Sura on the Euphrates river. The Gemara compiled at Sura---which refers to him simply as Rab ["the Master"]--- was eventually expanded to include the rabbinic debates at rival Mesopotamian schools [especially Nehardea & Pum Beditha]. This inclusion of rival viewpoints gives the Babylonian Gemara a distinctive dialectical characteristic. The compilation of Gemara from competing Jewish schools into one massive unified Babylonian Talmud was probably prompted by attempts of Persian authorities to limit & suppress Jewish education in the late 5th c. CE. The Babylonian Talmud was given its definitive form shortly after 500 CE.

Repeated contact with the rabbinic Academy in Galilee led the compilers of the Babylonian Gemara to include the opinions & oral traditions of many Palestinian rabbis in their debates. But since they were beyond political scrutiny of the Roman empire, the framers of the Babylonian Talmud were also freer to include rabbinic messianic & eschatological speculation in their work, speculation that had been suppressed by leaders of the Academy in Palestine due to the abortive bar Kochba revolt (135 CE) & friction with Christians.

Supplementary Tractates. The Babylonian Talmud never included Gemara for the Mishna tractate Pirqe Aboth ["Sayings of the Fathers"]. But an expanded version of Aboth credited to Nathan ha Babli, a colleague of Judah ha Nasi  from Mesopotamia, was appended to it in later editions of Talmud. Though the style of the Aboth of R. Nathan is similar to the 3rd c. Tosefta, most modern scholars consider it a later work.

Other tractates that were added to the Talmud after its publication are those on Samaritans [Kuthim] & proselytes [Gerim]. All these supplementary tractates, however, contain some very early Palestinian material, that had little immediate relevance to Mesopotamian or European Jews.

[Edition used: Epstein, Isidore, ed. Babylonian Talmud. New Hebrew-English edition. London: The Soncino Press, 1967- present. Vols. cited: Aboda Zara (1988), Aboth (1988), Erubin (1983), Hullin (1980), Kethubot (1970), Nedarim (1985), Pesahim (1967), Rosh Hashanah (1983), Sanhedrin (1969), Shabbath (1972), Shebuoth (1987), Sotah (1985), Ta'anith (1984), Yebamoth (1984), Yoma (1974) & supplementary tractates (1984, ed. Abraham Cohen).]

Other resources on line:

  • Talmud - Wilhelm Bacher's comprehensive essay in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

  • Soncino Babylonian Talmud - e-edition of more than half of English translation from the massive publishing project [archived on Carol A. Valentine's Come & Hear].

  • Talmud Yerushalmi - full Hebrew text of the Palestinian Talmud (without translation or notes) but with English instructions for downloading freeware [posted by Israel's Mechon Mamre (Mamre Institute)].

  • Talmud Bavli - Hebrew text of the 37 most important tractates of the Babylonian Talmud for modern Judaism (without translation or notes) but with English instructions for downloading freeware [posted by Israel's Mechon Mamre (Mamre Institute)].

  • Talmud - photo images of each page of the Babylonian Talmud with menus for easy navigation [E-daf.com].

  • Talmud - article in Wikipedia's web has extensive list of links to other online resources.

 

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