(English Index)

(Original Index)




Talmud (from lamad, “to learn”, or limmad, “to teach”) means “study” (a theoretical activity, as opposed to ma`aseh, “action”, practising the commandments), but also “instruction, teaching” (thus already at Qumran), especially instruction from Scripture and hence Scriptural proof. Rab Sherira defines: ”Talmud is the wisdom of the early teachers, who interpreted in it the ground of the Mishnah”.

Originally Jewish scholarship was oral:

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgement, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah" (Pirke Avot 1:1).

Rabbis expounded and debated the law and discussed the Hebrew Bible without the benefit of written works (other than the biblical books themselves). This situation changed drastically however mainly as the result of the destruction of the Jewish state in the year 70 AD and the consequent upheaval of Jewish social and legal norms.

As the Rabbis were required to face a new reality — mainly Judaism without a Temple and Judea without legal autonomy — there was a flurry of legal discourse and the old system of oral scholarship could not be maintained. It is during this period that Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing.

According to tradition, the Mishnah was compiled by Rabbi Judah haNasi. He collected a large body of rabbinic teachings, edited and organized them according to a topical structure. The name “mishnah” means “redaction”, from the verb shanah, to repeat or review. This name hints toward the original oral memorization method of studying rabbinic discourse.

The Talmud is a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs and history. It is the fundamental source of Jewish Law. The Talmud is composed of two parts: ''Mishnah'' and ''Gemara''. The Mishnah was compiled about the year 200 AD, it is a compilation of legal opinions and debates. The Gemara was compiled about the year 500 AD and contains a wide range of rabbinic discourse.

The Israeli Talmud

The Israeli Talmud (Talmud Eres Yisra'el), which in its country of origin would initially have been known simply as “Talmud”. The Halakhot Gedolot call it Talmud de-Ma'arba, “Talmud of the West”, apparently reflecting the expression “in the West they say” which in the Babylonian Talmud denotes the Land of Israel, from a Babylonian perspective.

Israeli Talmud is the Mishnah commentary of the Israeli Amoraim. This definition, however, holds only in the broadest sense. This is because Israeli Talmud does not follow Mishnah closely, but offers much additional material which is only loosely connected with Mishnah. Israeli Talmud not only develops the halakhah of Mishnah in ways which are often entirely unexpected, but also supplements it by diverse haggadic materials and biblical expositions; it is, moreover, significant as a source for the history of the Land of Israel, the development of Jewish liturgy, etc.

In its arrangement, Israeli Talmud follows Mishnah; hence it is cited according to the respective Mishnah tractate with its chapter and halakhah (although the numbering of the various editions differs), supplemented by reference to the folio and column (a – d).


The Babylonian Talmud

The Geonim, Rabbis Nissim, Alfasi and others refer to Babylonian Talmud simply as talmud dilan, “our Talmud”. Talmud babli is intended to differentiate between Babylonian Talmud and Israeli Talmud; however, Talmud (or Gemara) usually suffices to indicate Babylonian Talmud, which in Jewish understanding is the Talmud par excellence. In a very approximate manner, Babylonian Talmud can be called the Babylonian commentary on Mishnah.

In the usual printed editions, Babylonian Talmud comprises almost 2900 folio leaves and is thus much more extensive than Israeli Talmud. Babylonian Talmud has above all integrated numerous and extensive midrashim, which in the Land of Israel remain restricted to a separate literary genre.

Quite generally the haggadah in Babylonian Talmud is much more extensive than in Israeli Talmud. Thus Babylonian Talmud contains e.g. a “dream book”, a tractate on miracles and visions, illustrative narratives on the behaviour of the rabbis the academies, narratives from the time of the two great revolts against Rome.

The overall character of Babylonian Talmud is encyclopaedic. Its editors included everything that was taught in the rabbinic schools and considered worth preserving: many kinds of legends (e.g. about appearances of the dead), anecdotes about the rabbis, historical reminiscences, knowledge about medicine, biology, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, etc. Thus Babylonian Talmud is less a thematically closed book than a national library of Babylonian Judaism whose structure emulates Mishnah.