The New International Encyclopædia/Talmud

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TALMUD (Aram. talmūd, instruction; connected with Heb. lāmad, to learn). The name given to the comprehensive compilation of laws and ceremonial regulations pertaining to Rabbinical Judaism together with the elaborate discussion of those laws and regulations. As already implied in this definition, the Talmud consists of two divisions, which in the compilation are kept distinct: (1) the laws and regulations which are technically comprised under the designation Mishnā (literally, teaching, then used concretely for ‘the law,’ as that which is taught or which is the outcome of teaching); (2) the discussion and elaboration of the laws, comprised under the term Gĕmārā (literally, ‘supplement,’ ‘completion,’ and then also in the sense of ‘tradition,’ ‘doctrine’). The language of the Mishna is Hebrew; that of the Gemara Aramaic, which both in Palestine and Babylonia drove out Hebrew as the popular speech.

Of these two divisions, the compilation of the Mishna comes first in the order of time and also in importance. In its present form it consists of six main divisions known as Sĕdārīm, comprising 63 treatises or Massektōth. This comprehensive compilation, which is attributed to Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi (c.219 A.D.) represents the close of an intellectual and religious process that may be said to date from the acceptance of the ‘Priestly Code’ through Ezra and Nehemiah in B.C. 444 as the supreme and sole standard of religious observances and secular regulations. The acceptance of this code definitely established obedience to a law for which divine origin was claimed as the test for fidelity to Yahweh. The observer of the law was the only type of the faithful Jew possible under this conception of religious duty. Such a principle necessarily led to the study of the law as the highest vocation of the individual. The law could not be observed unless it was known and thoroughly understood, and generations of scholars arose who strove to determine the exact meaning of the enactments in the codes and to account for numerous existing practices not specifically recorded in them, by deduction from principles underlying the code itself. The attempts to deduce the established religious practices and the constantly growing ceremonial details from the law itself resulted naturally in the formation of smaller and larger collections, which may have served either as notes for the pupils or as guides for the teachers, and despite a certain opposition that always manifested itself against committing to writing the large body of oral tradition, which, according to the theory of Rabbinic theology, was revealed simultaneously with the written law at Sinai, it was inevitable, if the practices established by or based upon this oral tradition were to maintain their hold as ingredient parts of Judaism, that they should be given a fixed form equally with the ‘written’ law. We have direct evidence for the existence of ‘Mishnaic’ compilations prior to the days of Rabbi Jehuda ha-Nasi, but the general acceptance which his compilation met naturally drove the earlier (and probably more incomplete) ones out of the field. Traces of these are to be found in the supplement to the Mishna, where enactments and observations are referred to which differ from those found in the Mishna; they are designated as the Bāraythā (i.e. outside). Another collection of this kind is known as the Tōsephtā (‘addition’), which, however, partakes of the character of the Gemara.

Passing on to the supplement to the Mishna, its rise represents the natural continuation of the process which led to the Mishna. In the course of several centuries there was a large accumulation of material that could only be preserved by being committed to writing. The combination of the Mishna with the Gemara forms the Talmud proper, and for the Babylonian schools the first authoritative compilation of the discussions of the several generations was made by Rab Ashi, the head of the school at Sura, who flourished from 375 to 427; but additions were made by later authorities, such as Rab-Abina, and the final touches were given to it about the first half of the sixth century. In a certain sense, however, the Gemara was never finished, for of the 63 treatises of the Mishna, 26 have no Gemara. The Palestinian schools also compiled their discussions, and in this compilation the influence of Rabbi Jochanan (189-279), head of the school at Tiberias, is paramount, though the redaction of the Palestinian Talmud — the work of a series of authorities — did not take place until the fourth century, while additions continued to be made to it in the fifth century. Considerable portions of this Palestinian Talmud are lost. In fact, the Mishna of only the first four Sedarim or divisions has been preserved, and a portion of one treatise in the sixth division. In the second division the Gemara is not complete, four chapters of one treatise being wanting, and likewise in the fifth division the Gemara is lacking to the last chapter of one treatise and to two other treatises. That the Palestinian Talmud once existed in a more complete form is certain and it is more than likely that there was a Gemara. to most of the treatises of the entire six divisions. The loss of such a considerable portion is due in part to the almost constantly disturbed conditions that prevailed in Palestine, and in part to the subsequent neglect of the Palestinian Talmud, which never acquired the authority that came to be enjoyed by the Babylonian compilation. The Babylonian Gemara in fact drove its rival entirely out of the field, and as a consequence the Babylonian Talmud became the main factor in the history and development of Judaism.

To characterize and convey an idea of the contents of the Mishna is a comparatively simple matter, but it is almost an impossible task to indicate the heterogeneous character of the Gemara, more particularly of the Babylonian Talmud. The discussions on the Mishna led the Rabbis and their pupils far away from the subject, at times, indeed, a section coming to a close without a return to the starting point. In the course of these digressions, anecdotes, bits of historical gossip, folk-lore, the popular science of the day, and mathematical calculations are intermixed with sober and playful exegesis of the Old Testament by the application of a series of hermeneutical principles evolved in the schools of Palestine and Babylonia. Sophistry and hair-splitting dialectics are suddenly interrupted by charming parables and poetic allegories. In a sense, it is easier to say what the Gemara does not contain than to summarize its contents. It is a veritable encyclopaedia of Rabbinical knowledge, and only the lack of system prevents the justifiable application of that term to this remarkable compilation. To distinguish the purely legal from the extraneous material, a division is commonly made into Halacha (lit., norm) and Hagada (lit., tale).

The history of the Talmud is the history of Judaism from about the beginning of our era to the dawn of the nineteenth century. In that history we may distinguish the following periods: (1) To the completion of the Mishna, during which time the Rabbis bear the name of Tana‘im (‘teachers’); five generations are enumerated. (2) The growth of the Gemara, the Rabbis of this second period being known as Amoraim (‘speakers’), comprising seven generations. (3) To the completion of the Talmud, the Rabbis of this period being distinguished as Saboraim (‘examiners’). (4) To the struggle in the ninth and tenth centuries between the Karaites and the adherents of the Talmud known as the Rabbanites, marked by the labors of Saadia (q.v. ). (5) The adjustment of Talmudical Judaism to the prevailing form of Aristotelianism, which arose under the influence of Islamic theology. This period extends well into the thirteenth century and is dominated by the influence of Maimonides and the Spanish school of Jewish thinkers. It led eventually, after a long conflict between the adherents and opponents of Maimonides's attempt to codify the Talmudical enactments and regulations in systematic form, to the compilations of the codes of Joseph Karo (born 1487), know^n as the Shulchan Aruch (‘Spread table’), which became the standard guide implicitly followed by orthodox Jews to the present time, and may be regarded as marking a sixth and final period.

In the course of the last two periods the study of the Talmud spread gradually into Southern Europe and thence made its way into Germany, Galicia, Hungary, and Russia. Commentators arose who devoted themselves to the interpretation of the Gemara, much as the Amoraim and Saboraim elaborated the Mishna and super-commentaries were added to these commentaries. The most notable of the Talmudical commentators was Rabbi Solomon Yishaki (or Isaac), known as Rashi (q.v.), whose work, almost invariably added to the Talmudic text, is still used as the basis of Talmudical study. A school of Talmudists arose in Germany and France during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries known as Tosaphists (‘Supplementers’), whose comments are likewise written on the margins of the Talmud — a method that follows the example of the Mohammedan theologians. Other commentators of more recent date whose works acquired a high degree of authority were Solomon Luria (d. 1573), Elijah Wilna (d. 1737), and Akiba Eger (d. 1837). From Germany, which remained for several centuries the centre of Talmudical study, that centre gradually shifted to the east of Europe, and at the present time the traditional methods of Talmudical study are still carried on with vigor in Galicia and Russia, while the centre of the scientific study of the Talmud based on adequate philological acquirements and the application of proper historical principles may be said to be Germany, whence the study is spreading into France, England, and the United States, as the value of the Talmud for the student of language, of history, and of religion is coming to be recognized. Christian theologians are also beginning to take it up, and notable contributions have been made by some of these.

Bibliography. No critical edition of the entire Talmud has as yet been published. The variant readings gathered from manuscripts and older editions have been published by Raphael Rabbinovicz, Sefer Dikduke Sopherim (15 vols., Munich, 1868-86), which constitutes the basis for a future standard edition. Of translations of the Talmud into modern languages, it will be sufficient to mention here the French translation of the Palestinian Talmud by Moïse Schwab (7 vols., Paris, 1871), the German translation of the Babylonian Talmud by L. Goldschmidt (Berlin, 1896 sqq.), and the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud by Rodkinson (New York, 1896 sqq.). An English translation of 18 treatises of the Mishna by J. Barclay was published in London in 1878. Of general works on the Talmud, the following may be mentioned: I. Hamburger, Realencyklopädie für Bibel und Talmud (Leipzig, 1886); Ferd. Weber, Jüdische Theologie auf Grund des Talmud (ib., 1897). Of monographs or articles on the Talmud, consult: Deutsch, “The Talmud,” in Literary Remains, republished by the American Jewish Publication Society (Philadelphia, 1897); Arsène Darmesteter, The Talmud (Eng. trans., Philadelphia, 1897); Bernfeld, Der Talmud, sein Wesen, seine Bedeutung und seine Geschichte (Berlin, 1900); Strack, Einleitung in den Talmud (3d ed., Leipzig, 1901), which contains in concise form the contents of the Talmud, editions, history, and a valuable bibliography. Consult also Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (2d ed., New York, 1902); Rodkinson, History of the Talmud (New York, 1903). See Gemara; Haggada; Halacha; Mishna.