Talmud

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Talmud

Talmud (tăl´məd) [Aramaic from Heb.,=learning], in Judaism, vast compilation of the Oral Law with rabbinical elucidations, elaborations, and commentaries, in contradistinction to the Scriptures or Written Laws. The Talmud is the accepted authority for Orthodox Jews everywhere. Its two divisions are the Mishna or text of the Oral Law (in Hebrew) and the Gemara (in Aramaic), a commentary on the Mishna, which it supplements. The Mishna is divided into six Orders (Sedarim) and comprises 63 tractates (Massektoth), only 361/2 of which have a Gemara. The redaction of the Mishna was completed under the auspices of Juda ha-Nasi, c.AD 200, who collected and codified the legal material that had accumulated through the exposition of the Law by the Scribes (Soferim), particularly Hillel and Shammai, and its elaboration by the Tannaim of the 1st and 2d cent. AD, particularly Akiba ben Joseph. The Gemara developed out of the interpretations of the Mishna by the Amoraim. Both the Palestinian and Babylonian schools produced Talmuds, known respectively as the Talmud Yerushalmi (compiled c.5th cent. AD) and the Talmud Babli (c.6th cent. AD). The Babylonian Talmud is longer and more comprehensive and sophisticated than the Talmud Yerushalmi. It became the authoritative work due in part to the predominance of Babylonian Jewry and the decline of the Palestinian community by the year 1000. The Talmud touches on a wide range of subjects, offering information and comment on astronomy, geography, historical lore, domestic relations, and folklore. The legal sections of the Talmud are known as the halakah; the poetical digressions, illustrating the application of religious and ethical principles through parables, legends, allegories, tales, and anecdotes, constitute the Aggada. In the Middle Ages there arose a vast literature of commentaries on the Gemara—commentaries on those commentaries—and responsa (questions and answers); Rashi was one of the best-known commentators, and his commentaries are included in standard editions of the Talmud. In the Middle Ages thousands of Talmud manuscripts were destroyed by the Christians. The term Talmud is sometimes used to refer to the Gemara alone.

See The Babylonian Talmud (34 vol., tr. 1935–48); J. Goldin, The Living Talmud (1957, repr. 1964); H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1931, repr. 1969); C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, ed., A Rabbinic Anthology (1970); J. Neuser, Invitation to the Talmud (1973, repr. 1984); A. Steinsaltz, ed., The Talmud (Vol. I–XX, 1989–99) and The Essential Talmud (1992); D. H. Akenson, Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds (1999).

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