The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud: Studies in the Achievements of Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Historical and Literary-Critical Research

The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud: Studies in the Achievements of Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Historical and Literary-Critical Research

The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud: Studies in the Achievements of Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Historical and Literary-Critical Research

The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud: Studies in the Achievements of Late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Historical and Literary-Critical Research

Excerpt

The Babylonian Talmud is the primary source for Jewish law and theology. Completed in the fifth and sixth centuries, the Talmud has been studied ever since, not only because it was and remains widely accepted as the compendium of the Oral Torah which, together with the Written Torah, constitutes Judaism's decisive authority, but also because it is one of the most engaging, indeed fascinating, works of the human spirit. The endless difficulties of content, conception, dialectical argument--these have provoked one generation after another to contribute commentaries. But the greater number of students of the Talmud produced no written treatises. The shape of their lives, lived in perpetual response to the document and its wisdom, was their contribution to study of "Torah". The study of Judaism, its history, ideas and ideals, begins now, as for the past fifteen centuries, in the pages of the Babylonian Talmud. Whatever one has studied, if he has not studied the Talmud, he knows nothing of later Judaism. If he has studied the Talmud, then everything else is merely commentary.

The origins of the Oral Torah in its written form, the history of the Babylonian Talmud, the contributions made by each of the generations of Babylonian masters (Amoraim)--these questions were asked almost as soon as the document itself had attained final form. R. Sherira Gaon of Pumbedita, the school which, as we shall see, is primarily responsible for the Babylonian Talmud, wrote the first great treatise on the history of the Talmud and of the period in which it was written. Living in the tenth century, he made use of traditions of his own school. All subsequent studies drew upon what Sherira had to say. In the Babylonian Talmud itself is an enigmatic statement (b. B.M. 86a) that Rabina and R. Ashi were the end of "instruction" (hora'ah), and the meaning of that saying was subjected to many analyses.

With the development of Jewish scholarship in the modern, Western mode, generally referred to as "Jewish science", the question of the origins of the Talmud was asked with renewed interest. If scholars hoped to make use of Talmudic sources, they needed a critical theory as to the period and context in which the sources were shaped. Furthermore, the history of Jewry and of Judaism in the period in which the Talmud was taking shape, and concerning which . . .

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