When we come to the Babylonian Gemara , we are dealing with what most people understand when they speak or write of the Talmud. Its birthplace, Babylonia, was an autonomous Jewish centre for a longer period than any other land; namely, from soon after before the Christian era to the year after the Christian era — years; from the days of Cyrus down to the age of the Mongol conquerors! For a long time it was held that the language in which the Babylonian Talmud was written defied grammatical formulation.
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This is now seen to be nothing but prejudice. Eminent grammarians have discovered its laws, and have determined its place in the scheme of Semitic languages. The style of the Babylonian Talmud is mostly one of pregnant brevity and succinctness. Elliptical expression is a constantly recurring feature, and whole sentences are often indicated by a single word. In the discussions, question and answer are closely interwoven, and there is an entire absence of demarcation between them.
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Hard thinking and closest attention are required under the personal guidance of an experienced scholar, or of an elaborate written exposition of the argument, for the discussion to be followed, or the context understood. And that understanding cannot be gained by the aid of Grammar or Lexicon alone. Even a student who has a fair knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, but has not been initiated into the Talmud by Traditional Jewish guides, will find it impossible to decipher a page!
Of the thousand and more Amoraim mentioned by name, we select Rab and Samuel, and R. Ashi and Rabina. Rab and Samuel, born in Babylonia. In the year Rab founded an Academy at Sura, and it continued to flourish for eight centuries. They ever proceed from strength to strength in this world and in the world to come, where they rejoice in the radiance of the Divine Presence. Samuel of Nehardea, his companion — a physician and astronomer — was an epoch-maker in Judaism.
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He laid down the principle, based on an utterance of Jeremiah the Prophet, that has enabled Jews to live and serve in non-Jewish countries. Of the other two names, Ashi, who died in and was for fifty-two years head of the Sura Academy, combined a vast memory with extraordinary mental orderliness, that enabled him to systematise the bewildering mass of Talmudic material and prepare it for codification.
Such codification was finally effected by Rabina, who died in the year As in the case of the Mishnah, it is a moot point whether Ashi and Rabina wrote down the Babylonian Gemara, or only arranged it orally. The latter is the view of Rashi, and, [page xxiii] in modern times, of Luzzatto; both of them place the writing of the Gemara two centuries later. Other scholars, however, deem it a matter of absolute impossibility that so vast a literature, and one, too, full of such intricate controversies, should for some two centuries have been orally arranged, fixed and transmitted with perfect accuracy.
The Babylonian Talmud is about four times as large as that of Palestine. It contains folio pages, usually printed in twelve large volumes, the pagination of which is kept uniform in all editions. Only thirty-six of the sixty-three Mishnaic tractates are commented on in the Babylonian Talmud. However, most of the subject matter of the omitted tractates is dealt with in the Gemara of other tractates. A voluminous work like the Babylonian Gemara, passing through the hands of numberless copyists, could not have remained free from errors.
Fifty years ago, Rabbinowicz collected variants to the current Text, and examined it in the light of manuscripts, especially of the Munich MS. Alas, that that is the only complete MS. After the invention of printing, stupid and over-zealous censors not only expunged the few passages that refer to the Founder of Christianity, but also many others which they in their ignorance looked upon as disguised attacks upon their religion. Only one edition of the Talmud has escaped defacement at the hands of the censors, having been printed in Holland. We now proceed to the history of the Talmud.
What the Pentateuch had been to the Tannaim of the Mishnah, the Mishnah to the Amoraim, the Talmud became to the ages following its close. Then the demand for simplification and [page xxiv] explanation began to make itself felt. The principal decisions of the Talmud were classified in the order of the commandments; and the halachic portions were separated from the Haggadah, and printed by themselves.
Later, explanatory glosses were written to the Text of the various tractates. Greatest of all these attempts, and to this day absolutely indispensable for the understanding or the Talmud, is the commentary of R. Solomon Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, of Troyes, in France. Rashi was born in the year , the same year when the Exilarchate was extinguished in Babylon. His commentary is a masterpiece of brevity, precision and clearness.
F, Moore. The French rabbis of the 12th and 13th century continued the clarification of the Talmud by their glosses, known as Tosafoth.
In the meantime, the genius of Maimonides illumined the Mishnah by his Arabic commentary; and by his gigantic undertaking called Mishneh Torah, or Yad Hachazakah, written in clear neo-Hebrew, he succeeded in introducing logical order and classification into the Talmudic labyrinth. In , R. Joseph Caro produced the Shulchan Aruch, in which all the religious and civil laws of Jewish life still in force at the present-day are classified according to subjects.
This work, annotated by R. Moses Isserles of Cracow in , is the last authoritative codification of the Halachah, and has in turn called forth many commentaries and super-commentaries. During all these centuries, the non-Jewish attitude to the Talmud remained one of implacable hostility. Kings and emperors, popes and anti-popes, vied with each other in hurling anathemas and bulls and edicts of wholesale confiscation and conflagration against this luckless book.
The Number Fourteen as a Literary Device in the Babylonian Talmud
We remember [page xxv] but one sensible exception in this Babel of manifestos. Clement V in , before condemning the book, wished to know something of it and there was no one to tell him. Whereupon he proposed that chairs be founded for Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic as the three tongues nearest to the idiom of the Talmud in the Universities of Paris, Salamanca, Bologna, and Oxford. In time, he hoped, one of these Universities might be able to produce a translation of this mysterious book.
Need we say that this consummation never came to pass? The more expeditious process of destruction was resorted to again and again and again, not merely in the single cities of Italy, and France, but throughout the entire Holy Roman Empire. John Reuchlin, the great Humanist, was the first to maintain that, even if the Talmud contained attacks on Christianity, it would be best to answer them. And it is not accidental that in the same year in which the first printed edition of the whole Babylonian Talmud appeared, in , Luther burned the Papal bull at Wittenberg.
Then followed two centuries of feverish activity among Christian divines to become masters in Talmudic lore — not always for the pure love of learning. It was only in our time that non-Jewish scholars like George Foot Moore in America, Travers Herford in England, and Wuensche and Strack in pre-Nazi Germany, have fallen under the spell of Rabbinic studies for their own sake, and recognised their indispensableness for the elucidation of fundamental problems in the world of Religion. A translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud in German, together with the original in the Text of the Venice edition, was undertaken by L.
Goldschmidt in and is now almost completed. In addition to the six Orders, the Talmud contains a series of short treatises of a later date, usually printed at the end of Seder Nezikin. These are not divided into Mishnah and Gemara. Within the Gemara , the quotations from the Mishnah and the Baraitas and verses of Tanakh quoted and embedded in the Gemara are in either Mishnaic or Biblical Hebrew. The rest of the Gemara, including the discussions of the Amoraim and the overall framework, is in a characteristic dialect of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic.
Overall, Hebrew constitutes somewhat less than half of the text of the Talmud.
The Six Sections of the Talmud
This difference in language is due to the long time period elapsing between the two compilations. During the period of the Tannaim rabbis cited in the Mishnah , a late form of Hebrew known as Rabbinic or Mishnaic Hebrew was still in use as a spoken vernacular among Jews in Judaea alongside Greek and Aramaic , whereas during the period of the Amoraim rabbis cited in the Gemara , which began around the year , the spoken vernacular was almost exclusively Aramaic.
Hebrew continued to be used for the writing of religious texts, poetry, and so forth. The first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg —23     with the support of Pope Leo X. Almost all printings since Bomberg have followed the same pagination. Bomberg's edition was considered relatively free of censorship.
Following Ambrosius Frobenius 's publication of most of the Talmud in installments in Basel, Immanuel Benveniste published the whole Talmud in installments in Amsterdam —,  Although according to Raphael Rabbinovicz the Benveniste Talmud may have been based on the Lublin Talmud and included many of the censors' errors. The edition of the Talmud published by the Szapira brothers in Slavita  was published in ,  and it is particularly prized by many rebbes of Hasidic Judaism.
In , after a religious community copyright [ citation needed ] was nearly over,  and following an acrimonious dispute with the Szapira family, a new edition of the Talmud was printed by Menachem Romm of Vilna. Known as the Vilna Edition Shas , this edition and later ones printed by his widow and sons, the Romm publishing house has been used in the production of more recent editions of Talmud Bavli. The convention of referencing by daf is relatively recent and dates from the early Talmud printings of the 17th century, though the actual pagination goes back to the Bomberg edition.
Earlier rabbinic literature generally refers to the tractate or chapters within a tractate e. It sometimes also refers to the specific Mishnah in that chapter, where "Mishnah" is replaced with "Halakha", here meaning route, to "direct" the reader to the entry in the Gemara corresponding to that Mishna e. However, this form is nowadays more commonly though not exclusively used when referring to the Jerusalem Talmud. Increasingly, the symbols ". These references always refer to the pagination of the Vilna Talmud.
In the Vilna edition of the Talmud, there are 5, folio pages. Lazarus Goldschmidt published an edition from the "uncensored text" of the Babylonian Talmud with a German translation in 9 volumes commenced Leipzig, —, edition completed, following emigration to England in , by The text of the Vilna editions is considered by scholars not to be uniformly reliable, and there have been a number of attempts to collate textual variants.
There have been critical editions of particular tractates e. Henry Malter 's edition of Ta'anit , but there is no modern critical edition of the whole Talmud. Modern editions such as those of the Oz ve-Hadar Institute correct misprints and restore passages that in earlier editions were modified or excised by censorship but do not attempt a comprehensive account of textual variants.
One edition, by rabbi Yosef Amar,  represents the Yemenite tradition, and takes the form of a photostatic reproduction of a Vilna-based print to which Yemenite vocalization and textual variants have been added by hand, together with printed introductory material. Collations of the Yemenite manuscripts of some tractates have been published by Columbia University.
A number of editions have been aimed at bringing the Talmud to a wider audience. The main ones are as follows. The translation was carried out by a group of 90 Muslim and Christian scholars. Raquel Ukeles, Curator of the Israel National Library's Arabic collection, as "racist", but she considers the translation itself as "not bad".
From the time of its completion, the Talmud became integral to Jewish scholarship. A maxim in Pirkei Avot advocates its study from the age of The earliest Talmud commentaries were written by the Geonim c.
Although some direct commentaries on particular treatises are extant, our main knowledge of Gaonic era Talmud scholarship comes from statements embedded in Geonic responsa that shed light on Talmudic passages: these are arranged in the order of the Talmud in Levin's Otzar ha-Geonim.