Jewish Texts >> Talmud

The Talmud (“instruction, learning”) is a central text of Rabbinic Judaism. It is also traditionally referred to as Shas, a Hebrew abbreviation of shisha sedarim, the “six orders”. The Talmud has two components. The first part is the Mishnah, the written compendium of Judaism’s “Oral Torah.” The second part is the Gemara, an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh. The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably, though strictly speaking that is not accurate. The whole Talmud consists of 63 tractates, and in standard print is over 6,200 pages long. It is written in Tannaitic Hebrew and Aramaic. The Talmud contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects, including Halakha (law), Jewish ethics, philosophy, customs, history, lore and many other topics. The structure of the Talmud follows that of the Mishnah, in which six orders (sedarim; singular: seder) of general subject matter are divided into 60 or 63 tractates (masekhtot; singular: masekhet) of more focused subject compilations, though not all tractates have Gemara. Each tractate is divided into chapters (perakim; singular: perek), 517 in total, that are both numbered according to the Hebrew alphabet and given names, usually using the first one or two words in the first mishnah. A perek may continue over several (up to tens of) pages. Each perek will contain several mishnayot with their accompanying exchanges that form the “building-blocks” of the Gemara; the name for a passage of gemara is a sugya (סוגיא; plural sugyot). A sugya, including baraita or tosefta, will typically comprise a detailed proof-based elaboration of a Mishnaic statement, whether halakhic or aggadic. A sugya may, and often does, range widely off the subject of the mishnah. In a given sugya, scriptural, Tannaic and Amoraic statements are cited to support the various opinions. In so doing, the Gemara will highlight semantic disagreements between Tannaim and Amoraim (often ascribing a view to an earlier authority as to how he may have answered a question), and compare the Mishnaic views with passages from the Baraita. Rarely are debates formally closed; in some instances, the final word determines the practical law, but in many instances the issue is left unresolved.

The Mishnah is a compilation of legal opinions and debates. Statements in the Mishnah are typically terse, recording brief opinions of the rabbis debating a subject; or recording only an unattributed ruling, apparently representing a consensus view. The rabbis recorded in the Mishnah are known as Tannaim. Since it sequences its laws by subject matter instead of by biblical context, the Mishnah discusses individual subjects more thoroughly than the Midrash, and it includes a much broader selection of halakhic subjects than the Midrash. The Mishnah’s topical organization thus became the framework of the Talmud as a whole. But not every tractate in the Mishnah has a corresponding talmud. Also, the order of the tractates in the Talmud differs in some cases from that in the Mishnah. In addition to the Mishnah, other tannaitic teachings were current at about the same time or shortly thereafter. The Gemara frequently refers to these tannaitic statements in order to compare them to those contained in the Mishnah and to support or refute the propositions of Amoraim. All such non-Mishnaic tannaitic sources are termed baraitot (lit. outside material, “Works external to the Mishnah”; sing. baraita). The baraitot cited in the Gemara are often quotations from the Tosefta (a tannaitic compendium of halakha parallel to the Mishnah) and the Halakhic Midrashim (specifically Mekhilta, Sifra and Sifre). In the three centuries following the redaction of the Mishnah, rabbis throughout Palestine and Babylonia analyzed, debated, and discussed that work. These discussions form the Gemara. Gemara means “completion” (from the Hebrew gamar: “to complete”) or “learning” (from the Aramaic: “to study”). The Gemara mainly focuses on elucidating and elaborating the opinions of the Tannaim. The rabbis of the Gemara are known as Amoraim (sing. Amora). Much of the Gemara consists of legal analysis. The starting point for the analysis is usually a legal statement found in a Mishnah. The statement is then analyzed and compared with other statements used in different approaches to Biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism (or – simpler – interpretation of text in Torah study) exchanges between two (frequently anonymous and sometimes metaphorical) disputants, termed the makshan (questioner) and tartzan (answerer). Another important function of Gemara is to identify the correct Biblical basis for a given law presented in the Mishnah and the logical process connecting one with the other: this activity was known as talmud long before the existence of the “Talmud” as a text. The Talmud is a wide-ranging document that touches on a great many subjects.

Traditionally Talmudic statements are classified into two broad categories, halakhic and aggadic statements. Halakhic statements directly relate to questions of Jewish law and practice (halakha). Aggadic statements are not legally related, but rather are exegetical, homiletical, ethical, or historical in nature. 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. The process of “Gemara” proceeded in what were then the two major centers of Jewish scholarship, the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud or the Talmud Yerushalmi. It was compiled in the 4th century in Israel. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled about the year 500 CE, although it continued to be edited later. The word “Talmud”, when used without qualification, usually refers to the Babylonian Talmud. While the editors of Jerusalem Talmud and Babylonian Talmud each mention the other community, most scholars believe these documents were written independently. The Jerusalem Talmud was one of the two compilations of Jewish religious teachings and commentary that was transmitted orally for centuries prior to its compilation by Jewish scholars in Israel. It is a compilation of teachings of the schools of Tiberias, Sepphoris and Caesarea. It is written largely in a western Aramaic dialect that differs from its Babylonian counterpart. This Talmud is a synopsis of the analysis of the Mishnah that was developed over the course of nearly 200 years by the Academies in Israel (principally those of Tiberias and Caesarea.) Because of their location, the sages of these Academies devoted considerable attention to analysis of the agricultural laws of the Land of Israel.

Traditionally, this Talmud was thought to have been redacted in about the year 350 CE by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi in the Land of Israel. It is traditionally known as the Talmud Yerushalmi (“Jerusalem Talmud”), but the name is a misnomer, as it was not prepared in Jerusalem. It has more accurately been called “The Talmud of the Land of Israel”. Its final redaction probably belongs to the end of the 4th century, but the individual scholars who brought it to its present form cannot be fixed with assurance. By this time Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire and Jerusalem the holy city of Christendom. In 325 CE Constantine, the first Christian emperor, said “let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd.” This policy made a Jew an outcast and pauper. The compilers of the Jerusalem Talmud consequently lacked the time to produce a work of the quality they had intended. The text is evidently incomplete and is not easy to follow. The apparent cessation of work on the Jerusalem Talmud in the 5th century has been associated with the decision of Theodosius II in 425 CE to suppress the Patriarchate and put an end to the practice of formal scholarly ordination. Despite its incomplete state, the Jerusalem Talmud remains an indispensable source of knowledge of the development of the Jewish Law in Israel. It was also an important resource in the study of the Babylonian Talmud by the Kairouan school of Hananel ben Hushiel and Nissim Gaon, with the result that opinions ultimately based on the Jerusalem Talmud found their way into both the Tosafot and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides. Following the formation of the modern State of Israel there is some interest in restoring Eretz Yisrael traditions. For example, Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of the Makhon Shilo institute has issued a siddur reflecting Eretz Yisrael practice as found in the Jerusalem Talmud and other sources. The Talmud Bavli consists of documents compiled over the period of Late Antiquity (3rd to 5th centuries). During this time the most important of the Jewish centres in Mesopotamia, later known as Iraq, were Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahoza (just to the south of what is now Baghdad), Pumbeditha (near present-day al-Anbar), and the Sura Academy near present-day Falluja. Talmud Bavli (the “Babylonian Talmud”) comprises the Mishnah and the Babylonian Gemara, the latter representing the culmination of more than 300 years of analysis of the Mishnah in the Babylonian Academies. The foundations of this process of analysis were laid by Rab, a disciple of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi. Tradition ascribes the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud in its present form to two Babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina. Rav Ashi was president of the Sura Academy from 375 to 427 CE. The work begun by Rav Ashi was completed by Ravina, who is traditionally regarded as the final Amoraic expounder. Accordingly, traditionalists argue that Ravina’s death in 499 CE is the latest possible date for the completion of the redaction of the Talmud. However, even on the most traditional view a few passages are regarded as the work of a group of rabbis who edited the Talmud after the end of the Amoraic period, known as the Saboraim or Rabbanan Savora’e (meaning “reasoners” or “considerers”). The question as to when the Gemara was finally put into its present form is not settled among modern scholars. Some, like Louis Jacobs, argue that the main body of the Gemara is not simple reportage of conversations, as it purports to be, but a highly elaborate structure contrived by the Saboraim, who must therefore be regarded as the real authors. On this view the text did not reach its final form until around 700. Some modern scholars use the term Stammaim (from the Hebrew Stam, meaning “closed”, “vague” or “unattributed”) for the authors of unattributed statements in the Gemara.

Zera’im (Seeds):

  • Berachot: laws of blessings and prayers
  • Pe’ah: laws concerning the mitzvah of leaving the corner of one’s field for the poor as well as the rights of the poor in general
  • Demai: laws concerning the various cases in which it is not certain whether the Priestly donations have been taken from the produce
  • Kil’ayim: laws concerning the forbidden mixtrues in agriculture, clothing, and breeding of animals
  • Shevi’it: laws concerning with the agricultural and fiscal regulations concerning the Sabbatical Year
  • Terumot: laws concerning with the terumah donation given to the Priests
  • Ma’aserot: laws concerning the tithe to be given to the Levites
  • Ma’aser Sheni: laws concerning the tithes that is to be eaten in Jerusalem
  • Challah: laws concerning the offering of dough to be given to the Priests
  • Orlah: laws concerning the prohibition of the immediate use of a tree after it is planted
  • Bikurim: laws concerning the first fruit gifts to the Priests and the Temple

Moed (Appointed Season):

  • Shabbat: laws concerning the 39 prohibitions of work on Shabbat
  • Eruvin: laws concerning the Eruv (Shabbat boundaries) concerning public and private domains
  • Pesachim: laws concerning Pesach and the paschal sacrifice
  • Shekalim: laws concerning the collection of the half-shekel and the expenses and expenditures of the Temple
  • Yoma: laws concerning the mitzvot of Yom Kippur (primarily the ceremony of the Kohen Gadol)
  • Sukkah: laws concerning the mitzvot of Sukkot as well as the sukkah and the four species
  • Beitzah: laws concerning the mitzvot on Yomim Tovim (holidays)
  • Rosh Hashannah: laws concerning the regulation of the calendar by the new moon and the services of the festival of Rosh Hashannah
  • Taanit: laws concerning the special fast days in times of drought and other occurences
  • Megillah: laws concerning the mitzvot of reading Megillah Esther on Purim as well as other passages from the Torah and Nevi’im
  • Moed Katan: laws concerning the Chol HaMoed (intermediate festival days) of Pesach and Sukkot
  • Chagigah: laws concerning the Three Pilgrimage Festival (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot) and the pilgrimage offerings that are to be brought to Jerusalem

Nashim (Women):

  • Yevamot: laws concerning the duty of a man to marry his deceased brother’s childless widow, prohibited marriages, halizah, and the right of a minor to have her marriage annulled
  • Ketubot: laws concerning the settlement made upon the bride, fines paid for seduction, mutual obligations of the husband and wife, and the rights of the widow and stepchild
  • Nedarim: laws concerning the various forms of vows, invalid vows, renunciation of vows, and the power of annulling vows made by a wife or daughter
  • Nazir: laws concerning a Nazirite’s vow, renunciation of a Nazirite vow, enumeration of what is forbidden to a Nazirite, and the Nazirite vows of women and slaves
  • Sotah: laws concerning the rules and rituals imposed upon a woman suspected by her husband of adultery, religious formulas made in Hebrew or other languages, seven types of Pharisees, reforms of John Hyrcanus, and the civil war between Aristobulus and Hyrcanus
  • Gittin: laws concerning various circumstances of delivering a get (bill of divorce)
  • Kiddushin: laws of the rites connected to betrothal and marriage, the legal acquisition of slaves, chattels and real estate, and the principles of morality

Nezikin (Damage):

  • Bava Kamma: laws concerning civil matters (damages and compensation)
  • Bava Metzia: laws concerning civil matters (torts and property)
  • Bava Batra: laws concerning civil matters (land ownership)
  • Sanhedrin: laws concerning the rules of court proceedings in the Sanhedrin, the death penalty, and other criminal matters
  • Makkot: laws concerning deals with collusive witnesses, cities of refuge, and the punishment of lashes
  • Shevuot: laws concerning the oaths and their consequences
  • Eduyot: case studies of legal disputes in Mishnaic times and the miscellaneous testimonies illustrating various sages and principles of halakhah
  • Avodah Zarah: laws concerning interactions between Jews and idolators
  • Avot: collection of the sages’ favorite ethical maxims
  • Horayot: laws concerning the communal sin-offering brought for major errors by the Sanhedrin

Kodashim (Holy Things):

  • Zevachim: laws concerning animal and bird sacrifices
  • Menachot: laws concerning grain-based offerings
  • Chullin: laws concerning slaughter and meat consumption
  • Bechorot: laws concerning the sanctification and redemption of the firstborn animal and firstborn human
  • Erachin: laws concerning dedicating a person’s value or a field to the Temple
  • Temurah: laws concerning the substitution for an animal dedicated for a sacrifice
  • Kereitot: laws concerning the penalty of karet and sacrifices associated with their unwitting transgression
  • Me’ila: laws concerning restitution for the misappropriation of Temple property
  • Tamid: laws concerning the Tamid sacrifice
  • Middot: laws concerning the measurements of the second Temple
  • Kinnim: laws concerning the complex laws of the mixing of bird offerings

Tohorot (Purities):

  • Kelim: laws concerning various utensils and their purity
  • Oholot: laws concerning the uncleanness of a corpse and objects around the corpse
  • Negaim: laws concerning the laws of tzaraath
  • Parah: laws concerning the Red Heifer
  • Tohorot: laws concerning purity (especially contracting impurity and the impurity of food)
  • Mikavot: laws concerning the mikvah
  • Niddah: laws concerning the niddah (woman during her menstrual cycle or shortly after giving birth)
  • Machshirin: laws concerning liquids that make food susceptible to ritual impurity
  • Zavim: laws concerning a person who has seminal emissions
  • Tevul Yom: laws concerning a special kind of impurity where a person immerses in a mikvah but remains unclean for the remainder of the day
  • Yadayim: laws concerning impurity related to the hands
  • Uktzin: laws concerning the impurity of the stalks of fruit