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date: 24 October 2020


The greatest achievement of rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity, the Talmuds are compendia of legal opinions, sayings, and stories by and about the Rabbis of the first five centuries of the Christian era. Two quite separate Talmuds are extant: the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud, redacted in Palestine in c. ce 400, and the Babylonian Talmud, redacted in Mesopotamia in c. ce 500. Both Talmuds are organized as commentaries on the Mishnah , tractate by tractate; for some tractates a commentary is found only in the Babylonian Talmud. The commentary (termed gemarah, lit. ‘completion’) attempts harmonization of conflicting views expressed in the Mishnah, and elucidation of obscure passages, in order to produce a complete, unified account of Jewish law. In the process the editors included much extra material of only tangential relevance to the Mishnaic passage under discussion. This extra material consists partly in homiletic narratives about rabbis, partly in independent literary units containing disputes over legal interpretation, partly (but less frequently) in Midrash of biblical texts.

The Mishnaic text quoted within each Talmud is in Hebrew, as are some sayings (beraitot) composed, or purporting to have been composed, by rabbis before the compilation of the Mishnah (i.e. in the 1st and 2nd cents. ce). The rest of both Talmuds is in Aramaic , expressed in a style so elliptic and formulaic that the meaning of many passages is only apparent with the help of the medieval commentaries traditionally used by Jews engaged in study of the Talmud. The obscurantism of Talmudic discourse appears to be deliberate, reflecting the origin of the text in scholarly discussions within rabbinic academies, where both the main premisses of the subject debated, and the types of argument permitted on either side, were taken for granted.

The Talmuds deal with civil, criminal, and matrimonial law as well as more strictly religious matters. They have less discussion about the sacrificial rites in the Jerusalem Temple than does the Mishnah; conversely, they contain more information about the operation of rabbinic academies. The Babylonian Talmud quotes the views of many Palestinian scholars, and vice versa, but the two compilations do in general reflect differences in outlook between the two centres of rabbinic learning. It is also sometimes possible to discern the distinct views of particular rabbinic schools or groups.

The rabbis quoted in the gemarah date from the 3rd to 4th cent. (Palestinian Talmud) or the 3rd to 5th cent. (Babylonian Talmud), but the extent to which their sayings are correctly reported is debated. Medieval traditions ascribing the editing of the Talmuds to particular rabbis are worth little, but some scholars have perceived evidence of a strong editorial hand in the statements transmitted anonymously as a commentary on the discussions recorded (the stam) and in the shaping of individual tractates. It is certain that some sayings were wrongly attributed to particular rabbis on the principle that, in the light of his other views as recorded elsewhere, this is what that rabbi would have said if he had given an opinion.

The prolonged interest by Jews in the Babylonian Talmud as an authoritative legal source has ensured that this huge document from late antiquity survives more or less intact, but there are numerous references by medieval commentators to textual variants no longer attested in the extant manuscripts, and the argumentative style of the Talmud, with the preservation of divergent views on many topics and a tendency to pseudepigraphy, makes its use as a source for the history of Jews and Judaism complex. See religion, jewish .


Palestinian Talmud

Text: Venice edn. (1523–4).Find this resource:

Zhitomir edn. (1860–7).Find this resource:

Romm Wilna (1922).Find this resource:

Eng. trans.: J. Neusner, The Talmud of the Land of Israel (1982– ).Find this resource:

Concordance: M. Kosovsky (1979– ).Find this resource:

Babylonian Talmud

Text: Bomberg edn. (1520–3).Find this resource:

Vilna edn. (1880–6).Find this resource:

Steinsalz edn. (1967– ) (vocalized).Find this resource:

Eng. trans.: I. Epstein (ed.), The Babylonian Talmud (1935–52).Find this resource:

J. Neusner (ed.), The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation (1984– ).Find this resource:

Concordance: C. J. Kasowsky and B. Kosovsky, Thesaurus Talmudis (1954–82).Find this resource:


G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1996).Find this resource:

C. E. Fonrobert and M. S. Jaffee (eds.), Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (2007).Find this resource:

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