Sifting through the huge number of names mentioned in the Talmud to find information about one figure can be tedious and time-consuming, and most reference guides either provide only brief, unhelpful entries on every rabbi, including minor figures, or are so extensive that they can be more intimidating than the original text. In Essential Figures in the Talmud, Dr. Eisenberg explains the importance of the more than figures who are most vital to an understanding and appreciation of Talmudic texts.
This valuable reference guide consists of short biographies illustrating the significance of these figures while explaining their points of view with numerous quotations from rabbinic literature. Taking material from the vast expanse of the Talmud and Midrash, this book demonstrates the broad interests of the rabbis whose writings are the foundation of rabbinic Judaism.
Thus, perhaps, we can understand some of the tension that has historically existed between Christianity and Judaism. According to the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth expressed strong personal feelings about the Pharisees in the following words:. Many famous Jewish religious and secular writers have commented on the role of the Talmud in modern Judaism.
We have met some of these writers in What We're About. Rabbi Adin Even Israel Steinsaltz is the founder of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, and has enjoyed the backing of Israeli presidents and prime ministers; he is a recipient of Israel's highest civilian honor, the Israel Prize. He is currently translating the Talmud into English, French, and Russian. In , he writes:. He has published more than books and numerous articles, both scholarly and academic and popular and journalistic, and is the most published humanities scholar in the world.
Neusner writes:. For a useful overview of the Talmud, see the InfoPlease. Thank you for your consideration of the above, Carol A. Outside URLs were valid at the time this article was written.
However, be mindful that URLs do change. Valentine, The Roadmap 1. What Is The Talmud? Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds There are two editions of the Talmud; one was composed by Babylonian Jews and one by Jews who lived in ancient Jerusalem. Generally a citation from the Talmud refers to the Babylonian version, which is considered authoritative. The Jerusalem Talmud is not generally taught in even the most Orthodox Jewish schools today, though advanced Talmud scholars sometimes study it.
Soncino Talmud The editor's Soncino Talmud set. Ancient Roots According to Talmud scholars, the Talmud is the written form of the teachings of the Pharisees — the very sect of Jewish priests with whom Jesus of Nazareth argued. Consider this passage from the translator of New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud and author of the History of the Talmud , Rabbi Michael Rodkinson: Is the literature that Jesus was familiar with in his early years yet in existence in the world? Is it possible for us to get at it? Can we ourselves review the ideas, the statements, the modes of reasoning and thinking, on moral and religious subjects, which were current in his time, and must have been [resolved] by him during those silent thirty years when he was pondering his future mission?
To such inquiries the learned class of Jewish rabbis answer by holding up the Talmud. Here, say they, is the source from whence Jesus of Nazareth drew the teaching which enabled him to revolutionize the world; and the question becomes, therefore, an interesting one to every Christian, What is the Talmud? Rodkinson 1 Or consider this from The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia , in the entry "Pharisees": The Jewish religion as it is today traces its descent, without a break, through all the centuries, from the Pharisees.
Their leading ideas and methods found expression in a literature of enormous extent, of which a very great deal is still in existence. The Talmud is the largest and most important single member of that literature, and round it are gathered a number of Midrashim, partly legal Halachic and partly works of edification Haggadic. This literature, in its oldest elements, goes back to a time before the beginning of the Common Era, and comes down into the Middle Ages.
New Talmud 'biography' seeks to bring the foundational text to life | The Times of Israel
A somewhat abridged version of these glosses has been printed alongside every edition of the Talmud since the s. T he revised version of Professor Fishman will have little to none of this. Drawing upon the writings of the past generation of medievalists, most prominently, Michael Clanchy, Mary Carruthers, and Brian Stock, Fishman sketches the cultural transformation of Western Europe as its society shifted from orality to literacy. By the 12 th century, however, greater authority was ascribed to the written word.
As texts came to be construed as reference points for everyday activities, bodies of tradition that were once transmitted exclusively through practice.
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People not only allowed texts to inform and shape their experiences, they sought to bring their lives into congruence with them. The halakhah in Northern Europe, Fishman claims, followed roughly the same path. The Talmud became normative only in the course of the 12 th and 13 th centuries, a corollary of the same textualization process, and the leaders of the inscriptive movement were the tosafists.
It was the tosafists who closed the book of the Talmud, and made the Jews its people. They sought to regulate the religious life of the Jews through the text that they had stabilized and succeeded in their endeavor by authoring a dense series of written instructions, issuing practical codes and detailed handbooks, which summarized the upshot of the newly fixed talmudic discussions.
This is a radical thesis, to put it mildly.
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It is also formulated simply and clearly. Fishman states modestly in the introduction that she is neither a medievalist nor a Talmud scholar and in both areas has drawn primarily on secondary works. With regard to European history she is reporting and synthesizing what scholars have written; in Jewish history she is seeking to entirely transform our understanding of the era, indeed, not simply the two centuries of the tosafists but also some three hundred years of prior geonic activity C. One may wonder whether a creative reading of secondary works is likely to yield insights true and deep enough to revolutionize a field.
Even if one should answer that question in the affirmative, one might still suggest that a basic familiarity with the primary sources is necessary to read the secondary sources with some discrimination. It may be necessary, at times, in order to recognize a patent exaggeration, as scholars advancing new ideas occasionally overstate the case. It may equally be needed simply to save oneself from drawing a seemingly reasonable inference from a secondary source, but one so outlandish to anyone in the know that the writer never thought there was any need to preclude it.
Second-hand revolutions are a tricky business. T o get a sense not of Dr. This is an astonishing statement. Seventy percent of Yoma and thirty percent of Pesachim are occupied wholly with the Temple service. They too have a full complement of Tosafot. There are hundreds of passages in the other tractates of the Talmud that treat sacrificial laws and those of purity. All are treated exhaustively by the Tosafot whose analyses reflect the discussions in their rabbinic academies , as a glance at almost any volume of the Talmud will evince.
The issue is not familiarity with the substance of the above-mentioned tractates, but simply familiarity with the standard format of the printed Talmud. Given the relentless collation by the tosafists of all parallel passages in the Talmud, no student can escape using these volumes continuously. Some pupils learn more, others less; but every student knows one thing: all the pages of the Talmud are the same; they all have Rashi on the inside and Tosafot on the outside.
Actually, one of the thirty-six tractates of the Talmud, a practical one, dealing with vows—Nedarim—has only the thinnest of Tosafot for reasons unknown. Nissim of Barcelona. Fishman draws on it for evidence of the nature of talmudic studies in Ashkenaz prior to Rashi.
All seven are found—together with Rashi—on the printed page of the now standard Romm edition of the Talmud, which first appeared in Vilna in , and has been the only readily available edition of the Talmud for the last sixty years. The Talmud is written in pure Aramaic with citations in classical mishnaic Hebrew, the two languages being kept strictly apart, as would be the two languages in a work in English that contained French citations.
The Tosafot are written in rabbinic Hebrew, which is a blend of Hebrew and Aramaic. More important, the syntax of the two languages is different. The above examples are unfortunately symptomatic of the entire work.
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One cannot help wondering whether the author, a well-regarded historian of early modern Jewish history, has ever seriously studied Tosafot, or indeed, has a meaningful acquaintance with any rabbinic sources. And I emphasize that I am referring to acquaintance, not command of these texts. There are hundreds of controversies in any sizeable tractate of Talmud. On some five or ten occasions, Tosafot may remark, usually in passing, as to their view of the final ruling. There is not a word about the upshot of all the rest of the controversies in the tractate. Worse yet, Tosafot will very often offer several different solutions to a problem, each eventuating in a different halakhic ruling.
I do not recall a single instance where Tosafot ever informs the reader which of the several doctrines proffered is the controlling one the pesak halakhah. One can study Tosafot for decades and never have the slightest inkling what the final holding is in the thousands of issues that one has so long and lovingly examined. To be sure, after the tosafist revolution of the 12 th century had been completed and the vast corpus of the Talmud reinterpreted, several tosafists of the next century wishing to spell out the practical consequences of that revolution composed codes, or what they thought were codes.
The two most famous ones Sefer ha-Terumah and Sefer Mitzvot Gadol rapidly got bogged down in long dialectical discussions. This characterization too goes against the elementary facts. I doubt if three percent of the Tosafot treat textual matters. The majority of such instances are citations of differing versions from a North African source Rabbenu Hananel for the purpose of resolving a contradiction in the Talmud or variants that suggest a different interpretation of a passage.
Ask any day school graduate, and he or she will tell you the same.