The Talmud – Part II

Unlike Rabbi Steinsaltz’s compendium, the Talmud is more than just a single book. It is volume upon volume. More than 6,200 pages consisting of at least 63 “tractates” (or treatises). It is not authored by one or two people. It has been penned by hundreds of hands and collective minds.  The Talmud is divided into two parts: the Mishnah (circa 200 A.D.) which is a discussion of the oral Torah; and the Gemara (500 A.D. to present) which delves into a wide variety of social and cultural issues.

Originally, Jewish scholarship was passed down from generation to generation in oral narration.  Then – with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., there was a move to memorialize this oral tradition.  And so it began.  The Talmud is written in Hebrew script but the language is Aramaic — the language of Jesus.  Arguably the Talmud is no longer open for further edits.  However it continues to be open to discussion, commentary and footnote.  Thus, in a way, the Talmud will never be completed.

What are the topics discussed?  Apart from the social and cultural matters referenced in my previous post, the Torah plays a large role.  For example, when the Commandment says “Remember the Sabbath Day to make it holy,” just what does “Remember” mean?  That admonition (along with so many others in the Old Testament) has prompted extensive discussion and debate about the meaning of certain words, statements and commands.   

I may never become a Talmudic scholar but I am glad I took the time to read Rabbi Steinsaltz’s book.  And further investigate this important chapter of our Judeo-Christian heritage.       

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