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.       

The Talmud

I am a Christian. But since Jesus was Jewish, I thought it would be good to learn more about Christianity’s Judaic heritage. I’ve read the Torah, the Tanakh and the rest of the Bible cover-to-cover (more than once) but I’ve never dug into the Talmud.  Soooo. . . . .

A few months ago, I drove passed a store that offered a large selection of Judaica.  It was the book section that enticed me to stop.  I asked the gentleman at the counter for the best book (I confessed to being an Episcopalian) to learn about the Talmud.  He nodded and handed me The Essential Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.  All I can say is – “wow.”  The book was captivating.  And hard to put down. 

While the Tanakh (Old Testament) is the cornerstone of Judaism, the Talmud is the pillar — the most important book in Jewish culture.  The Talmud is an assemblage of commentary, questions and answers – about the Torah, the Tanakh, culture, social order and. . . . . everything.  The Talmud invites questions.  None of which is considered inappropriate.  Questions about the Torah are encouraged.  Discussed.  Debated.  Resolved.  And discussed again.  One is not supposed to just read the Talmud – but to study it.  And to become a scholar of the Talmud.  This is quite unlike Islam which mandates that questions about the Quran are haram (forbidden). 

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s book includes chapters on the Sabbath, Marriage, Divorce, Civil and Criminal Law, Dietary Laws, Ethics, the Law, Prayer, Scholarship, Women, and on.  And on.  It was a truly enlightening read.  If you are interested and would like a copy of the book – let me know.