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Holman Bible Dictionary

Talmud

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Jewish commentaries. Talmud means, “study” or “learning” and refers in rabbinic Judaism to the opinions and teachings that disciples learn from their predecessors particularly with regard to the development of oral legal teachings (halakah ). The word Talmud is most commonly used in Judaism to refer specifically to the digest of commentary on the Mishnah . The Mishnah (a codification of oral legal teachings on the written law of Moses) was probably written down at Javneh in Galilee at about 220 A.D. Between A.D. 220,500 the rabbinic schools in Palestine and Babylonia amplified and applied the teachings of the Mishnah for their Jewish communities. Two documents came to embody a large part of this teaching: The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.

Those scholars represented in the Mishnah are referred to as the Tannaim . Generally, they lived from the first through the second centuries A.D. The Talmud gives the opinions of a new generation of scholars referred to as the Amoraim (A.D. 200-500). Various teachers became famous and attracted students from a variety of locales in the ancient world. By this means, the decisions of rabbis resident in Babylon became normative for a broad cross section of ancient Jewish life. How strongly rabbinic decisions influenced the average Jew we cannot know. Passages from the Talmud reflect the great concern of some rabbis that their advice was not being followed by the people.

The Talmud represents a continuation of the application of the oral law (halakah ) to every sphere of Jewish life. This process probably began with the early Jewish sect known as the Pharisees . Many of the discussions in the Talmud, however, seem to have no direct practical application, but are theoretical in nature.

The passing on of the tradition and the remembering of the specific decisions and reasoning of the teachers by their disciples was apparently emphasized in the rabbinic schools. There is some evidence that both Mishnah and Talmud were remembered according to chants or musical melodies.

The Babylonian Talmud became the most authoritative of the two written Talmuds due both to the political fortunes of the Jewish communities in Palestine and Babylon in the first four centuries A.D. and also to its more sophisticated style. Later generations of Jewish scholars also recognized that the Babylonian Talmud was completed later and so supposed that it absorbed or superseded the Jerusalem one.

Apart from haggadic passages that are mostly Hebrew, it was written in Eastern Aramaic, the language of Babylon at the time. The Babylonian Talmud reflects a highly developed system for settling disputed questions of halakah (oral law). It includes commentary on all six major divisions of the Mishnah, but deletes certain subsections. For example, discussion of the segments of Mishnah that deal with the Temple service are omitted, presumably because the Jewish community in Babylon did not anticipate the rebuilding of the Temple in the near future (interestingly, the Jerusalem Talmud does discuss these sections).

The Babylonian Talmud also contains theoretical legal discussion as well as information on the daily life of Jewish people in the first six centuries, history, medicine, astronomy, commerce, agriculture, demonology, magic, botany, zoology, and other sciences. It also incorporates a large measure of Haggadah (illustrative stories and poetry) in addition to legal discussion.

The Jerusalem Talmud was not compiled in Jerusalem but in the centers of Tiberias, Caesarea, and Sepphoris in Palestine, since Jerusalem ceased to be a major center of Jewish learning after the destruction of the second Temple in A.D. 70. It uses Western Aramaic, the dialect of Palestine. It is succinct and concise in its presentation of legal arguments, and does not contain the considerable body of Haggadah included in the Babylonian Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud was completed about 400 A.D. approximately a century before the Babylonian Talmud.

The importance of the Talmud to Jewish life until the modern period can hardly be overestimated. Talmud and commentary upon it become a major focus of religious action in the medieval period. The Talmud became the central document for Jewish education during the medieval period.

New Testament scholars are especially interested in the Talmud. Some of the halakah embodied in the Talmud is attributed to early rabbis and may reflect Jewish practice in the time of the writers of the New Testament or of Jesus. This material must be used judiciously in historical reconstruction, however, since it was compiled five centuries after the fact. See Haggadah and Halakah; Mishnah .

Stephenson Humphries-Brooks


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Talmud'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/t/talmud.html. 1991.

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