corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(תִּלְמוּד, talmud, doctrine; from לָמִד, "to teach"). :The Talmud-, "that wonderful monument of human industry, human wisdom,. and human folly" (Milman), is the work- which embodies the canonical and civil laws of the Jews. It consists of a Mishna (q.v.). as text, and a voluminous collection of commentaries and illustrations, called in the more modern Hebrew Horaa, and in Aramaic Gemara, "the complement" or "completion," from גְּמִר, "to make perfect." Thence the men who delivered these decisive commentaries are called Gemarists, sometimes Horaim, but more commonly Amoraim.

1. History and Composition. The Jews divided their law into the written and unwritten. The former contained the Pentateuch, πεντάτευχος, חמישה, חומשי, תורה, or the תורה שבכתב, verbum Dei scriptum, ἔγγραφος ; the latter was handed down orally, the תורה שבעל פה, παράδοσις, verbum Dei non scriptum, ἄγραφος. Some Jews have assigned the same antiquity to both, alleging that Moses received them on Mount Sinai, and that Joshua received the oral law from Moses, who transmitted it to the seventy elders; and these again transmitted it to the men of the Great Synagogue, the last of whom was Simon the Just (q.v.). From the men of the Great Synagogue it came into the possession of the rabbins till Judah the Holy (q. v), who embodied in the celebrated code, of traditional Jaw, or Mishna, all the authorized interpretations of the Mosaic law, the traditions and decisions of the learned, and the precedents of the courts or schools; or, as Moses Maimonides (q.v.) states, in his preface to the Mishna (Seder. Zeraim), "From Moses our teacher to our holy rabbi no one has united in a single body of doctrine what was publicly taught as the oral law; but an every generation the chief of the tribunal, or the prophet of his day, made memoranda of what he had heard from his predecessors and instructors, and communicated it orally to the people. In like manner, each individual committed to writing for his own use, and according to the degree of his ability, the oral laws and the information he had received respecting the interpretation of the Bible, with the various decisions that had been pronounced in every age and sanctified by the authority of the great tribunal. Such was the form of proceeding until our rabbi the holy, who first collected all the traditions, the judgments, the sentences, and the expositions of the law, heard by Moses our master, and taught in each generation." There is, no doubt, some truth in this as to a few elementary principles of Hebrew usage and practice, both civil and religious; but the whole of the unwritten law cannot have this primordial majesty, for, without referring to the trivial and foolish character of many of its appointments, we know that Midrashim, or explanations and amplifications of Biblical topics, were of gradual growth.

Their commencement dates prior to the chronicle writer, because he refers to works of that nature (2 Chronicles 13:22; 2 Chronicles 24:27). The system of interpretation which they exemplify and embody existed in the age of the so called Sopherim, or scribes, who took the place of the prophets. The men of the Great Synagogue promoted at. It prevailed from the Asmonsean period till that of Hadrian, i.e. about 300 years. The Midrash was naturally simple at first, but it soon grew more comprehensive and complicated under a variety of influences, of which controversy was not the least powerful. When secret meanings, hidden wisdom, deep knowledge, were sought in the letter of Scripture, the Midrashim shaped themselves accordingly, and a distinction in their contents could be made. Thus they have been divided into the Halakah, הלכה, "the rule," and Hagadâ h, הגדה, "what is said." Legal prescriptions formed the Halakah, free interpretations the Hagadah. The one, as a rule of conduct, must be attended to; the other merely passed for something said. The one was permanent and proceeded from authoritative sources, from schools, the teachers of the law, etc.; the other was the product of individual minds, consisting of ideas which had often no other object than of being expressed at the moment. The oldest collection of Halakoth that is, the oldest Mishna-proceeded from the school of Hillel. Rabbi Akiba, who was slain in the Hadrianic war, is said to have composed Mishnic regulations. The school of R. Simon ben-Gamaliel (q.v.), A.D. 166, who was a descendant of Hillel, collected and sifted the existing materials of the oral law. The present Mishna proceeded from the hands of R. Judah the Holy (q.v.), son and successor of R. Simon ben-Gamaliel. The title of Judah's work is simply Mishnah, משנה, δευτέρωσις (from שנה, "to repeat"), "repetition," like the Arabic Mathani (Koran, 15:87; 39:34), that is, either (considering the divine law as twofold, written and traditional) the second branch of the twofold law, or else the law given in a second form, as an explicative and practical development of it (comp. Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 4:419).

The work itself is composed of the following elements:

1. Pure Mishnah (משנה ), the elucidation of the fundamental text of the Mosaic laws, and their application to an endless variety of particular cases and circumstances not mentioned in them.

2. Haldkâ h (הלכה ), the usages and customs of Judaism, as sanctioned and confirmed by time and general acquiescence.

3. Dibrey Chakalnim (דברי חכמים ), law principles of the wise men or sages, i.e. the ancient, and at that time the more recent, teachers, to whose decisions the people's respect for them gave a greater or less weight.

4. Maassiyath (מעשיות ), practical facts, conclusions arrived at by the course of events.

5. Gezirô th (גזירות ), extemporaneous decisions demanded by emergencies.

6. Tekanô th (תקנות ), modifications of usages to meet existing circumstances; and

7. Kelalî m (כללים ), universal principles, under which a multitude of particular cases may be provided for.

According to Maimonides, there were five classes into which the traditional law is divided, viz.:

1. Pirushm (פירושים ), "interpretations" given to Moses by God, the authority of'which has never been disputed (מחלוקת בהם בשום פנים אין ).

2. Halakâ h le-Mosheh mis-Sindy (הלכה למשה מסיני ), "precepts delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai," a distinction which gained the applause of all the classical rabbins, because it belongs to the class of undisputed decisions.

3. Those which have admitted of discussion, and the value and weight of which have been mainly determined by an extensive consent among the authorities.

4. Gezarâ th (גזרות ), "decisions" which have been made by the wise men regarding some of the written laws, and which decisions are designed to insure more fully the observance of such laws (or to make a fence about the law, כדי לעשות סיג לתורה ).

5. Tekanâ th (תקנות ), "experimental suggestions," referring to things recommended or enjoined by particular masters, which though they may not possess the stringent force of laws, nevertheless exert a great influence in the formation of social and religious habits and usages.

In constructing his work, Jehudah, or Judah, arranged these manifold materials under six general classes, called Sedarzim (סדרים ), or orders. The first is called Zeraim (זרעים ), or "seeds," and treats of agricultural laws; the second, Moed (מועד ), or "festivals," or "solemnity," treats of the Sabbath and the annual festivals and holydays, the duties of their observance, and the various enactments and prohibitions thereunto pertaining; the third, Nashizm (נשים ), or "women," treats of the intercourse between the sexes, of husband and wife, the duties of a brother-in-law towards his widowed and childless sister-in-law, the right of untying the shoe (Deuteronomy 25:5), of dowry and marriage settlements, of espousals, divorces, and of all the laws to these subjects respectively appertaining; the fourth, Nezikin (נזיקין, or "injuries," treats of the laws of property (movable as well as immovable) and of commerce; the tithe, Kodashim (קדשים ), or "consecrations," treats of sacrifices and their laws; the sixth, Taharô th [or rather Tohoroth (טהרות ), or "purifications," treats of the laws of pureness, legal cleanness, and that both positively and negatively. The initial letters of these titles combined, for the sake of memory, give the technical word Zemà n nekê t (זמן נקט ), "a time accepted." The regulations thus generally classified are further arranged under a multitude of subsidiary topics, each Seder, or order, being divided into a number of tracts or treatises, called Massiktoth (מסכתות ), and these were again subdivided into Perakî m (פרקים ), chapters. The latter again are divided or broken up into paragraphs. Altogether there are 63 Massiktoth, with 525 chapters and 4187 paragraphs, in the Mishna. The whole is called Shas (ש ס ), after the initials of סדרי ששה, i.e. the six orders. Since a general analysis of the contents of the Mishna has already been given under the art. MISHNA (See MISHNA) (q.v.), we must refer the reader to it, while a more minute analysis will be given farther on.

R. Judah's Mishna, however, did not contain all Midrashim. Many others existed, which are contained in part in the Siphra on Leviticus, Siphre on Numbers and Deuteronomy, Mechilta on Exodus, (See MIDRASH), the Mishnas made by individual teachers for the use of their pupils, with the addition to the official Mishna collected by R. Chiya and his contemporaries. All the Halakoth of this sort, which were extra-Mishnaic, were called Boraithas. (ברייתות ; Heb. חיצונות ) or Tosiphtas (תוספתות ). As has been stated, R. Judah the Holy collected the great mass of traditions in the work called Mishna; but even this copious work could not satisfy, for the length of time, the zeal of the rabbins for the law, for all casuistry is endless in its details. There were a great multitude of all kinds of possibilities which were treated in the Mishna, and yet, again, each single sentence left open divers possibilities, divers doubts, and considerations not yet finished. Thus it was an inner necessity of the matter that the text of the Mishna should again become the point of learned discussion. Partly by means of logic (that is, Rabbinical), partly with the help of the traditional matter, which had not yet been included in the Mishna, all open questions were now discussed. This task was carried out by the Amoraim, or Gemarical doctors, whose very singular illustrations, opinions, and doctrines were subsequently to form the Gemaras, i.e. the Palestinian and Babylonian: a body of men charged with being the most learned and elaborate triflers that ever brought discredit upon the republic of letters

"For mystic learning, wondrous able In magic, talisman, and cabal Deep-sighted in intelligences Ideas, atoms, influences."

With unexampled assiduity did they seek after or invent obscurities and ambiguities, which continually furnished pretexts for new expositions and illustrations, the art of clouding texts in themselves clear having proved ever less difficult than that of elucidating passages the words or the sense of which might be really involved in obscurity.

"Hence comment after comment, spun as fine As bloated spiders draw the flimsy line!"

The two main schools where this casuistic treatment of the Mishnic text was exercised were that at Tiberias, in Palestine, and that at Sora (q.v.), in Babylonia, whither Abba Areka, called "Rab" (q.v.), a pupil of R. Judah, had brought the Mishna. In these and other schools (as Nahardea, Sipporis, Pumbaditha [q.v.], and Jabne or Jamnia), the thread of casuistry was twisted over and over again, and the matter-of traditions of the law thus took greater and greater dimensions. Abandoning the Scripture' text, to illustrate and to explain which the doctors and wise men of the schools had hitherto labored, successive generations of Genzarici now devoted& their whole attention to the exposition of the text of the Mishna; and the industry and cavillation were such that expositions, illustrations, and commentaries multiplied with amazing rapidity and to so portentous a degree that they eventually swelled into a monstrous chaotic mass, which was dignified by the name of Gemara, גְמָרָא (supplement or complement), and this, together with the Mishna, was called "Talmud." Notwithstanding the uncertain paternity of this incongruous body of opinions, there were not wanting those who gave a preference to the Gemara over the Mishna, and even over the "written law." It was said by some that the ‘‘ written law" was like water, the Mishna like wine, and the Gemara like hippocras, or spiced wine. The "words of the scribes," said those supporters of the Gemara, are lovely above the "words of the law," for the words of the law" are weighty and light, but the "words of the scribes" are all weighty.

It was by R. Jochanan, rector of the Academy of Tiberias, that the minor chaos of comments and facetiae began to be collected; and these, being added to the Mishna, were termed the Palestinian Talmud, or Talmud Jeushali, i.e. Jerusalem Talmud. This Talmud, which was completed at Tiberias about A.D. 350, only contains four orders, viz., Zeraim, Mô ed, Nashuim, and Nezikin, together with the treatise Niddah and some other fragmentary portions. From the schools of Babylonia, also, a similar collection was in after-times made; but, as, upon the desolation of Palestine, the study of the law was chiefly prosecuted in Babylon, the college there were far more numerous, and far more ingenious and prolific were the imaginations of the Babylonian professors. To collect and methodize all the disputations, interpretations, elucidations, commentaries, and conceits of the Babylonian Gemarici was consequently a labor neither of one man nor of a single age. The first attempt was made (A.D. 367) by R. Ashi, elected at the age of fourteen to be rector of the school of Soras (q.v.), a teacher described as eminently pious and learned. R. Ashe labored during sixty years upon the rank, unwieldy work, and, after arranging thirty-five books, died in 427, leaving the completion to his successors. For 100 years longer did rabbi after rabbi, with undiminished zeal, successively continue this un-profitable application, until at length, after the lapse of 123 years (about A.D. 550), rabbi Abina, the sixth in succession to Ashb, gave the finishing stroke to this second Talmud. Denominated, from the name of the province in which it was first compiled, the Babylonian Talmud, this second Talmud is as unmanageable to the student on account of its style and composition as on account of its prodigious bulk. Composed in a dialect neither Chaldaic nor Hebrew, but a barbarous commixture of both of these and of other dialects, jumbled together in defiance of all the rules of composition or of grammar, it affords a second specimen of a Babylonian confusion of languages.

"It was a parti-colored dress

Of patched and piebald languages,

Which made some think, when it did gabble,

They'd heard three laborers of Babel,

Or Cerberus himself pronounce

A leash of languages at once."

Abounding, moreover, in fantastic trifles and Rabbinical reveries, it must appear almost incredible that any sane man could exhibit such acumen and such ardor in the invention of those unintelligible comments, in those nice scrupulosities, and those ludicrous chimeras which, the rabbins have solemnly published to the world, and of which we will speak further on.

II. Form and Style. In general, the Gemara takes the shape of scholastic discussions, more or less prolonged, on the consecutive portions of the Mishna. On a cursory view, it is true, these discussions have the air of a desultory and confused wrangle; but, when studied more carefully, they resolve themselves into a system governed by a methodology of its own. "Non vero sterilis in Mishnicam commentarius Gemara est; quae illius tantuim modo verba explicet. Sed prolixas in ear instituit disputationes, queestiones proponendas et ad eas respondendo dubia movendo, eaque solvendo, excipiendo et replicando" (Wahner, Antiq. Hebr. 1, 339).

The language of the Talmud is partly Hebrew and partly Aramaic. The best Hebrew of the work is in the text of the Mishna, that in the Gemara being largely debased with exotic words of various tongues, such as Latin, Greek, Arabic, Coptic, and Persian (comp. A. Brull, Fremdsprachliche Redensarten in den Talmuden und Midrashim [Leips. 1869]), barbarous spelling, and uncouth grammatical, or rather ungrammatical, forms. The same remark will apply to the Aramaic portions, which, in general, are those containing popular narrative, or legendary illustration, while the law principles and the discussions relating to them are embodied in Hebrew. Many forms of the Talmudic dialect are so peculiar as to tender a grammar adapted to the work itself greatly to be desired. Ordinary Hebrew grammar will not take a man through a page of it. (See RABBINICAL DIALECT).

In style the Mishna is remarkable for its extreme conciseness, and the Gemara is written upon the same model, though not so frequently obscure. The prevailing principle of the composition seems to have been the employment of the fewest words, thus rendering the work a constant brachylogy. A phrase becomes a focus of many thoughts, a solitary word an anagram, a cipher for a whole subject of reflection. To employ an appropriate expression of Delitzsch," What Jean Paul says of the style of Haman applies exactly to that of the Talmud: "It is a firmament of telescopic stars, containing many a cluster of light which no unaided eye has ever resolved" (Zur Geschichte der jü dischen Poesie [Leips. 1836], p. 31). But without regard to grammatical and linguistic difficulties and numberless abbreviations which crowd the pages of the Talmud, there are a number of so-called termini technici, which were current only in the Rabbinical schools, but have been incorporated in the Gemara, like joints and ligaments in its organization, so as to make the knowledge of them indispensable to the student. Such termini were

1. The explication, or פירוש, which is introduced by the formulae מאי כ,ִ "What is this?" מאי קאמר, "What does he say?" במאי איקמינן, "How is this to bte understood?" במאי עסקינן, "What is the matter here?" מאן דכר שמה, "Who could think of such a thing?" היכי דמי, "How have we to interpret this?"

2. The question, or שאלה . If a question is offered by one school to another, it is introduced by the formula איבעיא להו, "They propose to them;" if from several persons to one, the formula is בעו מיניה, "They ask of him;" or if the demand is made of one person to another, it is בעא מיניה, "I ask of him."

3. The response, or תשובה, which may Consist either in strong reasons ( פשטא or תירווֹ ) or in strong objections ( פירכא or קושיא ), is introduced by the formula מנא לן, "Whence have you this?" or מאי הוי עלה, "You wish to know the decision in this case."

4. Tosiphta, or תוספתא, an appendix to the Mishna. We have seen that R. Chiya, or, as some have it, R. Nehemya under his direction, composed a work of this descripttt6n in Palestine, the substance of which is diffused in citations throughout the Talmud. They are indicated by the sign-word Tana, תאנא, "He teaches," or Vetanialey, ותני עלי, "It is taught.hereupon," prefixed to the sentence.

5. Boraztha, or ברייתא, another kind of supplement to the Mishna. Such are the books Siphra, Siphre, and Mechiltha, mentioned above. When a citation is adduced from a Boraitha in the Talmud, it is introduced by one of these forms: Tanu rabbandn, תנו רבנן, "Our rabbins have taught;" Tani chada, תני חדא, "A certain (rabbi) has taught," etc.

6. The suspense, or תיקו, is used when a case cannot be decided either pro or con, and thus this formula is used, which according to some contains the initials of יתרוֹ קושיות ואיבעיות תשבי, i.e. "the Tishbite (viz., Elijah, at his coming) will explain all objections and inquiries." Others, however, pretend that it is an abbreviation of תיקנם, "It remains in state quo."

7. The objection, or קושיא, a question not of a fixed Halakah, which is irrefragable, but of some position of the Amoraim or perhaps Tanaim, which is lawfully debatable, and is introduced by the formulae תא שמע, "Come and hear;" שמע מינה, "Hear of this;" אי הכי, "If so;" אלמא, "Therefore;" מחלוקת בזה, "There is a controversy in this case;" במאי קא מיפלגי, "What is the ground of the controversy?" סלקא דעת,ִ "Thon couldst suppose."

8. The refutation, or תיובתא, is used in order to uphold the authority of the Bible (מן הפסוק ) against a Tanaite, and to oppose the authority of a Tanaite against that of one of the Amolraim, and is introduced by the formula תיובתא, תיובתא, "This objection is truly of great weight."

9. The contradiction, or רמיה, an objection thrown against a sentiment or opinion by the allegation of a contrary authority, and is introduced by the formula ורמינהי, "But I oppose this."

10. The argumentation, or התקפתא, "an assailing or seizing upon," is a kind of objection in use only among the later Amoraim, and is introduced by ר פלוני מתקי לה, "Rabbi N. objects to this." If this objection is not refuted, it takes the value of Halakah.

11. The solution, or פירוק, is the explanatory answer to the objection (see supra 7).

12. The infirmation, or שנוי, "disowning or shifting off," when a sage, sorely pressed in debate, shifts off his thesis upon another, introducing this by the formula מני הא, "But whose is this sentence."

13. The appui, or סיוע, "support," is a corroborative evidence for a doctrine or principle, introduced by the formula לימא מסייע ליה, "It can be said," "There is support for it."

14. The necessity, or הצרכה, This term is used in order to justify a sentence or a word, or even a single letter, which seems superfluous in the Bible or in the Mishna, and is introduced by the formula הא זו למה לי, "What is this for?" To which is answered, צריכא, "It is absolutely necessary."

15. The accord, or שוטה, "series," a catena or line of Talmudic teachers, cited against a given proposition.

16. Sugia, סוגיא, means the proper nature of a thing. By this word the Gemara refers to itself with regard to its own properties and characteristics.

17. Hilkatha, הלכתא, is the ultimate conclusion on a matter debated, henceforth constituting a rule of conduct. Much of the Gemara consists of discussions by which they are verified, confirmed, and designated. When the advocates of two opposing theses have brought the debate to an issue, they say, "The Halacta is with such a one" הלכתא כן וכן .

18. Maasah, or מעשה, factum, the establishment of a Halacta by cases of actual experience or practice.

19. Shematetha, שמעתתא, "to hear," describes a judgment or principle which, being founded on Holy Writ, or being of self-evident authority, must be hearkened to as incontestable.

20. Horaah, הוראה, "demonstration," doctrine, legitimate and authoritative.

21. Hagadah, הגדה, "a saying," incident related, anecdote or legend employed in the way of elucidation. Hagadah is not law, but it serves to illustrate law.

III. Literary and Moral Character of the Book. Since the Gemara is in general only a more complete development of the Mishna, it also comprises all the primary elements of the Mishna mentioned above, which are, however, intermixed with an endless variety of Hagadoth, i.e. anecdotes and illustrations, historical and legendary, poetical allegories, charming parables, with epithalamiums, etc., and thus making the Talmud contain all and everything, or as Buxtorf (in Praefat. Lex. Chald. et Talmud.) says:

"Sunt enim in Talmud adhuc multa quoque Theologica sana, quamvis plulrimis inutilibus corticibus, ut Majemon, licubi loquitur, involuta. Sunt inu eo) multa fida antiquiatis Judaicee collapsse veluti rudela et-vestigia, ad convincendam posterorum Judseorum perfidiam, ad illustraudam utriusque Testamenti historiam, ad recte explicandos ritsus, leges, consuetudines populi Hebraei prisci, plurimum conducentia. Sunt in eo multa Juridica, Medica, Physica, Ethica, Politica, Astronomica et aliarum scientiarum praeclara documenta, quae istius gentis et temporis historiam mirifice commendantlt. Sullti eoa illustria ex antiquitate proverbia, insignes sententise, acuta apophthegmata, scite prudenterque dicta innumera, quse lectorem vel meliorem, vel sapientiorem, vel doctiorem reddere possutlt, et ceu rutilantes gemmse non minus Hebrseam linguam exornant, quam Latii et Grseciea flosculi suas linguas condecorant. Sunt in eo multae vocum myriades, quae vel voces in Scripturse Sacrae usu raras illustrant, et native explicant,vel totins linguae Hebraicse et Chaldaese usum insigniter complent et perficiuut, qui alioqui in defectn maximno mutilus et mancls jaceret."

In order to illustrate this, we will give a few specimens of such Hagadoth for the benefit of the reader:

God is represented as praying. R. Jochaana says, in the name of R. Josi, How is it proved that the Holy One, blessed be he, does pray? From Isaiah 56:7, "I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer." Mark, it is not said, their prayer, but my prayer; therefore it is conclusively proved that he prays. And what does he pray? R. Zutra, the son of Tobia, said, in the name of Rav, the following is the divine prayer: "May it please me that my mercies shall prevail over mine anger, that the bowels of my compassion may be extended, that I may mercifully deal with my children and keep justice in abeyance." In corroboration of this, the following story is given. It is told by R. Ismael, the son of Elisha. Once I went into the Holy of Holies for the purpose of burning incense, and I saw Acathriel Jah, the Lord, sitting upon the high and exalted throne. And he said to me, Ismael, my son, bless me! and I addressed to him the above prayer, and he shook his head (Berakoth, p. 7, Colossians 1).

But if God prays, then he must, also put on phylacteries. Even upon this point the rabbins do not leave us in ignorance. Where is it proved that God puts on phylacteries? In Isaiah 62:8, where we read, "The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength." By the term right hand is meant the law, as it is written, "From his right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deuteronomy 33:2); and by the term arm of his strength is meant phylacteries, as it is written, "The Lord will give strength to his people," etc. (Berakoth, p. 6, Colossians 1). Moreover, God has actually shown his phylacteries to Moses. It is written, "And I will take away mine hands, and thou shalt see my back parts" (Exodus 33:23). R. Chana, the son of Bisna, says, in the name of R. Shimeon Chasida, "From this passage we learn' that the Holy One, blessed be he, has shown to Moses the tie of the phylacteries, which lies on the back part of his head" (Berakoth, p. 7, Colossians 1). If God prays, then, in the language of the rabbins, he is conscious of some personal feeling. They are not silent on this point. For example, the school of Ishmael have taught that peace is a very important matter, and that for its sake even God prevaricated. For it is written in Genesis 18 :first that Sarah said, "My Lord is old;" but afterwards it is written she said, "And I am old" (Yebamoth, p. 65, Colossians 2; see as 7 Baba Metsia, p. 87, Colossians 1).

God is represented as needing a sacrifice to atone for himself. R. Shimeon, the son of Pazi, asked, It is written, "And God made two great lights;" and again, the greater light and the lesser light; how does this agree? Ans. The moon said to the Holy One, blessed be he-Lord of the universe, is it possible for two kings to use one crown?

He said to her, Go and make thyself smaller. She said to him again, Lord of the universe, because I spoke to thee reasonably, should I make myself smaller? He said, in order to comfort her, Go and rule day and night. She said to him, What advantage will this be to me? Of what use is a candle in the middle of the day? He replied, Go and let Israel number the days of the year by thee. She said, It is impossible even for the sun that the calendar should be reckoned after him only, for it is written, "Let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years?" He said to her, Go, and the righteous will be called by thy name; such as Jacob the little, Samuel the little, David the little, etc. But when God saw that the moon was not quite comforted with these promises, he said, Bring ye a sacrifice to atone for me, because I lessened the size of the moon. And this corresponds with the saying of R. Shimeou, the son of Lakish: Why is the monthly sacrifice distinguished from others, inasmuch as it is written concerning it, "And one kid of the goats for a sin-offering unto the Lord?" (Numbers 28:15). Because God said, This kid shall be an atonement for that I have lessened the size of the moon (Chulin, p. 60, Colossians 2). Raba barbar Chana, in telling a long story, says, "I heard a Bath-kol crying, Woe to me that I have sworn! And now since I have sworn, who will absolve me from my oath? (Baba Bathra, p. 74, Colossians 1).

Occupation of God. On one occasion Abyathon found Elijah, and asked him. What does the Holy One, blessed be he, do? He answered, He is studying the case of the concubine of Gibea. [We do not give this excerpt in full.] And what is his opinion, about it? He says that Abyathon, my Son, is right; and Jonathan, my son, is also right. Is there, their, a doubt in heaven about it? No, not in-the least, rejoined Elijah; but both opinions are the words of the living God (Gö tting p. 6, Colossians 2).

Rabba, the son of Shila, met Elijah, and asked him, "What does; the Holy One, blessed be he, do?" Elijah replied, "He recites the lessons he hears from the lips of all the rabbins, with the exception of rabbi Meir. But why does he not want to learn from rabbi Meir?" Elijah answered, "Because rabbi Meir learned from one with the name of Acher." Rabba said, "But rabbi Meir found a pomegranate, and has eaten the inside, but thrown away the husks of it, i.e. he only learned from Acher, but did not practice his deeds." Elijah answered, "Now God says, Meir, my son" (Chagigah, p. 15, Colossians 2).

R. Abhu says, If there had not been a passage of Scripture for it, it would be impossible to make such a statement; but it is written, "In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond. the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard" (Isaiah 7:20).God appeared to Sennacherib in the form of an old man. Sennacherib said to him, If thou shouldst go to the kings of the east and the west, whose children I have taken away and killed, what wouldst thou say to them? He answered, I would say to them that this man, i.e. Sennacherib, sits also in fear. Sennacherib said, What then shall I do? God said, Go and disguise thyself, that they should not recognize thee. How shall I disguise myself? God said, Go and bring me a razor, and I will shave thee. Sennacherib replied, From where shall I bring thee a razor?' God said, Go to that house, and bring it me. He went there and found one. Then angels came, and appeared to, him in the form of men; and were grinding olive-seeds. He said to them, Give me a razor. They replied, Crush one measure of olive-seeds, and we will give the razor. He did so and they gave it to him. Before he returned to God it became dark. God said to him, Bring a light. And he brought coals of fire to make a light and while he was blowing them, the, flame took hold of his beard; and thus God shaved his head and beard (Sanhedrin, p. 96, Colossians 1).

The schools of Hillel and of Shammai were disputing for three years about a certain point in the law; each side maintained that it was infallibly right. At last a Bath-kol came down from heaven and said, The opinions of both are the words of the living God, but the law is as the school of Hillel (Erubin, p. 13, Colossians 2). R. Joshua, the son of Levi, says, When Moses came down from the presence of God, Satan appeared before him and said, Lord of the universe, where is the law? God replied, I have given it to the earth. He went to the earth and asked, Where is the law? The earth answered, God understandeth the way thereof (Job 28:23). He went to the sea and asked, Where is the law? The sea, said, It is not in me. He went to the depth, and asked the same question. The depth said, It is not in me; Destruction and death said, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears (ibid.). So he returned to God and said, Lord of the universe, I have searched for it all over the earth, and have not found it. God said to him, Go to the son of Amram. He came to Moses, and said to him, The law which God gave thee, where is it? Moses replied to Satan, Who am I, that God should give me a law! Thereupon of God said to Moses, Art thou a liar? Moses answered, "Lord of the universe, thou hast a precious treasure, which is thy daily delight, and should I claim it for my own advantage? God said to him, Because thou didst think little of thyself, the law shall be called after thy name. As it is written, "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant"(Malachi 4:4). Rabbi Joshua continues to narrate: When Moses went up to heaven, he found God occupied in twisting wreaths for the letters- (of the law). And he called, Moses! is there no peace in thy city? i.e. that thou didst not salute me with a salaam? Moses answered, Is it customary that a servant should salute his master? God said, Thou oughtest to have helped me; i.e. thou shouldst have wished me success in my work. Immediately Moses said to him, "And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord is great, according as thou hast spoken" (Numbers 14:17) (Sabbath, p. 89, Colossians 1).

These are only a few of the many examples which crowd the pages of the Talmud. That these stories are extravagant, and often, when taken literally, absurd, no one can deny. But they must be merely regarded as to their meaning and intention. Much has been said against the Talmud on account of the preposterous character of some of these legends. But we should give the Hebrew literati the benefit of their own explanations. They tell us that in the Talmud the Hagadah has no absolute authority, nor any value except in the way of elucidation. It often-but not always-enwraps a philosophic meaning under the veil of allegory, mythic folk-lore, ethical story, Oriental romance, parable, and aphorism and fable. They deny that the authors of these fancy pieces intended either to add to the law of God or to detract from it by them, but only to explain and enforce it in terms best suited to the popular capacity. They caution us against receiving these things according to the letter, and admonish us to understand them-according to their spiritual or moral import. "Beware," says Maimonides, "that you take not the words of the wise men literally, for this would be degrading to the sacred doctrine, and sometimes contradict it. Seek rather the hidden sense; and if you cannot find the kernel, let the shell alone, and confess, I cannot understand this.'" But the impartial reader must at once admit that these suggestions are merely the after-thoughts of tender apologists, for some of these stories have no hidden sense at all, but must be taken literally, because meant so, as the following will prove.

In the treatise Gittin, fol. 69, Colossians 1, we read the following prescription: "For the bleeding at the nose, let a man be brought who is a priest, and whose name is Levi, and let him write the word Levi backwards. If this cannot be done, get a layman, and let him write the following words backwards: Ana pipi Shila bar Sumki;' or let him write these words: Taam dli bemi keseph, taam li bemi paggan.' Or let him take a root of grass, and the cord of an old bed, and paper and saffron and the red part of the inside of a palm-tree, and let him burn them together; and let him take some wool and twist two threads, and let him dip them in vinegar, and then roll them in the ashes and put them into his nose. Or let him look out for a small stream of: water that flows from east to west, and let him go and stand with one leg on each side of it, and let him take with his right hand some mud from under his left foot, and with his left hand from under his right foot, and let him twist two threads of wool, and dip them in the mud, and put them into his nostrils. Or let him be placed under a spout, and let water be brought and poured upon him, and let them say, As this water ceases to flow, so let the blood of M., the son of the woman N., also cease." A commentary on this wisdom or folly is superfluous. That this direction to stop a bleeding at the nose is not a rare case in the Talmud, the following mode of treatment for the scratch, or bite of a mad dog will prove. In the treatise Yoma, fol. 83, Colossians 1, we read: "The rabbins have handed down the tradition that there are five things to be observed of a mad dog; his mouth is open, his saliva flows, his ears hang down, his tail is between his legs, and he goes by the sides of the ways. Some say, also, that he barks, but his voice is not heard. What is the cause of his madness? Ray says it proceeds from this, that the witches are making their sport with him. Samuel says it is an evil spirit that rests upon him. What is the difference? The difference is this, that in the latter case he is to be killed by some missile weapon. The tradition agrees with Samuel, for it says in killing him no other mode is to be used but the casting of some missile weapon. If a mad dog scratch any one, he is in danger; but if he bite him he will die. In case of scratch there is danger; what, then, is the remedy? Let the man cast off his clothes and run away. Rab Huna, the son of Rab Joshua, was once scratched in the street by one of them; he immediately cast off his clothes and ran away. He also says, I fulfilled in myself these words: Wisdom -gives life to them that have it' (Ecclesiastes 6:12). In case of a bite the man will die; what, then, is the remedy? Abai says he must take the skin of a male adder and write upon it these words I, M., the son of the woman N., upon the skin of a male adder, I write against thee, Kanti, Kanti, Klirus.

Some say, Kandi, Kandi, Klurus, Jah, Jah, Lord of hosts, Amen, Amen, Selah.' Let him also cast off his clothes and bury them in the graveyard for twelve months of the year; then let him take them up and burn them in an oven, and let him scatter the ashes at the parting of the roads. But during these twelve months of the year, when he drinks water, let him drink out of nothing but a brass tube, lest he should see the phantom-form of the daemon and be endangered. This was tried by Abba the son of Martha, who is the same as Abba the son of Manjumi. His mother made a golden tube for him."

In the face of such extravagancies, we are not surprised at the following statement made by a modern Jewish writer, H. Hurwitz, in an essay preceding his Hebrew Tales (Lond. 1826), p. 34 sq.

"The Talmud contains many things which every enlightened Jew must sincerely wish had either never appeared there, or should, at least, long ago have been expunged from its pages... Some of these sayings are objectionable per se; others are, indeed, susceptible of explanations, but without them are calculated to produce false and erroneous impressions. Of the former description are all those extravagancies relating to the extent of Paradise, the dimensions of Gehinnom, the size of Leviathan, and the shor habor, the freaks of Ashmbdai, etc., idle tales borrowed most probably from the Parthians and Arabians, to whom the Jews were subject before the promulgation of the Talmud. How these objectionable passages came at all to be inserted, can only be accounted for from the great reverence with which the Israelites of those days used to regard their wise men, and which made them look upon every word and expression that dropped from the mouth of their instructors as so many precious sayings well worthy of being preserved. These they wrote down for their own private information, together with more important matters, and when, in aftertimes, these writings were collected in order to be embodied in one entire work, the collectors, either from want of proper discrimination or from some pious motive, suffered them to remain, and thus they were handed down to posterity. That the wiser portion of the nation never approved of them is well known. Nay, that some of the Talmudists themselves regard them with no favorable eye is plain from the bitter terms in which they spoke against them [for example, Jehoshua ben Levi, who exclaims: "He who writes them down will have no portion in the world to come; he who explains them will be scorched"]... I admit, also, that there are many and various contradictions in the Talmud, and, indeed, it would be a miracle if there were none. For the work contains not the opinions of only a few individuals living in the same society, under precisely similar circumstances, but of hundreds, nay, thousands, of learned men of various talents, living in a long series of ages, in different countries, and under the most diversified conditions... To believe that its multifarious contents are all dictates of unerring wisdom is as extravagant as to suppose that all it contains is founded in error. Like all other productions of unaided humanity, it is not free from mistakes and prejudices, to remind us that the writers were fallible men, and that unqualified admiration must, be reserved for the works of divine inspiration, which we ought to study, the better to adore and obey the all-perfect Author. But while I should be among the first to protest against any confusion of the Talmudic rills with the ever-flowing stream of Holy Writ, I do not hesitate to avow my doubts whether there exists any uninspired work of equal antiquity that contains more interesting, more various and valuable information than that of the still-existing remains of the ancient Hebrew sages."

But while we admire the candor of this Jewish writer, we must confess that not all of his coreligionists act on the same principle, as the sequel will prove. An article in the Quarterly Review for October, 1867, with the heading "What is the Talmud?" has taken the world by surprise. Such a panegyric the Talmud most likely never had. Written so learnedly, and in a style so attractive, about a subject utterly unknown to the world at large, the stir it has created is not to be wondered at, and the more: so because this article contained sentences which could not have emanated from a Jew. But the writer was a Jew, Mr. E. Deutsch (since deceased), and what Isaac said to Jacob, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau," must be applied to the author of "What is the Talmud?" We cannot pass over this article by merely alluding to it; it deserves our full attention, on account of the mischief it has already wrought, and must work, in the minds of those who are not able to correct the erroneous statements contained in it.

The writer accuses (p. 4 of the American reprint, contained in the Literary Remains [N. Y. 1874]) the investigators of the Talmud of mistaking the grimy stone caricatures over our cathedrals for the gleaming statues of the saints within. But, entering into the cathedrals of the Talmud and beholding these saints, we hear, in the treatise Aboda Sara, fol. 17, Colossians 1, of rabbi Elieser, שלא הניח זונה אחת בעולם שלא בא עליה (we dare not translate this sentence into English, but we give it in Latin: "Non erat meretrix in terra quacum non fornicatus esset"). When rabbi Nachman (we read Tr. Yona, fol. 12, Colossians 2) went to Shanuzib, he proclaimed רב כי מקלע לתרשיש מכריז מאן הויא ליומא (this also we dare not translate into English, but we give it in Latin: "Rab quum Tarsum intraret proclamabat quam vellet luxorem in diem"). Of rabbi Abuha we read (Tr. Berakoth, fol. 44, cl. 1) that he was such a strong eater that a fly could not rest upon his forehead; and (ibid.) of rabbi Ami and rabbi Assi that they ate so much that the hair fell from their heads; and of rabbi Simeon, the son of Lakesh, that he ate so much that he lost his senses. In Tr. Baba Metsia, fol. 84, Colossians 1, we read that rabbi Ismael, the son of rabbi Jose, and rabbi Eleazar, the son of rabbi Simeon, were so corpulent that when they stood face to face a pair of oxen could pass under them without touching them. Of the honesty of rabbi Samuel and rabbi Cahauna we read a nice story in Tr. Baba Kamma, fol. 113, Colossians 2, which we had better pass over, for enough has been said of some of the Talmudical saints.

The writer in the Quarterly is astonished at the fact that the Talmud has so often been burned. But it is an old saying, "Habent sua fata libelli." The followers of the Arabian prophet burned the great library at Alexandria, and they still do the same with every book which they believe is written against their religion. The Jews have burned and excommunicated the books of their own great Maimonides (q.v.), and considered him a heretic. They have burned, and still burn, the Hebrew Old Test. because of the Latin headings and crosses, to say nothing of the New Test. The Roman Catholics burn the Protestant Bible. Why should the Talmud have escaped? Besides, ignorance and fanaticism, in all ages and countries, have burned the books which they supposed were against their system. This was especially the case with the Talmud, A.D. 1240, when a conference was held in Paris between Nicolaus Donin and some Jewish rabbins concerning certain blasphemies contained in the Talmud and written against Jesus and Mary. R. Jechiel, the most prominent of the Jewish rabbins at that conference, would not admit that the Jesus spoken of in the Talmud was Jesus of Nazareth, but another Jesus, a discovery which was copied by later writers. But modern Jews acknowledge the failure of this argument, for, says Dr. Levin, in his prize-essay Die Religions disputation des R. Jechiel von Paris, etc., published in Gratz's Monatsschrift (1869), p. 193, "We must regard the attempt of R. Jechiel to ascertain that there were two by the name of Jesus as unfortunate, original as the idea may be." The result of this conference was that the Talmud in wagon-loads was burned at Paris in 1242. This was the first attack.

When, however, the writer in the Quarterly states that Justinian in A.D. 553 already honored the Talmud by a special interdictory novella (146 Περὶ ῾Εβραίων ), we must regard such a statement as erroneous and superficial, for, as Dr. Gratz, in his Gesch. der Juden, 5, 392, shows, this novella has no reference to the Talmud at all (comp. also vol. 7 [1873],p. 441 sq.). In our days, such accusations against the Talmud as that preferred by Donin were impossible, because all these offensive passages have been removed not so much by the hands of the censor, as by the Jews themselves, as the following document or circular letter, addressed by a council of elders, convened in Poland in the Jewish year 5391 (i.e. A.D. 1631), to their coreligionists, which at the same time contains the clue why in later editions of the Talmud certain passages are wanting, will show. The circular runs thus in the translation of Ch. Leslie (in A Short and Easy Method with the Jews3 p. 2 sq. [Lond. 1812], where the original Hebrew is also found): "Great peace to our beloved brethren of the house of Israel. "Having received information that many Christians have applied themselves with great care to acquire the knowledge of the language in which our books are written, we therefore enjoin you, under the penalty of the great ban (to be inflicted upon such of you as shall transgress this our statute), that you do not, in any new edition either of the Mishna or Gemara, publish anything relative to Jesus of Nazareth; and you take special care not to write anything concerning him, either good or bad, so that neither ourselves nor our religion may be exposed to any injury. For we know what those men of Belial, the Munirim, have done to us, when they became Christians and how their representations against ns have obtained credit. Therefore, let this make you cautious. If you should not pay strict attention to this our letter, but act contrary thereto, and continue to

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Talmud'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, April 6th, 2020
Monday of Holy Week
There are 6 days til Easter!
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology