The Talmud (התלמוד) is considered an authoritative record of rabbinic discussions on Jewish law, Jewish ethics, customs, legends and stories. It is a fundamental source of legislation, customs, case histories and moral exhortations. The Talmud comprises two components, the Mishnah and the Gemara. It expands on the earlier writings in the Torah in general and in the Mishnah in particular, and is the basis for all later codes of Jewish law, and much of Rabbinic literature. The Talmud is also traditionally referred to as Shas (an abbreviation of shishah sedarim, the "six orders" of the Mishnah).
Structure and Function
Rabbinical Judaism has always held that the books of the Tanakh were transmitted in parallel with a living, oral tradition. (The Torah "lists the rules" while the oral law deals with application.) The Talmud, ultimately, constitutes the authoritative redaction of Judaism's oral tradition.
Mishna and Gemara
The Jewish Oral law was recorded by Rabbi Judah haNasi and redacted as the Mishnah in 200 CE. The oral traditions were committed to writing to preserve them, as it became apparent that the Palestine community, and its learning, was threatened. The rabbis of the Mishnah are known as Tannaim (sing. Tanna); teachings in the Mishnah are generally reported in the name of a Tanna.
Over the next three centuries the Mishna underwent analysis and debate in Israel and Babylon (the world's major Jewish communities). This analysis is known as Gemara. The rabbis of the Gemara are referred to as Amoraim (sing. Amora). See Gemara for further discussion.
The Mishnah and the Gemara together comprise the Talmud. The Talmud is thus the combination of a core text, the Mishnah, or “redaction” (from the verb shanah שנה, to repeat, revise) and subsequent analysis and commentary, the gemara, or “completion” (from gamar גמר, to complete). It is also in two languages, with the Mishna sections and Bibilical references in Hebrew, and the Gemara sections in Aramaic.
Although the debates between the Amoraim focus on clarifying the words and views of the Tannaim, the Gemara is not strictly limited to an analysis of the Mishnah's text. It also brings in sources from the Mishnaic era, which were not included in the Mishnah compendium, which are called Tosefta (additions); the Talmud refers to these as beraitot, (the word for “outside”). The gemara also supplements the Mishna with haggadic (or aggadic) materials and biblical expositions, and is a source for history and legend. See Ein Yaakov.
The Talmud thus constitutes the authoritative redaction of Judaism's oral tradition. It is the major influence on Jewish belief and thought. Furthermore, although not a formal legal code, it is the basis for all later codes of Jewish law, and thus continues to exert a major influence on Halakha and Jewish religious practice; see the article on Rabbinic literature and the introduction of Maimonides to his Mishneh Torah  (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/e0000.htm).
Orders and Tractates
The Mishna consists of six orders (sedarim). Each of the six orders contains between 7 and 12 tractates, called masechtot. Each masechet is divided into smaller units called mishnayot (mishna - singular). In the Talmud, not every tractate in the Mishnah has Gemara, furthermore, the order of the tractates in the Talmud is in some cases different to the Mishnah; see the discussion on each Seder.
The two Talmuds
There is only one Mishnah but there are two distinct gemaras: the Yerushalmi and the Bavli, and two corresponding Talmuds. (Today the word "Talmud", when used without qualification, refers to the Babylonian Talmud.)
Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud)
The Gemara here is a synopsis of almost 200 years of analysis of the Mishna in the Academies in Israel. Due to the location of the Academies, the agricultural laws of the Land of Israel are discussed in great detail. It was redacted in the year 350 C.E. by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi in Israel. Together, this Gemara and the Mishnah are known as Talmud Yerushalmi (The Jerusalem Talmud; however, the name is a misnomer, as it was not writtem in Jerusalem. As such it is also known more accurately as the Palestinian Talmud or The Talmud of the Land of Israel.
References to the Yerushalmi are usually not by page (as in the Babylonian Talmud) but by the Mishna which is under discussion. References are therefore in the format of [Tractate chapter:Mishna] (e.g. Berachot 1:2). As the Babylonian Talmud is considered more influential, references to the Yerushalmi are generally prefaced by "Yerushalmi" to clarify their origin.
The classical commentaries on the Yerushalmi are the P'nei Moshe and the Korban ha-Eidah, which are printed alongside the Talmudic text in most versions of the Yerushalmi.
Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud)
The Gemara here is a synopsis of more than 300 years of analysis of the Mishna in the Babylonian Academies. It was redacted as a formal collection by Ashi and Ravina, two leaders of the Babylonian Jewish community, around the year 550 CE. Editorial work by the Savoraim or Rabbeinu Sevorai (post-Talmudic rabbis), continued on this text for the next 250 years; much of the text did not reach its final form until around 700 CE. (See eras within Jewish law.) The Mishnah and Babylonian Gemara together form the Talmud Bavli (the "Babylonian Talmud").
In modern editions, the Gemara is never printed by itself, but always together with the Mishnah. The "canonical edition" is the Vilna edition, typeset by the widow and Brothers Romm. Because this "Vilna Shas" is used to the exclusion of all other printings, the typesetting, pagination, etc., are today frequently thought of as integral to the gemara. The Babylonian Talmud comprises the full Mishna, the 37 gemaras, and the extra-canonical minor tractates, in 5,894 folios.
A page number in the Talmud refers to a double-sided page, known as a daf; each daf has two amudim labelled א and ב, sides A and B. The referencing by daf is relatively recent and dates from the early Talmud printings of the 17th century. Earlier rabbinic literature generally only refers to the tractate or chapters within a tractate. Nowadays, reference is made in format [Tractate daf a/b] (e.g. Berachot 23b).
The primary commentary on the Babylonian Talmud is that of Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, 1040-1105). The commentary is comprehensive, covering almost the entire Talmud. It provides a full explanation of the words, and of the logical structure of each Talmudic passage. The commentary known as Tosafot ("additions" or "supplements") is also regarded as basic to a full understanding of the daf. It comprises collected commentaries on the Talmud, compiled mainly by French and German Rabbis (amongst them Rashi’s grandsons). It carries on the Talmud's own methods of dialectical argument and debate. Some have seen the Tosafot as an addition to the Talmud itself (“the Talmud on the Talmud”); it also functions as a supplement to Rashi's basic commentary. Both commentaries appear in virtually every edition of the Talmud since it was first printed.
Comparison of style and subject matter
The Talmud Yerushalami is fragmentary and difficult to read, even for experienced Talmudists. However, the Yerushalmi covers a number of topics specific to the land of Israel which are not covered in the Bavli, such as the agricultural laws. (The laws such as leaving the corners of one's field for the poor, leaving one's land fallow every seven years, etc. only apply within the borders of the land of Israel, and thus, the rabbis of the Bavli who had lived in the Diaspora for generations, in many cases, did not consider themselves experts in these laws.)
The redaction of the Babylonian Talmud is much more careful and precise. However, the gemara only exists for 37 out of the 63 tractates of the Mishna: most laws from the Orders Zeraim (agricultural laws limited to the land of Israel) and Toharot (ritual purity laws related to the Temple and sacrificial system) had little practical relevance and were therefore not included. (There is Babylonian gemara on Qodashim - this is probably because the study of the sacrificial regulations is generally thought of as being on par with actually performing sacrifices.) Over time, the Bavli has been studied more intensively, and thus has a plethora of commentary; further, because it is later, the Bavli is assumed to supersede the Yerushalmi, and so Jewish practice is generally determined based on the Babylonian Talmud.
Attitude to the Talmud within Judaism
The Talmud and its study spread from Babylon to Egypt, northern Africa, Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, regions destined to become abodes of the Jewish spirit; and in all these countries Jewish intellectual interest centered in the Talmud.
One great reaction against its supremacy was Karaism, which arose in the very strong-hold of the Geonim within two centuries after the completion of the Talmud. The movement thus initiated and the influence of Arabic culture were the two chief factors which aroused the dormant forces of Judaism and gave inspiration to the scientific pursuits to which the Jewish spirit owed many centuries of fruitful activity. This activity did not infringe on the authority of the Talmud; for although it combined other ideals and intellectual aims with Talmudic study, the importance of that study was in no way decried by those who devoted themselves to other fields of learning.
Within Judaism, the prime competitor to the primacy of Talmud study was the development of Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism), which in its modern form arose in the thirteenth century. During the decline of intellectual life among the Jews which began in the sixteenth century, the Talmud was regarded almost as the supreme authority by the majority of them; and in the same century eastern Europe, especially Poland, became the seat of its study. Even the Bible was relegated to a secondary place, and the Jewish schools devoted themselves almost exclusively to the Talmud; so that "study" became synonymous with "study of the Talmud."
A reaction against the supremacy of the Talmud came with the appearance of Moses Mendelssohn and the intellectual regeneration of Judaism through its contact with the gentile culture of the eighteenth century, the results of this struggle being a closer assimilation to European culture, the creation of a new science of Judaism, and the movements for religious reform. Despite the quasi-Karaite inclinations which appeared in early Reform Judaism, the majority of Jews clung to the Talmud as the primary document through which mainstream Judaism was understood.
Jews in Western Culture
Modern culture has gradually alienated most Jews from Talmud study; Talmud is now regarded by the majority of Jews as merely one of the branches of Jewish theology. On the whole Jewish learning has done full justice to the Talmud, many scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth century having made noteworthy contributions to its history and textual criticism, and having constituted it the basis of historical and archaeological researches. The study of the Talmud has even attracted the attention of non-Jewish scholars; and it has been included in the curricula of universities.
The Talmud in modern-day Judaism
See also How Halakha is viewed today
Orthodox Judaism continues to regard the Talmud as the primary document through which Judaism in general, and Halakha in particular, is to be understood. Orthodox Jews study the Talmud in depth, but rarely use Talmudic legal methodology to alter Jewish law as codified in later compendia. Orthodox Jews will also study the Talmud for its own sake; this is considered a great mitzvah, Talmud Torah (see Talmud study,Torah study). See also: Orthodox beliefs about Jewish law and tradition.
Conservative Jews also consider Halakha as binding, but do not always accept modern (post-1500) legal codes as absolutely binding; as such they use the Talmud in the same way that pre-1500 rabbis used it. This is theoretically still an option in the Orthodox community, but in practice is used very rarely. See also: The Conservative Jewish view of the Halakha.
Reform and Reconstructionist Jews usually do not teach much Talmud in their Hebrew schools, but they do teach it in their rabbinical seminaries; The world view of liberal Judaism rejects the idea of binding Jewish law, and uses the Talmud as a source of inspiration and moral instruction. See also: The Reform Jewish view of the Halakha and view of the Talmud.
The Talmud contains little serious biographical studies of the people discussed therein, and the same tractate will conflate the points of view of many different people. Yet, sketchy biographies of the Talmudic sages can often be constructed with historical detail from Talmudic sources.
Many modern historical scholars have focused on the timing and the formation of the Talmud. A vital question is whether it is comprised of sources which date from its editor's lifetime, and to what extent is it comprised of earlier, or later sources. Are Talmudic disputes distinguishable along theological or communal lines, and in what ways do different sections derive from different schools of thought within early Judaism? Can these early sources be identified, and if so, how? In response to these questions, modern scholars have adopted a number of different approaches.
Changes within the text of the Talmud
The Talmud is presented as an analysis of the Mishnah, as opposed to a later, competing, teaching. Generally, the rabbis of the Talmud will not disagree with their counterparts from earlier generations. In fact, for an Amoraic opinion to be accepted as authoritative it must be in accordance with the teachings of at least one of the Tannaim.
However, some scholars suggest that the current text of the Talmud is artificially smooth; the text, having been edited by the Savoraim (post-Talmudic rabbis), covers up many disagreements between the rabbis of the Mishnah and the rabbis of the Talmud. The present text of the Talmud thus shows little disagreement. Eli Turkel writes:
Some within Orthodoxy are comfortable with noting that when someone writes "later generations never disagree with a halacha in the Talmud", this is in effect a legal fiction. In practice, legal authorities did disagree with what was in the Talmud, and in some cases actually changed the Talmud itself. This new Talmudic text then became accepted as binding, and the Jewish community acts as if there was no change.
External Attacks on the Talmud
The history of the Talmud reflects in part the history of Judaism persisting in a world of hostility and persecution. Almost at the very time that the Babylonian savoraim put the finishing touches to the redaction of the Talmud, the emperor Justinian issued his edict against the abolition of the Greek translation of the Bible in the service of the Synagogue. This edict, dictated by Christian zeal and anti-Jewish feeling, was the prelude to attacks on the Talmud, conceived in the same spirit, and beginning in the thirteenth century in France, where Talmudic study was then flourishing.
The charge against the Talmud brought by the convert Nicholas Donin led to the first public disputation between Jews and Christians and to the first burning of copies of the work (Paris, 1244). The Talmud was likewise the subject of a disputation at Barcelona in 1263 between Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman) and Pablo Christiani. This same Pablo Christiani made an attack on the Talmud which resulted in a papal bull against it and in the first censorship, which was undertaken at Barcelona by a commission of Dominicans, who ordered the cancellation of passages reprehensible from a Christian point of view (1264).
At the disputation of Tortosa in 1413, Geronimo de Santa Fé brought forward a number of accusations, including the fateful assertion that the condemnations of pagans and apostates found in the Talmud referred in reality to Christians. Two years later, Pope Martin V, who had convened this disputation, issued a bull (which was destined, however, to remain inoperative) forbidding the Jews to read the Talmud, and ordering the destruction of all copies of it. Far more important were the charges made in the early part of the sixteenth century by the convert Johann Pfefferkorn, the agent of the Dominicans. The result of these accusations was a struggle in which the emperor and the pope acted as judges, the advocate of the Jews being Johann Reuchlin, who was opposed by the obscurantists and the humanists; and this controversy, which was carried on for the most part by means of pamphlets, became the precursor of the Reformation.
An unexpected result of this affair was the complete printed edition of the Babylonian Talmud issued in 1520 by Daniel Bomberg at Venice, under the protection of a papal privilege. Three years later, in 1523, Bomberg published the first edition of the Palestinian Talmud. After thirty years the Vatican, which had first permitted the Talmud to appear in print, undertook a campaign of destruction against it. On New-Year's Day (September 9, 1553) the copies of the Talmud which had been confiscated in compliance with a decree of the Inquisition were burned at Rome; and similar burnings took place in other Italian cities, as at Cremona in 1559. The Censorship of the Talmud and other Hebrew works was introduced by a papal bull issued in 1554; five years later the Talmud was included in the first Index Expurgatorius; and Pope Pius IV commanded, in 1565, that the Talmud be deprived of its very name.
The first edition of the expurgated Talmud, on which most subsequent editions were based, appeared at Basel (1578-1581) with the omission of the entire treatise of 'Abodah Zarah and of passages considered inimical to Christianity, together with modifications of certain phrases. A fresh attack on the Talmud was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII (1575-85), and in 1593 Clement VIII renewed the old interdiction against reading or owning it. The increasing study of the Talmud in Poland led to the issue of a complete edition (Cracow, 1602-5), with a restoration of the original text; an edition containing, so far as known, only two treatises had previously been published at Lublin (1559-76). In 1707 some copies of the Talmud were confiscated in the province of Brandenburg, but were restored to their owners by command of Frederick, the first king of Prussia. The last attack on the Talmud took place in Poland in 1757, when Bishop Dembowski, at the instigation of the Frankists, convened a public disputation at Kamenetz-Podolsk, and ordered all copies of the work found in his bishopric to be confiscated and burned by the hangman.
The external history of the Talmud includes also the literary attacks made upon it by Christian theologians after the Reformation, since these onslaughts on Judaism were directed primarily against that work, even though it was made a subject of study by the Christian theologians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1830, during a debate in the French Chamber of Peers regarding state recognition of the Jewish faith, Admiral Verhuell declared himself unable to forgive the Jews whom he had met during his travels throughout the world either for their refusal to recognize Jesus as the Messiah or for their possession of the Talmud. In the same year the Abbé Chiarini published at Paris a voluminous work entitled "Théorie du Judaïsme," in which he announced a translation of the Talmud, advocating for the first time a version which should make the work generally accessible, and thus serve for attacks on Judaism. In a like spirit modern anti-Semitic agitators have urged that a translation be made; and this demand has even been brought before legislative bodies, as in Vienna. The Talmud and the "Talmud Jew" thus became objects of anti-Semitic attacks, although, on the other hand, they were defended by many Christian students of the Talmud.
The Talmud makes little mention of Jesus or the early Christians. There are a number of quotes about individuals named Yeshu that once existed in editions of the Talmud; these quotes were long ago removed from the main text due to accusations that they referred to Jesus, and are no longer used in Talmud study. However, these removed quotes were preserved through rare printings of lists of errata, known as Hashmatot Hashass ("Omissions of the Talmud"). Some modern editions of the Talmud contain some or all of this material, either at the back of the book, in the margin, or in alternate print. These passages do not necessarily refer to a single individual and many of the stories are far removed from anything written in the New Testament. Many scholars are convinced that these people cannot be identified as the Christian Jesus.
Charges of racism
Many groups attempt to use the Talmud to promote the idea that Judaism is inherently racist. This is usually done through fabrication of quotes, and quote-mining. The Anti-Defamation League issued a report on this topic:
Gil Student, an expert on exposing anti-Talmud accusations, writes that "Anti-Talmud accusations have a long history dating back to the 13th century when the associates of the Inquisition attempted to defame Jews and their religion [see Yitzchak Baer, A History of Jews in Christian Spain, vol. I pp. 150-185]. The early material compiled by hateful preachers like Raymond Martini and Nicholas Donin remain the basis of all subsequent accusations against the Talmud. Some are true, most are false and based on quotations taken out of context, and some are total fabrications [see Baer, ch. 4 f. 54, 82 that it has been proven that Raymond Martini forged quotations]. On the internet today we can find many of these old accusations being rehashed..."
The most renowned Orthodox Talmud scholars of the 20th century include:
The most renowned Conservative Talmud scholars of the 20th century include:
The daily page
Thousands of Orthodox Jews worldwide participate in Daf Yomi - literally the daily page (of Talmud) - as part of a monumental program. Daf Yomi was initiated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923 at the First World Congress of Agudath Israel in Vienna. With 2711 pages in the Talmud, one cycle takes about 7.5 years. Daf Yomi is now in its 11th cycle of study, which began September 29, 1997.
Translations of Talmud Bavli
There are a number of contemporary translations of the Talmud:
Translations of Talmud Yerushalmi
Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation Jacob Neusner, Univ. of Chicago Press. This translation uses a form-analytical presentation which makes the logical units of discourse easier to identify and follow. However, Neusner's translation methodology is idiosyncratic, and this work has received a great deal of criticism.