Getting To Know The History Of The Talmud
What is the Talmud? If you’re into Jewish studies, you’ll find that the Talmud is one of the most
important books in Judaism, next to the Torah.
It is basically the Jewish oral tradition passed on through many generations in written form. Some
people consider this book as significant, if not more important than the Torah. (They’re 2 Talmuds
The thing is though, the earliest known version of the Talmud is at about 500 A.D. On the other hand,
Moses, known as the writer of the Torah, was alive at around 1300 B.C.
That’s an 1800 year difference…
So what caused this 1800 year difference between the Torah and the Jewish Talmud?
What the Jewish Talmud actually is.
The Talmud has actually 2 different versions, authored around similar times, but with some differences.
Those are known as the Babylonian Talmud, and the Jerusalem Talmud.
Originally, before the Talmud was written, Jewish tradition was transmitted by Rabbis orally. In essence,
ever since the establishment of Judaism, and specifically Jerusalem as home to the Jews, transmission by
writing wasn’t necessary.
Stability in the past was central for the survival of oral tradition. And as known through historical
records, the temple of Jerusalem went down twice.
And with the 2nd
time, it was realized that transmission of the tradition by writing was necessary.
The Talmud’s components.
The Talmud is composed of the Mishnah, which is the collection of the oral tradition in short-hand form.
The process of the authorship and collection of the Mishnah spanned a century and a half, starting with
Judah the Prince, who recognized the crisis affecting the Jewish community.
In addition to the Mishnah, there is also Gemara. The assembly of this was done originally, because of
the difficulty with reading and understanding the Talmud, except by those learned in the oral traditions.
Gemara is a series of arguments between Rabbis, which surround the scripture of the Mishnah. The
intention is to present the different perspectives that the Mishnah tradition carries, by debate. This
allows the Jewish scholar to arrive at an understanding of the essence of the tradition, which
complements the Torah.
Now, it should be noted that the Gemara took even longer to compile than the Mishnah. While the
Mishnah was compiled between 10 and 150 A.D., the Gemara was compiled between 200 and500 A.D
Therefore, the perspectives of many different generations of Rabbis is seen in Gemara.
You can pretty much consider Gemara as one of history’s earliest records of religious criticism. Not
many books may match the Talmud in its presentation style of its laws.
And yet here it is, it survives even longer.
Judaism has been around for well over 3000 years now. It’s quite interesting to see its evolution,
specifically in terms of practice.
This evolution, not just in generations of scholarly opinion presented by the Talmud, but also in the way
that Jewish people adapted to crisis that affected their culture is quite valuable. Such histories indeed
do teach us a lot about human nature.