Tuesday, 24 May 2011
CASE 288 - Telmudic law
The Talmud is Judaism's holiest book (actually a collection of books). Its authority takes precedence over the Old Testament in Judaism. Evidence of this may be found in the Talmud itself, Erubin 21b (Soncino edition): "
My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah (Old Testament)."
The Talmud has two components: the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the first written compendium of Judaism's Oral Law; and the Gemara (c. 500 CE), a discussion of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Tanakh.
The terms Talmud and Gemara are often used interchangeably. The Gemara is the basis for all codes of rabbinic law and is much quoted in other rabbinic literature. The whole Talmud is also traditionally referred to as Shas (ש"ס), a Hebrew abbreviation of shisha sedarim, the "six orders" of the Mishnah.
The supremacy of the Talmud over the Bible in the Israeli state may also be seen in the case of the black Ethiopian Jews. Ethiopians are very knowledgeable of the Old Testament. However, their religion is so ancient it pre-dates the Scribes' Talmud, of which the Ethiopians have no knowledge. According to the N.Y. Times of Sept. 29, 1992,
"The problem is that Ethiopian Jewish tradition goes no further than the Bible or Torah; the later Talmud and other commentaries that form the basis of modern traditions never came their way."
Because they are not traffickers in Talmudic tradition, the black Ethiopian Jews are discriminated against and have been forbidden by the Zionists to perform marriages, funerals and other services in the Israeli state.
The six orders (sedarim; singular: seder) of general subject matter in the Talmud are divided into 60 or 63 tractates (masekhtot; singular: masekhet) of more focused subject compilations. Each tractate is divided into chapters (perakim; singular: perek), 517 in total, that are both numbered according to the Hebrew alphabet and given names, usually using the first one or two words in the first mishnah. The perek may continue over several (up to tens) of pages. Each perek will contain several mishnayot with their accompanying exchanges that form the "building-blocks" of the Gemara; the name for a passage of gemara is a sugya (סוגיא; plural sugyot). A sugya, including baraita or tosefta, will typically comprise a detailed proof-based elaboration of a Mishnaic statement, whether halakhic or aggadic. A sugya may, and often does, range widely off the subject of the mishnah. The sugya is not punctuated in the conventional sense used in the English language, but by using specific expressions that help to divide the sugya into components, usually including a statement, a question on the statement, an answer, a proof for the answer or a refutation of the answer with its own proof.
In a given sugya, scriptural, Tannaic and Amoraic statements are cited to support the various opinions. In so doing, the Gemara will highlight semantic disagreements between Tannaim and Amoraim (often ascribing a view to an earlier authority as to how he may have answered a question), and compare the Mishnaic views with passages from the Baraita. Rarely are debates formally closed; in some instances, the final word determines the practical law, but in many instances the issue is left unresolved.
There are five contemporary translations of the Talmud into English:
The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition Adin Steinsaltz, Random House (incomplete). This work is in fact a translation of Rabbi Steinsaltz' complete Hebrew language translation of and commentary on the entire Talmud.
The Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud, Mesorah Publications. In this translation, each English page faces the Aramaic/Hebrew page. The English pages are elucidated and heavily annotated; each Aramaic/Hebrew page of Talmud typically requires three English pages of translation. Complete.
The Soncino Talmud, Isidore Epstein, Soncino Press. Notes on each page provide additional background material. This translation is published both on its own and in a parallel text edition, in which each English page faces the Aramaic/Hebrew page. It is available also on CD-ROM. Complete.
The Talmud of Babylonia. An American Translation, Jacob Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, others. Atlanta: 1984-1995: Scholars Press for Brown Judaic Studies. Complete.
The Babylonian Talmud, translated by Michael L. Rodkinson. (1903, contains all of the tractates in the Orders of Mo'ed/Festivals and Nezikin/Damages, plus some additional material related to these Orders.) This is inaccurate and was wholly superseded by the Soncino translation: it is sometimes linked to from the internet because, for copyright reasons, it was until recently the only translation freely available on the Web (see below, under Full text resources).
Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation Jacob Neusner, Tzvee Zahavy, others. University of Chicago Press. This translation uses a form-analytical presentation that makes the logical units of discourse easier to identify and follow. This work has received many positive reviews. However, some consider Neusner's translation methodology idiosyncratic. One volume was negatively reviewed by Saul Lieberman of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Schottenstein Edition of the Yerushalmi Talmud Mesorah/Artscroll. This translation is the counterpart to Mesorah/Artscroll's Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud (i.e. Babylonian Talmud).