The Talmud

What is the Talmud in Judaism?

The Talmud contains sixty-three sections or tractates, each of which deals with some aspect of the law. Two Talmuds, representing the Palestinian and Babylonian schools of the Amoraim, or doctors, are in existence. The Palestinian Talmud, the shorter of the two, written in Western Aramaic, dates from the close of the fourth century. The Babylonian Talmud was written about the end of the fifth century in Eastern Aramaic dialect. Both are incomplete, lacking whole sections or parts of sections. In the thirteenth century the Talmud came under the ban of the church, and so many copies were destroyed or damaged that its survival was threatened. The miracle is that it exists at all. To this day the Talmud is the standard of orthodox Judaism, regulative of faith and of ritual practice. It sets the interpretation of the law and is often more directly influential on beliefs and on life than is the Old Testament itself.

The Talmud is the final form of the oral law, now written, including legal discussions, verse by verse analysis and exegesis, proverbs, prayers, fables, and Jewish folklore. Between the 3rd and 6th centuries A.D. the Mishnah, along with all its exegetical and homiletical additions, was gradually compiled into what is known as the Talmud. Two separate versions of the Talmud were produced by Jewish rabbinic schools: the Babylonian Talmud compiled by Jews in Babylonia who had not returned to Jerusalem with the other exiles; and the Palestinian Talmud edited by Jews who had returned to Palestine after the exile. The Talmud is a massive collection of Jewish law with corresponding commentary. The Babylonian Talmud came to be recognized as the authoritative source for the regulation of Jewish religious and community life.