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The Talmud is a collection of Jewish legal and ethical discussions. It includes extensive information on medical and historical matters, folklore, and legal advice. These subjects are collectively called aggadata, and are discussed in detail in the Talmud. As you read the Talmud, you will encounter topics such as:
Studying the Talmud
For the majority of Jews, studying the Talmud is a fundamental part of their religious education. The texts have an enormously deep religious significance and, therefore, are a central component of yeshiva education. However, the religious significance of Talmud study is not always obvious. In fact, Talmud study often begins with laws governing monetary and torts, which in itself is highly academic and arguably less religious than other areas of study. However, the Talmud is not just a book on ancient Roman law; it is also a source of life and argumentation.
One aspect of the Talmud that may seem sexist to modern eyes is the discussion of women’s roles in society. Talmud explains the practice of dedicating money to the Temple in Jerusalem, and recommends giving a certain amount according to one’s worth. In this book, Ilana Kurshan places Talmud study in historical context. She reminds us that the Talmud was written during a time when women were not valued and were not educated.
Women are beginning to study the Talmud in the Orthodox community. Ex-pats from the United States are a leading example. Daf Yomi, the Hebrew term for “day,” refers to a practice in which women read one page of the Talmud every day. To complete the entire 2,711-page Talmud, it takes seven years. And Farber’s approach to Talmud study is particularly appealing to women.
The Talmud is written in a hierarchical manner. The sections of the Talmud are known as Seder and Sedarim. Each order is named after a Hebrew or Aramaic word. The sections of the Talmud are also divided into parts called Tractates. Some of the longer ones are divided into two books. They are called Masechet 1 and 2.
Farber has spent more than two decades teaching the Talmud to Jewish women. This year, she organized the first large-scale Daf Yomi ceremony for women, a celebration of Talmud completion. While she makes up a small percentage of those in attendance, Farber’s efforts are aimed at encouraging more Jewish women to take up the study of the Talmud. She hopes that this project will inspire more women to study the Talmud, an area traditionally dominated by men.
Rashi’s commentaries on the Talmud
In the early twentieth century, scholars of orthodox Judaism began to question the role of Rashi’s Talmud commentaries. While Rashi was an important communal leader, he also remained concerned that the rabbis should be careful not to encumber themselves with scholastic concepts. Thus, Rashi avoided issues that would confuse the reader or alienate less sophisticated students. In addition, the Rashi Commentary contains oblique references to Kabalistic concepts that are not entirely clear.
Ultimately, however, the commentaryary’s status as a classic Jewish work is disputed. In fact, its popularity led to anti-Rashi rebels, and its canonical supremacy was challenged by rationalist reconfigurations of Judaism in the Mediterranean seats of Jewish learning. The commentary’s chief rival in Torah interpretation, Abraham Ibn Ezra, an offshoot of the Sefardic school of biblical commentary, and the influential and eminent Rabbi Moses Maimonides were among those who would shape the religious allegiances and literary productions of the orthodox community.
The Talmud and Tanakh contain Rashi’s commentaries. These are often printed in semi-cursive script. The script used is not Rashi’s handwriting, but rather a fifteenth century Sephardic semi-cursive hand. The Rashi script, as it is known today, was created by early Hebrew typographers to distinguish between text and commentary.
The Book of Accusations aims to discredit Rashi and enthrone Maimonides as a better alternative. It casts Maimonides as a divine emissary and even the biblical name of Moses. In other words, returning to Maimonides is supposed to restore the ancient glories. In reality, Rashi’s Commentary only reinforces this destructive trend.
The manuscripts of Rashi’s Talmud commentaries are preserved in the Oxford Bibliographies Online project. They are complemented by an accessible introduction to his writings and scholarship. The website features an introductory article by a Sorbonne professor that introduces the Rashi study process and highlights the role of everyday life in Rashi’s time. This publication is available through a subscription, which grants perpetual access to institutions.
Brisker method of analyzing the Talmud
The Brisker method of analyzing Talmud has become an important part of the study of the Jewish tradition. Developed by Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik in Brisk, Brest-Litovsk, this method focuses on the rabbinic arguments that explain conflicting opinions by placing them in a categorical framework. This method is sometimes criticized as a modern-day Pilpul. However, it is currently the preferred method in most yeshivas, and has influenced the way that scholars learn the Talmud.
The Brisker method focuses on the division of the law into its components, rather than on the entire text. This approach is opposed by traditionalists, who focus on the entire text of the Talmud and attempt to understand the source in a more holistic manner. However, it does have its critics, and perhaps the most famous of these is R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik.
As the Talmud contains the opinions of hundreds of rabbis, it is no wonder that varying positions have been expressed within it. Throughout history, the Talmud has been the subject of criticism, and its text has often been deemed heretical. For instance, the Talmud has been targeted by the Reform movement and the secularizing and assimilating trends that emerged after the Reformation. This has opened the door to modern methods of analysis.
The core of the Talmud is the Mishnah. This text contains the legal opinions of leading rabbis in the second century. These rabbis are known as tannaim, which is Hebrew for “sages.” The Mishnah is more systematic than the Midrash, and its topical organization has become the framework of the entire Talmud. For example, the halakhic law does not apply to a man who is menstruating. Similarly, a man who is pregnant does not have to circumcise a woman.
Despite the difficulty of interpreting the Talmud, the Brisker method has been an invaluable teaching tool for rabbis for centuries. R. Carmy writes that the method began by introducing a revolutionary new terminology to Torah study. Today, it is one of the most widely used methods of analyzing the Talmud. There are many other methods, but the Brisker method is the best known.
Studying the Talmud with a daily-page project
In traditional yeshivas, Talmud study occurs in pairs. Students read each phrase out loud and discuss them until they have exhausted its meaning. This method of studying reflects the original nature of Talmudic conversation, where the author reads his words aloud and discusses them until all the meaning has been conveyed. The Talmud, after all, was compiled from long discussions, so this method reflects the way the Talmud was originally discussed. The standard way of citing a Torah text is Rabbi X says, and students listen closely to the rabbinic opinion.
To study the Talmud effectively, one must master the language of the Torah. While it may seem like a daunting task, it is possible if one has the dedication and the discipline to keep going. For those who are committed to the task, it may take seven and a half years to complete the 2,711 pages of the Talmud. It may take longer than this, but it is a remarkable achievement for any observant Jew.
The success of these study circles is a clear indication that there are some negative aspects of contemporary Judaism that need to be addressed. The daily-page method grew out of the 20th century religious world that sanctified obedience and conservative thought. Despite its orthodoxy, it seeks to reduce critical thinking and replace traditional beit midrash.
The daily-page framework has gained a strong following in traditional and religious communities worldwide. It has also been adapted to secular settings. In the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, for example, daily Talmud classes are widely available. Online, dozens of classes have been launched in different styles. The daily-page revolution has transformed the Talmud into a mass-literature.
In addition to a daily-page project, the study of Talmud has many benefits for modern learners. It helps to learn the rabbis and their stories while introducing readers to the Talmud as a literary genre. The stories of the Sages by Binyamin Lau and Ruth Calderon are great examples of literary Talmud, and the memoir If All the Seas Were Ink by Iris Mander-Smith is a moving story of Talmud study. It also offers a window to Talmud as a personal story of love.