The Talmud is a Jewish text, it is effectively a code of law, and Jews use it as a way to create laws and understand the other texts in their religion. This article will examine what the text is, where it came from and what it says, which may shock some readers.
The Talmud is not a small text, its around 6,200 pages, and constitutes a comprehensive written version of the Jewish oral law and the subsequent commentaries on it. It originates from the 2nd century CE. The word Talmud is derived from the Hebrew verb ‘to teach’, which can also be expressed as the verb ‘to learn’. It is written in Tannaitic Hebrew and Aramaic, and contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of pre-Christian Era rabbis on a variety of subjects, including Halakha (law), Jewish ethics, philosophy, customs, history, lore and many other topics.
The Talmud is the source from which the code of Jewish Halakhah (law) is derived. It is made up of the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the original written version of the oral law and the Gemara is the record of the rabbinic discussions following this writing down. It includes their differences of view.
The Talmud can also be known by the name “Shas” (in Hebrew ש״ס) . This is a Hebrew abbreviation for the expression Shishah Sedarim or the six orders of the Mishnah.
Between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE these rabbinic discussions about the Mishnah were recorded in Jerusalem and later in Babylon (now Al Hillah in Iraq). This record was complete by the 5th Century CE. When the Talmud is mentioned without further clarification it is usually understood to refer to the Babylonian version which is regarded as having most authority.
The rabbi most closely associated with the compilation of the Mishnah is Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (approx. 135-219 CE). During his lifetime there were various rebellions against Roman rule in Palestine. This resulted in huge loss of life and the destruction of many of the Yeshivot (institutions for the study of the Torah) in the country. This may have led him to be concerned that the traditional telling of the law from rabbi to student was compromised and may have been part of his motivation for undertaking the task of writing it down.
In addition to the Talmud there have been important commentaries written about it. The most notable of these are by Rabbi Shelomo Yitzchaki from Northern France and by Rabbi Moses Maimonedes from Cordoba in Spain. They lived in the 11th and 12th centuries respectively. Both of these men have come to be known to Jews by acronyms based on their names. These are respectively Rashi and Rambam.
Rambam compiled the Mishneh Torah which is a further distillation of the code of Jewish Law and has come to be regarded by some as a primary source in its own right.
It is also worth mentioning another codifying work from the middle ages. This is the Shulcan Aruch (laid table) by Joseph Caro which is widely referenced by Jews.
Some Orthodox Jews make it part of their practise to study a page of the Talmud every single day. This is known as Daf Yomi which is the Hebrew expression for page of the day. The tradition began after the first international congress of the Agudath Yisrael World Movement in August, 1923. It was put forward as a means of bringing Jewish people together. It was suggested by Rav Meir Shapiro who was the rav of Lublin in Poland.
It is now possible to study the Talmud online.
The Mishnah (original oral law written down) is divided into six parts which are called Sedarim, the Hebrew word for order(s).
- Zera’im (Seeds), is about the laws on agriculture, prayer, and tithes
- Mo’ed (Festival), is about the sabbath and the festivals
- Nashim (Women), is about marriage, divorce and contracts – oaths
- Nezikin (Damages), is about the civil and criminal laws, the way courts operate and some further laws on oaths
- Kodashim (Holy Things), is about sacrificing and the laws of the Temple and the dietary laws
- Toharot (Purities), is about the laws of ritual purity and impurity.
In this video some Jews in Israel are asked about some of the views expressed in the Talmud, such as the non Jews are not human and that they are worthless slaves of Jews, the answers are somewhat shocking.
Controversial quotes from the Talmud
“The Jews are called human beings, but the non-Jews are not humans. They are beasts.”
– Talmud: Baba mezia, 114b
“The Akum (non-Jew) is like a dog. Yes, the scripture teaches to honor the the dog more than the non-Jew.”
– Ereget Raschi Erod. 22 30
“Even though God created the non-Jew they are still animals in human form. It is not becoming for a Jew to be served by an animal. Therfore he will be served by animals in human form.”
– Midrasch Talpioth, p. 255, Warsaw 1855
“A pregnant non-Jew is no better than a pregnant animal.”
– Coschen hamischpat 405
“The souls of non-Jews come from impure sprits and are called pigs.”
– Jalkut Rubeni gadol 12b
“Although the non-Jew has the same body structure as the Jew, they compare with the Jew like a monkey to a human.”
– Schene luchoth haberith, p. 250 b
“If you eat with a Gentile, it is the same as eating with a dog.”
– Tosapoth, Jebamoth 94b
“If a Jew has a non-Jewish servant or maid who dies, one should not express sympathy to the Jew. You should tell the Jew: “God will replace ‘your loss’, just as if one of his oxen or asses had died”.”
– Jore dea 377, 1
“Sexual intercourse between Gentiles is like intercourse between animals.”
– Talmud Sanhedrin 74b
“It is permitted to take the body and the life of a Gentile.”
– Sepher ikkarim III c 25
“It is the law to kill anyone who denies the Torah. The Christians belong to the denying ones of the Torah.”
– Coschen hamischpat 425 Hagah 425. 5
“A heretic Gentile you may kill outright with your own hands.”
– Talmud, Abodah Zara, 4b
“Every Jew, who spills the blood of the godless (non-Jews), is doing the same as making a sacrifice to God.”
– Talmud: Bammidber raba c 21 & Jalkut 772
The reality is that many of the these quotes are often taken out of context, and that the Talmud itself is not to be taken literally or seen as infallible.
English translation can be found here.