The main body of the page, occupying its centre
and printed in formal block letters, is the Talmud, or Gemara.
Both these synonymous terms derive from words meaning "study"
or "learning." "Talmud" is Hebrew, whereas "Gemara"
(in the present sense) is found only in the Aramaic dialect of the
The Talmud is composed in a mixture of Hebrew
and Aramaic (the latter was the spoken vernacular of Babylonian
Jews). In general, formal statements by the Amora'im are formulated
in Hebrew, whereas the explanations and discussions of those statements
are worded in Aramaic.
The beginning of a Gemara passage, following the
Mishnah passage to which it is attached, is designated by an abbreviated
form of the word (GM') printed in large bold letters.
The scholars (Rabbis) who participated in the Talmud are referred
to as "Amora'im" [singular: "Amora"],
from an Aramaic word that originally designated the official in
the academy whose job it was to recite the scholars' teachings
before the public.
Official Rabbinic ordination could only be granted in the Land
of Israel. Therefore most of the Babylonian sages did not bear
the title "Rabbi," but were called by the lesser honorific
Rav. Some of the most prominent Babylonian Amora'im were:
- First generation:
- "Rav" (Actual name: Abba Arikha), died in
247. He was the founder of the great school at Sura.
- Samuel, died in 254. He founded the rabbinic school
at Nehardea, which later moved to Pumbedita.
- Second Generation:
- Rav Huna, died 297. He was Rav's successor in the leadership
of the Sura school.
- Rav Judah [bar Ezekiel], died 299. He led the academy
- Third Generation:
- Rav Hisda, died 309. He stood at the head of the Sura
- Rav Nahman [bar Jacob], died 320. He was active in
Nehardea, and is known as a judge, apparently in the court
of the Exilarch (the political head of the Babylonian
- Rabbah [bar Nahmani], died 330: The most prominent teacher
of his generation, he directed the academy at Pumbedita.
His astute dialectical abilities earned him a reputation
as an "uprooter of mountains."
- Fourth Generation:
- Abaye, died 339. He headed the academy at Pumbedita
- Rava [bar Joseph bar Hama], died 352. He founded an
academy at Mahoza.
The disputes and discussions of these two scholars, students
of Rabbah, are found on almost every page of the Babylonian
- Fifth Generation:
- Rav Papa, died 375. A student of Abaye and Rava, he
led a school in Narsh.
- Sixth Generation:
- Rav Ashi, died 427. A prominent head of the Sura academy,
he has often been credited with the redaction of the Babylonian
Talmud (See below).
- Seventh Generation:
- Rav Ashi's son, Mar bar Rav Ashi [also known as "Tavyomi"],
A passage in the Talmud (Bava Mesi'a) speaks of Rav Ashi and Ravina
as "the end of instruction" (Hebrew: "sof hora'ah"),
in a context that compares them with Rabbi Judah the Prince as
"the end of Mishnah." Because Rabbi Judah is generally
regarded as the redactor of the Mishnah, it became common to speak
of Rav Ashi as the redactor of the Babylonian Talmud. (The name
"Ravina" is a recurring one during the Talmudic era,
and there was a figure of that name who was Rav Ashi's contemporary).
Since Rav Ashi died in 427, and several later generations are
represented in the Talmud's pages, it is clear that we cannot
speak of him as the Talmud's final redactor, though there is considerable
evidence that indicates that he was involved in some sort of preliminary
redaction and organization of the traditions--still in an oral,
In 987, the medieval authority Rav Sherira Ga'on, leader of the
Pumbedita academy (then situated in Baghdad), composed an important
study ("Epistle") on issues of Talmudic literature and
chronology. Although Rav Sherira accepts that the Talmudic "end
of instruction" is a reference to a final redaction, he applies
the expression not to the famous Amora Rav Ashi(to whom he attributes
only the beginnings of the process), but to a lesser known figure,
Rav Yose, and to his contemporary Ravina, who were active at the
close of the fifth century.
Modern scholarship, basing itself on careful internal analysis
of Talmudic passages, prefers to see the redaction as a prolonged
process that may have extended over several centuries. The anonymous
Aramaic discussions that hold the work together and give its it
much of its distinctive dialectical character are often attributed
to the "Savora'im," or "Rabbanan Sabora'ei"
the anonymous Babylonian scholars who were active in Babylonian
during the sixth century, perhaps until the Muslim conquest.
Babylonia was situated in the area that is presently
occupied by Iraq and was known to the ancient Greeks as "Mesopotamia"
("Between the Rivers") The agricultural and economic lives
of the populace were determined by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers
and the intricate network of canals emanating from them.
During most the Talmudic era, Babylonia was ruled by a Persian dynasty,
- The Talmud as a Commentary on the Mishnah
The Babylonian Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah,
whose order it follows. It was composed over several generations,
from the early third century to about the sixth.
As a commentary, it deals with many aspects of the Mishnah, often
going far beyond mere explanation. Some of the items involved
in the Talmud's commentary include:
- demonstrating how the Mishnah's rulings or disputes, derive
from interpretations of Biblical texts.
- exploring the logical principles underlying the Mishnah's
statements, and showing how different understandings of the
Mishnah's reasons could lead to differences in their practical
- resolving contradictions, perceived or actual, between different
statements in the Mishnah, or between the Mishnah and other
traditions; e.g., by stating that:
- two conflicting sources are dealing with differing
- they represent the views of different Rabbis.
- Talmudic Debate and Dialectic
The distinctive character of the Talmud derives largely from
its intricate use of argumentation and debate. Some of these debates
were actually conducted by the Amora'im, though most of them are
hypothetically reconstructed by the Talmud's redactors ("This
is what Rabbi X could have argued...") As in the Mishnah,
the Amora'ic Rabbis encouraged multiple opinions and interpretations.
Whereas the Mishnah usually limits itself to a brief statement
of the conflicting views, the Talmud tries to verify the integrity
of the positions of the Tanna'im and the Amora'im. Prooftexts
are quoted to corroborate or disprove the respective opinions.
The process of deduction required to derive a conclusion from
a prooftext is often logically complex and indirect. Every effort
is made to uphold the correctnesss (i.e., the logical consistency)
of the opinions ascribed to the Rabbis, though this often requires
forced and unconvincing intepretations of the evidence.
The Babylonian Talmud covers 36 1/2 of the 60 tractates that comprise
the Mishnah [The Talmud actually subdivides some of the Mishnah's
tractates, so that it has 63 of them]:
- The Talmud covers almost all of the tractates in the Mishnah's
orders "Mo'ed" (about Sabbath and festivals), "Nashim"
(about family law) and "Qodashim" (about the Temple
and its sacrificial worship).
- Of the Mishnah's order Zera'im," concerned with agricultural
regulations, the only tractate included in the Talmud is Berakhot,
dealing with blessings and prayers.
This situation is usually ascribed to the fact that most of
the agricultural laws were not considered binding outside
the Land of Israel.
- Similarly, the Mishnah's order "Tohorot" (about
rules of purity) is not included in the Talmud. Most of the
laws found there could not be observed following the destruction
of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E.
The single exception is the tractate "Niddah" which
discusses the impurity of menstruating women. Several of these
laws were still of practical relevance.
The standard Vilna editions of the Talmud consist
of twenty large folio volumes, including many commentaries and
- Sources Used by the Talmud
In addition to the Bible, Mishnah and the teachings of the Babylonian
Amora'im, the Babylonian cites and discusses several other kinds
- Teachings by the Rabbis of the Mishnah (Tanna'im) that
were not included in the Mishnah. Such sources are designated
"external mishnahs," or in Aramaic: Baraita.
There are several different types of baraita. These include:
- Tanna'itic (or: Halakhic) Midrash: These follow the
text of the Torah, especially its legal sections, explaining
it in close detail. Many of the midrashic baraitas in
the Talmud are identical or similar to known midrashic
collections (works such as the "Mekhilta"s to
Exodus, "Sifra" (="Torat Kohanim")
to Leviticus, or "Sifre" to Numbers and Deuteronomy),
stemming from the Schools of Rabbis Akiva and Ishmael.
Others are known only from the Talmud itself.
- Baraitas attached to the Mishnah. Many of these are
similar or identical to the Tosefta, a Tanna'itic work
arranged according to the order of the Mishnah, that provides
explanations and supplementary material.
- Tanna'itic sources known only from the Babylonian Talmud.
- Teachings of the Palestinian Amora'im:
The Land of Israel continued to be the most important centre
of Torah study, and the Rabbis there also studied the Mishnah
in the same ways as their Babylonian counterparts. Their scholarly
activities culminated in the production of the Palestinian
(or: "Jerusalem") Talmud.
Many traditions of the Palestinian Amora'im were cited and
incorporated in the Babylonian Talmud.
- Aggadah, the non-legal component of Rabbinic teaching.
Included in this category are:
- interpretations of the Bible, often taken from synagogue
- moralistic teachings and maxims
- anecdotes about the Rabbis
- folklore, especially magical and medical recipes
- Records of legal rulings by the Rabbis.
It must be emphasized that during the era of the Talmud's development,
the Jewish "Oral Tradition" was not allowed to be
set down in writing, and therefore all the sources mentioned
here, except for the Bible, were edited and transmitted by memory
and recitation. They did not exist as written books.