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What are the Mishnah and Talmud?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. The Torah--i.e. the Five Books of Moses--is very vague. For instance, the Torah says not to “work” on Shabbat. But what’s “work?” To answer this and many other questions (like how to slaughter an animal in the Kosher way, what Tefillin are), G-d explained the entire Torah to Moses. Moses then explained the entire Torah to the people orally. This explanation is therefore called the Oral Torah, since it was transmitted by word of mouth and was not written down.

B. The Oral Torah was taught mouth-to-ear, mouth-to-ear, through the generations until the 2nd Century CE, at which point the sages felt that it would be forgotten unless it was written down. Rabbi Judah the Prince indeed went ahead and compiled the basics into a 63 volume document called the Mishnah. The Mishnah was taught in schools through the generations, with an accompanying oral explanation. In the 5th Century CE, it became too vast and confusing for people to understand, and the oral explanation was written down in a massive collection that dwarfs the Mishnah. This explanation is known as the Gemara, and together they - the Mishnah with its Gemara commentary - form the Talmud.

The Rabbis instituted what might be called the “buddy system”— studying Torah, and particularly the intricate, challenging Talmud—with a partner
C. The 63 volumes of the Mishnah are divided into six sections, each one on a different area of Jewish life: Agriculture, Shabbat and Holidays, Family Relations, Civil Law, Temple Sacrifices and Ritual Purity. Thirty eight volumes of the Mishnah have accompanying Gemara commentary, making them Talmudic Tractates. The Talmud thus consists of huge books crammed with densely packed Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language that uses the Hebrew alphabet. The Talmud follows the six-section structure of the Mishnah.

How do I study Talmud?

1. Study with a partner or with a class

OK, you’ve decided to study Talmud on your own, with your brand-new English-language version. Now, you’re cruising through the third page, and you get stuck—something doesn’t make sense. The commentaries help, but not completely—what do you do? To preempt this problem, The Rabbis instituted what might be called the “buddy system”—always studying Torah, and particularly the intricate, challenging Talmud—with a partner. Better yet, go to a Talmud class—you’ll learn even more and meet people who share your avid interest in Talmud, too. Chances are your local Chabad center offers one.

2. Remember what you’re doing

The Talmud is not just an engrossing exposition of Jewish law and lore—it’s part and parcel of the Torah. In other words, it’s not just another book—it’s a Jewish book. When you study Talmud, remember that you’re studying Torah, Divine wisdom.

You might also want to read:

What are the books of the Mishnah?

and

What are the names and topics of all the Tractates of the Talmud? 


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COMMENTS

Talmud Mentioned In Torah?

Posted by: Arnold Wolf, Houston, Texas on Apr 27, 2005

B"H

Where is Talmud or Mishnah mentioned in Torah Har Sinai? Did HaShem reveal the Oral Law (Mishnah or Gemorah) to Moses and instruct man to follow the decisions of de Rabanim?

Thank you,

Editor's Comment


Fantastic Resource

Posted by: Debbee, Carlsbad, NM on Jun 10, 2005

Dear All of YOU,

This is a fantabulous web site with a plethora of information. I came across it accidently- last night. It is such a blessing to have access to G-d's holy word this way. It has a great layout and essential topics. Thank you so much for establishing this. Shalom, shalom.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Tefillin
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Kosher
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.