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The Talmud is the product of Palestine, the land of the Bible, and of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilisation. The beginnings of Talmudic literature date back to the time of the Babylonian Exile in the sixth pre-Christian century, before the Roman Republic had yet come into existence. When, a thousand years later, the Babylonian Talmud assumed final codified form in the year 500 after the Christian era, the Western Roman Empire had ceased to be. That millenium opens with the downfall of Babylon as a world-power; it covers the rise, decline and fall of Persia, Greece and Rome; and it witnesses the spread of Christianity and the disappearance of Paganism in Western and Near Eastern lands.



The Babylonian Exile is a momentous period in the history of humanity — and especially so in that of Israel. During that Exile, Israel found itself. It not only rediscovered the Torah and made it the rule of life, but under its influence new religious institutions, such as the synagogue, i.e., congregational worship without priest or ritual, came into existence — one of the most far-reaching spiritual achievements in the whole history of Religion.


At the re-establishment of the Jewish Commonwealth, Ezra the Sofer, or Scribe, in the year 444 B.C.E. formally proclaimed the Torah the civil and religious law of the new Commonwealth. He brought with him all the oral traditions that were taught in the Exile, and he dealt with the new issues that confronted the struggling community in that same spirit which had created the synagogue. His successors, called after him Soferim (Scribes’), otherwise


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[page xiv] known as the ‘Men of the Great Assembly’, continued his work. Their teachings and ordinances received the sanction of popular practice, and came to be looked upon as halachah, literally, ‘the trodden path’, the clear religious guidance to the Israelite in the way he should go. When the Men of the Great Assembly were no more, the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem took their place. The delight of all those generations was in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law did they meditate day and night. When their exposition followed the verses of Scripture, it was called Midrash; and when such exposition followed the various precepts, it was known as Mishnah. Academies arose for systematic cultivation of this New Learning, as well as for the assiduous gathering of the oral traditions current from times immemorial concerning the proper observance of the commandments of the Torah. This movement for the intensive study of Scripture did not pass unchallenged. The aristocratic and official element of the population — later known as the Sadducees — unhesitatingly declared every law that was not specifically written in the Torah to be a dangerous and reprehensible innovation. The opposition of the Sadducees only gave an additional impetus to the spread of the Oral Law by the Scribes, later known as the Pharisees. What they sought was the full and inexhaustible revelation which God had made. The knowledge of the contents of that revelation, they held, was to be found in the first Instance in the Written Text of the Pentateuch; but the revelation, the real Torah, was the meaning of that Written Text, the Divine thought therein disclosed, as unfolded in ever greater richness of detail by successive generations of devoted teachers. ‘Apart from the direct intercourse of prayer,’ says Herford, ‘the study of Torah was the way of closest approach to God; it might be called the Pharisaic form of the Beatific Vision. To study Torah was to think God’s thoughts after Him, as Kepler said.’


The product of the feverish activity of the Pharisaic schools threatened to become too unwieldy to be retained by unassisted memory. For all this teaching was oral, and was not to be written down. The first effort at arrangement of the traditional material into a system, was made in the first pre-Christian century by


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[page xv]Hillel. He is the best known of all the rabbis, renowned for his enunciation of the Golden Rule, ‘Whatsoever is hateful unto thee, do it not to thy fellow; this is the whole Torah, the rest is but commentary.' He was the embodiment of meekness and humanity. ‘Love peace, and pursue peace, love thy fellow-creatures and bring them near to the Torah,’ was his motto. He popularised seven exegetical rules for the interpretation of the Torah — e.g., the rules of inference, and analogy — by which the immanent meaning of Scripture might better be brought out; and he divided the mass of traditions that in his day constituted the Oral Law into the six main Orders, which division was accepted by all his successors.


Of the 150 Tannaim, or ‘teachers’, who may be called the architects of the spiritual edifice which in its completed form is known as the Mishnah, it is necessary to mention three more besides Hillel. These are Johanan ben Zakkai, Rabbi Akiba, and Rabbi Judah the Prince. Johanan ben Zakkai was the youngest of Hillel’s disciples. By his Academy at Jabneh, he rescued Judaism from the shipwreck of the Roman destruction that overwhelmed the Jewish nation in the year 70. Jabneh became the rallying-ground of Jewish Learning and the centre of Jewish spiritual life. Like nearly every one of the rabbis, he earned his bread by manual labour. Judaism, he held, could outlive its political organism; and charity and love of men replaced the Sacrificial Service. ‘A good heart’, he declared, was the most important thing in life.

In the following generation, Akiba was the author of a collection of traditional laws out of which the Mishnah actually grew. He was the greatest among the rabbis of his own and of succeeding times, the man of whom — as the legend says — even Moses was for a moment jealous when in a vision he was given a glimpse of the distant future. His keen and penetrating intellect enabled him to find a Biblical basis for every provision of the Oral Law. Romance illumines the early life of this great rabbi and mystic. In 132 he died a martyr’s death for his God and People. On the day that Akiba died was born R. Judah the Prince, also called simply ‘Rabbi’ — He was a descendant of Hillel in the seventh generation, and a man of uncommon ability, wide culture and lofty virtue. As Patriarch — [page xvi] spiritual ruler of his generation — he made it his aim to ensure unity of religious observance by the establishment of one Code of undisputed authority. He, therefore, surveyed anew the whole aggregation of ordinances that had accumulated with the centuries, sifting and arranging, abridging and amplifying; and often incorporating the opinions of earlier teachers in exactly the form in which he had received them. Thus the Mishnah is not cast in a single mould. It is a composite work. Perhaps for this reason also it displaced all rival collections of traditional law, and soon attained to canonical authority.


We do not know the precise year in which Rabbi applied the finishing touches to his work. Late in life he undertook a complete revision of his Mishnah, probably in the year 220 A.C.E. In this, its final form, the Mishnah consists of six Orders:

  1. Zera’im, agricultural laws, has eleven tractates, the first of which (Berakoth) deals with Prayer;
  2. Mo’ed, laws concerning the festivals and fasts, has twelve tractates;
  3. Nashim, seven tractates dealing with laws relating to woman and family life;
  4. Nezikin, the tractates on civil and criminal jurisprudence (including the Pirke Aboth);
  5. Kodoshim, eleven tractates of laws in connection with the Sanctuary and food laws;
  6. Toharoth, twelve tractates on the laws of clean and unclean;

— altogether sixty-three tractates. Each tractate (massechta) is again subdivided into perakim (chapters), of which the total number is five hundred and twenty-three.


Concerning the exact time at which the Mishnah was committed to writing, diversity of opinion has prevailed among eminent Jewish authorities during the last nine centuries. Sherira Gaon, Rashi, Luzzatto, Rapoport and Graetz hold that Rabbi arranged the Mishnah in his own mind without the help of pen or parchment; delivered it in his Academy, the same in form and contents as it stands to-day; and thus transmitted it by word of mouth to his disciples. These again delivered it to succeeding generations. [page xvii] It was thus orally preserved with verbal accuracy down to the time when the Academies sank in importance, and the teachers of the day found it necessary to fix the existing stock of traditions in writing, some time in the 8th or 9th century. Opposed to this opinion, we have other authorities no less eminent, who maintain that Rabbi himself wrote out the Mishnah in full. Among them are Yehudah Hallevi, Maimonides and Abarbanel; Weiss, Geiger and Fraenkel.


The language of the Mishnah is Neo-Hebrew, a natural development from Biblical Hebrew; a living speech and not an artificial language (like Latin in the Middle Ages), as has been maintained by some. Its vocabulary and idiom bear the stamp of colloquial usage. Being a record of sayings and oral discussions of men of the people on the manifold activities of life, there is in it a large admixture of Aramaic, Greek and also Latin terms.


The oldest manuscript copies of the Mishnah, are in Parma (13th century), Cambridge (on which the Jerusalem Talmud is said to be based), and New York (vocalised fragments, 10th or 11th century). The first printed edition appeared in Naples (1492), with the commentary of Maimonides. The current editions of to-day are accompanied by commentaries of Obadiah di Bertinoro of the 15th century, and Yomtob Lipman Heller of the 17th century. The Mishnah has often been translated; the latest version being in English by Canon Danby. A critical edition of the Mishnah, however, is a task for the future.



The comprehensive commentary on the Mishnah that forms the second and far larger portion of the Talmud is called the Gemara. The Gemara, which word came to denote ‘teaching’, explains the terms and subject-matter of the Mishnah; seeks to elucidate difficulties and harmonise discrepant statements; to refer anonymous decisions to their proper authors in the Mishnah, or in the parallel compilations of Tannaitic teachings contemporary with the Mishnah in which the same subject is treated; [page xviii] and to determine to what extent they are in agreement. Finally, it reports in full the controversies that took place in the Palestinian or Babylonian Academies concerning these subjects.

But the Gemara is more than a mere commentary. In it are sedulously gathered, without any reference to their connection with the Mishnah, whatever utterances had for centuries dropped from the lips of the Masters; whatever Tradition preserved concerning them or their actions; whatever bears directly, or even distantly, upon the great subjects of religion, life, and conduct. In addition, therefore, to legal discussions and enactments on every aspect of Jewish duty, whether it be ceremonial, civic, or moral, it contains homiletical exegesis of Scripture; moral maxims, popular proverbs, prayers, parables, fables, tales; accounts of manners and customs, Jewish and non-Jewish; facts and fancies of science by the learned; Jewish and heathen folklore, and all the wisdom and unwisdom of the unlearned. This vast and complex material occurs throughout the Gemara, as the name of an author, a casual quotation from Scripture, or some other accident in thought or style started a new association in ideas.


The Talmud itself classifies its component elements either as Halachah or Haggadah. Emanuel Deutsch describes the one as emanating from the brain, the other from the heart; the one prose, the other poetry; the one carrying with it all those mental faculties that manifest themselves in arguing, investigating, comparing, developing: the other springing from the realms of fancy, of imagination, feeling, humour:

Beautiful old stories,
Tales of angels, fairy legends,
Stilly histories of martyrs,
Festal songs and words of wisdom;
Hyperboles, most quaint it may be,
Yet replete with strength and fire
And faith-how they gleam,
And glow and glitter!

as Heine has it.

[page xix] Halachah, as we have seen, means ‘the trodden path’, rule of life, religious guidance. To it belong all laws and regulations that bear upon Jewish conduct. These include the ritual, the civil, criminal, and ethical laws. Everything else is embraced under the term Haggadah; literally, ‘talk’, ‘that which is narrated’, ‘delivered in a discourse’. This again can he subdivided into various groups. We have dogmatical Haggadah, treating of God’s attributes and providence, creation, revelation, Messianic times, and the Hereafter. The historical Haggadah brings traditions and legends concerning the heroes and events in national or universal history, from Adam to Alexander of Macedon, Titus and Hadrian. It is legend pure and simple. Its aim is not so much to give the facts concerning the righteous and unrighteous makers of history, as the moral that may be pointed from the tales that adorn their honour or dishonour. That some of the folklore element in the Haggadah, some of the customs depicted or obiter dicta reported. are repugnant to Western taste need not be denied. ‘The greatest fault to be found with those who wrote down such passages, says Schechter, ‘is that they did not observe the wise rule of Dr. Johnson, who said to Boswell on a certain occasion, “Let us get serious, for there comes a fool”. And the fools unfortunately did come, in the shape of certain Jewish commentators and Christian controversialists, who took as serious things which were only the expression of a momentary impulse, or represented the opinion of some isolated individual, or were meant simply as a piece of humorous by-play, calculated to enliven the interest of a languid audience.’ In spite of the fact that the Haggadah contains parables of infinite beauty and enshrines sayings of eternal worth, it must be remembered that the Haggadah consists of mere individual utterances that possess no general and binding authority.



There are two Gemaras — one elaborated in the Academies of Babylon, the other in Palestine. Strictly speaking, the current name for the latter, ‘the Jerusalem Talmud’, is incorrect, as after the


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[page xx] destruction of the Temple no Academy existed in Jerusalem. It was Tiberias that was the principal seat of rabbinic learning, till the closing of the Palestinian schools in the 4th century.

The principal Teachers (now called Amoraim, ‘expounders’) of the Palestinian Talmud are Rabbis Johanan and Abbahu.

Johanan (d. 279) was in his early youth a disciple of R. Judah the Prince. He made his Academy at Tiberias the principal seat of learning in the Holy Land, and for a long time he was erroneously held to be editor of the Palestinian Gemara. The following saying of this illustrious Amora is typical of the man: ‘When the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea, the angels in Heaven were about to break forth in songs of jubilation. God silenced them with the words, My creatures are perishing, and ye are ready to sing!’

Abbahu of Caesarea was a man of wealth, general culture and influence with the Roman authorities. He was a skilful defender of his Faith against Christian attacks. ‘Be of the persecuted not of the persecutors.’ was his maxim. He put forward the bold notion of successive creations — the idea later taken up by the Jewish Mystics that prior to the existence of the present universe, certain formless worlds issued from the Fountain of existence and then vanished, like sparks from a red-hot iron beaten by a hammer.

The oppression in Palestine under the first Christian emperors led to the extinction of the Patriarchate and to the closing of the Schools in the year 425. The discussions in these Schools were never formally edited. It seems that the Palestinian Gemara originally extended over the whole of the Mishnah; but owing to the adverse circumstances of the time, much of it has been irretrievably lost.

Its halachic portions are marked by calm and temperate discussion, free from the dialectic subtleties which characterise the Babylonian Talmud. Its Haggadah is also purer, more rational, though less attractive and poetical, than the Haggadah in Babylonia. The Palestinian Talmud, written in a Syriac dialect little known by later generations, was for many centuries almost forgotten by Jewry. Its legal decisions were at no time deemed to possess validity, if opposed by the Babylonian Talmud. It was first printed in


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[page xxi] Venice in 1523. J. Fraenkel’s classical Introduction to the Jerusalem Talmud appeared in 1859. There is a French translation of the Palestinian Talmud by M. Schwab.



When we come to the Babylonian Gemara, we are dealing with what most people understand when they speak or write of the Talmud. Its birthplace, Babylonia, was an autonomous Jewish centre for a longer period than any other land; namely, from soon after 586 before the Christian era to the year 1040 after the Christian era — 1626 years; from the days of Cyrus down to the age of the Mongol conquerors!


For a long time it was held that the language in which the Babylonian Talmud was written defied grammatical formulation. This is now seen to be nothing but prejudice. Eminent grammarians have discovered its laws, and have determined its place in the scheme of Semitic languages. Its philological side was treated nearly a thousand years ago in ‘the Talmudic Lexicon (Aruch) of Asher ben Jehiel and has been completed by the labours of Levy, Kohut and Jastrow in the last century. The style of the Babylonian Talmud is mostly one of pregnant brevity and succinctness. It is at no time ‘easy reading’. Elliptical expression is a constantly recurring feature, and whole sentences are often indicated by a single word. In the discussions, question and answer are closely interwoven, and there is an entire absence of demarcation between them.


Hard thinking and closest attention are required under the personal guidance of an experienced scholar, or of an elaborate written exposition of the argument, for the discussion to be followed, or the context understood. And that understanding cannot be gained by the aid of Grammar or Lexicon alone. Even a student who has a fair knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic, but has not been initiated into the Talmud by Traditional Jewish guides, will find it impossible to decipher a page! A great philologist who was also a Talmudist has rightly declared: ‘Suppose the teaching of the Talmud suddenly interrupted during the life of a generation; the [page xxii] tradition once lost, it would be well-nigh impossible to recover it.’


Of the thousand and more Amoraim mentioned by name, we select Rab and Samuel, and R. Ashi and Rabina. Rab and Samuel, born in Babylonia. went to the Holy Land to sit at the feet of Judah the Prince, and brought back to their home country the Mishnah, the authorised Code of the Oral Law. In the year 219 Rab founded an Academy at Sura, and it continued to flourish for eight centuries. ‘The commandments of the Torah were given to purify the life of man,’ was one of his sayings. Life in Hereafter, he taught, was not mere passivity, for ‘there is no rest for the righteous. They ever proceed from strength to strength in this world and in the world to come, where they rejoice in the radiance of the Divine Presence.’ ‘Since the Exile,’ he declares, ‘the Shechinah mourns, and God prays: Be it My will that in My dealings with My children My mercy overcome My justice.’ Some of the sublimest portions of the New Year Liturgy are attributed to Rab.

Samuel of Nehardea, his companion — a physician and astronomer — was an epoch-maker in Judaism. He laid down the principle, based on an utterance of Jeremiah the Prophet, that has enabled Jews to live and serve in non-Jewish countries. Dina d’malchutha dina, he ruled; i.e., ‘in all civil matters, the law of the land is to us Divine Law.’

Of the other two names, Ashi, who died in 427 and was for fifty-two years head of the Sura Academy, combined a vast memory with extraordinary mental orderliness, that enabled him to systematise the bewildering mass of Talmudic material and prepare it for codification. Such codification was finally effected by Rabina, who died in the year 499. He is the author of the concluding paragraph of the Amidah: ‘Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile; and to such as curse me let my soul be dumb, yea, let my soul be unto all as the dust.’ Many tractates seem to have been edited by various Amoraim before the time of Ashi and Rabina. As in the case of the Mishnah, it is a moot point whether Ashi and Rabina wrote down the Babylonian Gemara, or only arranged it orally. The latter is the view of Rashi, and, [page xxiii] in modern times, of Luzzatto; both of them place the writing of the Gemara two centuries later. Other scholars, however, deem it a matter of absolute impossibility that so vast a literature, and one, too, full of such intricate controversies, should for some two centuries have been orally arranged, fixed and transmitted with perfect accuracy.


The Babylonian Talmud is about four times as large as that of Palestine. It contains 5894 folio pages, usually printed in twelve large volumes, the pagination of which is kept uniform in all editions. Only thirty-six of the sixty-three Mishnaic tractates are commented on in the Babylonian Talmud. However, most of the subject matter of the omitted tractates is dealt with in the Gemara of other tractates.


A voluminous work like the Babylonian Gemara, passing through the hands of numberless copyists, could not have remained free from errors. Fifty years ago, Rabbinowicz collected variants to the current Text, and examined it in the light of manuscripts, especially of the Munich MS. which covers the whole Talmud and dates from the year 1334. Alas, that that is the only complete MS. of the Talmud in existence, due to the bigotry of the medieval popes, who often consigned whole cartloads of Talmud MSS. to the flames. After the invention of printing, stupid and over-zealous censors not only expunged the few passages that refer to the Founder of Christianity, but also many others which they in their ignorance looked upon as disguised attacks upon their religion. Only one edition of the Talmud has escaped defacement at the hands of the censors, having been printed in Holland.



We now proceed to the history of the Talmud. What the Pentateuch had been to the Tannaim of the Mishnah, the Mishnah to the Amoraim, the Talmud became to the ages following its close. The Sahureans (‘Opinion-givers’) in the sixth century and the Geonim (‘Excellencies’) in the succeeding century, made some slight additions to it. Then the demand for simplification and [page xxiv]explanation began to make itself felt. The principal decisions of the Talmud were classified in the order of the 613 commandments; and the halachic portions were separated from the Haggadah, and printed by themselves. Later, explanatory glosses were written to the Text of the various tractates.


Greatest of all these attempts, and to this day absolutely indispensable for the understanding or the Talmud, is the commentary of R. Solomon Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, of Troyes, in France. Rashi was born in the year 1040, the same year when the Exilarchate was extinguished in Babylon. His commentary is a masterpiece of brevity, precision and clearness. ‘He has two of the greatest and rarest gifts of a commentator; the instinct to discern precisely the point at which explanation is necessary, and the art of giving or indicating the needed help in the fewest words’ (G. F, Moore).

The French rabbis of the 12th and 13th century continued the clarification of the Talmud by their glosses, known as Tosafoth. These Tosafoth, together with Rashi’s commentary, are printed in all regular editions of the Talmud. In the meantime, the genius of Maimonides illumined the Mishnah by his Arabic commentary; and by his gigantic undertaking called Mishneh Torah, or Yad Hachazakah, written in clear neo-Hebrew, he succeeded in introducing logical order and classification into the Talmudic labyrinth. In 1567, R. Joseph Caro produced the Shulchan Aruch, in which all the religious and civil laws of Jewish life still in force at the present-day are classified according to subjects. This work, annotated by R. Moses Isserles of Cracow in 1571, is the last authoritative codification of the Halachah, and has in turn called forth many commentaries and super-commentaries.


During all these centuries, the non-Jewish attitude to the Talmud remained one of implacable hostility. ‘Ever since the Talmud came into existence — almost before it existed in a palpable shape — it has been treated much like a human being.’ says Emanuel Deutsch. ‘It has been proscribed, and imprisoned, and burnt, a hundred times over. Kings and emperors, popes and anti-popes, vied with each other in hurling anathemas and bulls and edicts of wholesale confiscation and conflagration against this luckless book. We remember [page xxv] but one sensible exception in this Babel of manifestos. Clement V in 1307, before condemning the book, wished to know something of it and there was no one to tell him. Whereupon he proposed that chairs be founded for Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic as the three tongues nearest to the idiom of the Talmud in the Universities of Paris, Salamanca, Bologna, and Oxford. In time, he hoped, one of these Universities might be able to produce a translation of this mysterious book. Need we say that this consummation never came to pass? The more expeditious process of destruction was resorted to again and again and again, not merely in the single cities of Italy, and France, but throughout the entire Holy Roman Empire.’

John Reuchlin, the great Humanist, was the first to maintain that, even if the Talmud contained attacks on Christianity, it would be best to answer them. ‘Burning,’ he said, ‘is but a ruffianly argument.’ Defence of Jewish books and saving them from destruction by hysterical bigots became the battle-cry of all those who stood for religious freedom. And it is not accidental that in the same year in which the first printed edition of the whole Babylonian Talmud appeared, in 1520, Luther burned the Papal bull at Wittenberg. Then followed two centuries of feverish activity among Christian divines to become masters in Talmudic lore — not always for the pure love of learning. It was only in our time that non-Jewish scholars like George Foot Moore in America, Travers Herford in England, and Wuensche and Strack in pre-Nazi Germany, have fallen under the spell of Rabbinic studies for their own sake, and recognised their indispensableness for the elucidation of fundamental problems in the world of Religion. A translation of the entire Babylonian Talmud in German, together with the original in the Text of the Venice 1520 edition, was undertaken by L. Goldschmidt in 1897 and is now almost completed.


A unique theory of the religious life is fully elaborated in the Talmudic scheme. Religion in the Talmud attempts to penetrate the whole of human life with the sense of law and right. Nothing human is in its eyes mean or trivial; everything is regulated and sanctified by religion. Religious precept and duty accompany [page xxvi] man from his earliest years to the grave and beyond it. They guide his desires and actions at every moment. Food and sleep, civic duty and family life — all are under discipline of the Torah, a discipline accepted freely and joyfully. While every religion attempts such regulation, the Talmudic system represents this striving of the religious idea in its perfection. ‘In our eyes,’ says Ars´┐Żne Darmsteter, ‘this is its greatest title to the respect and consideration of thinkers. In Judaism we have thus the completest, and consequently the most perfect, expression of the religious idea.’ The late I. Zangwill describes the Judaism of the Rabbis as ‘a code which left the intellect and the emotions free to speculate and wonder, to produce philosophy and poetry, but which fettered the will, leaving the spirit free to transcend the law in love and self-sacrifice, but not to fall below it; so that even those Philistines who for religion — the music of life — had no ear, should at least be kept sane and strong and mechanically moral, centres of happiness to themselves and channels for a finer posterity. They should be kept from playing wrong notes and Jarring chords, if they could not give us sonatas and symphonies of their own.


Enough has been said to show that the Talmud is not an ordinary literary work. It bears no resemblance to any single literary production, but forms a world of its own that must be judged according to its own laws. The ancient Hebrew metaphor which speaks of the ‘ocean of the Talmud’, is helpful to the understanding of its nature. The Talmud is indeed an ocean, vast in extent, unfathomable in depth, with an ocean-like sense of immensity and movement about it. Its great broad surface is at times smooth and calm, at others disturbed by waves of argument and breakers of discussion, stormy with assertion and refutation. And like the ocean, it swarms with a thousand varied forms of life. It is as difficult to say what is not in it as what is. He who would navigate securely this sea of the Talmud must be familiar with the compass and the rudder, i.e., its language and modes of thought; and have the guidance of an experienced master, if he is to gather the precious stores of knowledge and inspiration enshrined in its indestructible pages.


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[page xxvii] This is not the place to speak of the influence of the Talmud; how throughout the centuries of persecution and darkness, it saved Israel from intellectual and moral degradation. My purpose is merely to give a brief presentation of the Talmud as a book. I shall therefore conclude with the words of I. Abrahams. ‘The Talmud,’ he says, ‘is one of the great books of the world. Rabbinism was a sequel to the Bible; and if, like all sequels, it was unequal to its original, it nevertheless shares its greatness. The works of all Jews up to the modern period were the sequel to this sequel. Through them all may be detected the unifying principle that literature in its truest sense includes life itself; that intellect is the handmaid to conscience; and that the best books are those which best teach men how to live. The maxim, Righteousness delivers from death, applies to books as well as to men. A literature whose consistent theme is Righteousness, is immortal.’

*     *

A reliable English translation of the whole Babylonian Talmud has long been looked forward to by scholars. This expectation is beginning be realised by the publication of the Soncino edition of the Order Nezikin.

The translation is based on the Text of the Wilna Talmud, corrected where necessary in the light of variants from MSS. and other printed editions. All the censored passages reappear in the Text or in the Notes. The Notes bring the essence of the classical interpretations, clarify the argument, explain technical expressions, and show in what sense the Biblical verses quoted are to be understood. Wherever possible, place-names are identified, historical and archaeological allusions elucidated, and their parallels in the life of contemporary nations traced.

This notable achievement is due to the quite extraordinary erudition of the Editor, Rabbi Dr I. Epstein, assisted by his staff of scholarly translators. The Editor’s Prefatory Note gives some indication of his colossal task. Aside from planning the scope and character of the work, the Editor Fixed the Text, controlled the


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[page xxviii] translation and interpretation, as well as the introductions and glossaries to the various parts, and supplied the greater portion of the ‘cultural’ notes.

The Publishers too have done their share in the undertaking conscientiously and efficiently. With the result, that never before has there appeared a translation of the Order Nezikin as helpful to the student as these volumes of the Soncino edition of the Babylonian Talmud in English.


London, Chanukah 5695
2 December 1934

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