The Babylonian Talmud
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Judaism
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The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) consists of documents compiled over the period of late antiquity (3rd to 6th centuries). The Babylonian Talmud comprises the Mishnah and the Babylonian Gemara, the latter representing the culmination of more than 300 years of analysis of the Mishnah in the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia. Tradition ascribes the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud in its present form to two Babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina II.
The Babylonian Talmud
translated by
Michael L. Rodkinson

Preface to the Second Edition

THE translator of the Talmud, who has now reached the thirteenth volume of his task, covering twenty-one tracts of this great work, certainly cannot point with any great pride to the fact that this is the second edition of his translation which first appeared in 1896, for he believes that the opening and bringing to light of a book so long withheld from the gaze of the curious, and even the learned, should have attracted more attention and deserved greater consideration than it has received. However, he is glad to see that thousands of readers have at last taken advantage of the opportunity of looking into the “sealed book,” and to such an extent that second editions have become necessary, both of this volume and of the Tract Rosh Hashana of the fourth volume, which he has reëdited and enlarged upon, adding many historical facts and legends, so that they now appear as practically new works.

This is certainly an encouragement to him to continue his work, with the hope that in time it will gain the proper recognition and proper attention which he thinks this great work of the sixth century should receive at the hands of all scholars and even laymen.

In revising this volume the translator had in mind the many criticisms which have been passed upon his effort and which have appeared in various papers throughout different countries, but he gave his attention to those only which were not prompted by animosity and jealousy. He begs to call the attention of all critics to the dictum of the Talmud, “Kal Hat’haloth Kashoth” (all beginnings are difficult); for, bearing this in mind, they would no doubt have been more moderate.

The translator will be very grateful to critics who will call his attention to any mistakes made in the translation of the original text. However, he will positively ignore criticisms of the kind described above.

The translator further hopes that this and the succeeding volumes will meet with the favor and approval of the public, which will be sufficient reward to repay him for his efforts.

M. L. R.

NEW YORK, June, 1901.


Editor’s Preface

[To the first edition.]

THE Hebrew edition of Rosh Hashana contains an elaborate introduction in three chapters, the translation of which does not appear as yet. Its contents include many important rules which we have followed in the entire work, but we do not feel called upon at this time to engross the time of the English reader by reciting them. We, however, deem it a duty to say a few words, so that the reader may understand our position and the reason why we have undertaken a work which will probably be productive of much adverse criticism in certain quarters.

The fate of the Talmud has been the fate of the Jews. As soon as the Hebrew was born he was surrounded by enemies. His whole history has been one of struggle against persecution and attack. Defamation and deformation have been his lot. So too, has it been with the Talmud. At the beginning of its formative period, viz., the development of the Mishna, it was beset by such enemies as the Sadducees, the Boëthusians, and other sects, not to mention the Roman Government. When its canon was fixed, the Karaites tried to destroy or belittle its influence, and since that time it has been subjected to an experience of unvarying difficulty. Yet, with remarkable truth, the words of Isaiah [xliii. 2] may be applied to both: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” There is, however, one point concerning which this simile is not true. The Jew has advanced; the Talmud has remained stationary.

Since the time of Moses Mendelssohn the Jew has made vast strides forward. There is to-day no branch of human activity in which his influence is not felt. Interesting himself in the affairs of the world, he has been enabled to bring a degree of intelligence and industry to bear upon modern life that has challenged the admiration of the world. But with the Talmud it is not so. That vast encyclopædia of Jewish lore remains as it was. No improvement has been possible; no progress has been made with it. Issue after issue has appeared, but it has always been called the Talmud Babli, as chaotic as it was when its canon was originally appointed. Commentary upon commentary has appeared; every issue of the Talmud contains new glosses from prominent scholars, proposing textual changes, yet the text of the Talmud has not received that heroic treatment that will alone enable us to say that the Talmud has been improved. Few books have ever received more attention than this vast storehouse of Jewish knowledge. Friends and enemies it has had. Attack after attack has been made upon it, and defence after defence made for it; yet whether its enemies or its defenders have done it more harm it would be hard to tell. Not, forsooth, that we do not willingly recognize that there have been many learned and earnest spirits who have labored faithfully in its behalf; but for the most part, if the Talmud could speak, it would say, “God save me from my friends!” For the friends have, generally, defended without due knowledge of that stupendous monument of rabbinical lore; and the enemies have usually attacked it by using single phrases or epigrams disconnected from their context, by which method anything could be proven. In both cases ignorance has been fatal. For, how many have read the whole Talmud through and are thus competent to judge of its merits? Is it right to attack or defend without sufficient information? Is it not a proof of ignorance and unfairness to find fault with that of which we are not able to give proper testimony?

Let us take the case of those persons in particular who attacked the Talmud and made it the object of their venomous vituperation. Is it possible that they could have believed it a work capable of teaching the monstrous doctrines so frequently attributed to it, when that work says, among other things, “When one asks for food, no questions shall be asked as to who he is, but he must immediately be given either food or money”? Could a work be accused of frivolity and pettiness that defines wickedness to be “the action of a rich man who, hearing that a poor man is about to buy a piece of property, secretly overbids him”?(Qiddushin, 59a.) Could there be a higher sense of true charity than that conveyed by the following incident? Mar Uqba used to support a poor man by sending him on the eve of each Day of Atonement four hundred zuz. When the rabbi’s son took the money on one occasion he heard the poor man’s wife say, “Which wine shall I put on the table? Which perfume shall I sprinkle around the room?” The son, on hearing these remarks, returned with the money to his father and told him of what he had heard. Said Mar Uqba: “Was that poor man raised so daintily that he requires such luxuries? Go back to him and give him double the sum?” (Ketuboth, 7a.) This is not recorded by the Talmud as an exception; but it is the Talmudical estimate of charity. The Talmud is free from the narrowness and bigotry with which it is usually charged, and if phrases used out of their context, and in a sense the very reverse from that which their author intended, are quoted against it, we may be sure that those phrases never existed in the original Talmud, but are the later additions of its enemies and such as never studied it. When it is remembered that before the canon of the Talmud was finished, in the sixth century, it had been growing for more than six hundred years, and that afterward it existed in fragmentary manuscripts for eight centuries until the first printed edition appeared; that during the whole of that time it was beset by ignorant, unrelenting, and bitter foes; that marginal notes were easily added and in after years easily embodied in the text by unintelligent copyists and printers, such a theory as here advanced seems not at all improbable.

The attacks on the Talmud have not been made by the enemies of the Jews alone. Large numbers of Jews themselves repudiate it, denying that they are Talmud Jews, or that they have any sympathy with it. Yet there are only the few Karaites in Russia and Austria, and the still fewer Samaritans in Palestine, who are really not Talmud Jews. Radical and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, not only find their exact counterparts in the Talmud, but also follow in many important particulars the practices instituted through the Talmud, e.g., New Year’s Day, Pentecost (so far as its date and significance are concerned), the QADDISH, etc. The modern Jew is the product of the Talmud, which we shall find is a work of the greatest sympathies, the most liberal impulses, and the widest humanitarianism. Even the Jewish defenders have played into the enemy’s hands by their weak defences, of which such expressions as “Remember the age in which it was written,” or “Christians are not meant by ‘gentiles,’ but only the Romans, or the people of Asia Minor,” etc., may be taken as a type.

Amid its bitter enemies and weak friends the Talmud has suffered a martyrdom. Its eventful history is too well known to require detailing here. We feel that every attack on it is an attack upon the Jew. We feel that defence by the mere citation of phrases is useless and at the best weak. To answer the attacks made upon it through ludicrous and garbled quotations were idle. There is only one defence that can be made in behalf of the Talmud. Let it plead its own cause in a modern language!