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I am presently working on an interesting article by Qadi Iyyad Zahalka on the question and status of Shari’a Courts in Israel, which I look forward to sharing with you, but first I really need to answer a comment by Herdian, to an older post by me.
“Maybe this is a semantic problem. Perhaps you meant that Jews are forbidden to study other religious texts in the same way that they study the Torah i.e. by pondering it, taking it into heart, and applying it to one’s own life. But scholarly studies of them are fine to certain extents.”
The question relate to the post, where I speculate on the claim that I, as a religious Jew, am not allowed to study the texts of other religions, based on the reading of Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, where I related to a number of Talmudic verses in order to nuance the verse and claim in question.
What Herdian states in his question actually is how I understand the reading of the Talmudic verses, that those pre-Mishnah texts, which are very similar to the Holy Jewish Scripture, are not allowed to be read/studied, while other texts after the time of the Mishnah (and the canonization of the TaNaCh) are okay to read, since they would be read as “one reads a letter”, that is, one would know that they are not part of the Holy Texts, and therefor one would’t subscribe them the same value or learn from them in the sense of “holy learning”. That is, studying them is not part of a spiritual process, but rather being a secular affair.
Herdian’s following comment is interesting:
“The age of Enlightenment is an interesting phenomenon. All religions in general will never be the same after passing through that age. It is a change of attitude towards life, which in some ways are in conflict with religious outlooks. And the battle still continues to this day. Religious people sholdn’t ignore what the Enlightenment has to say about religion, although they don’t agree with it. Rather, they should study it seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically if they want to maintain their (intellectual) integrity.”
Herdian, I agree with you, at least in the general.
I’m not sure that the Enlightenment is of bigger importance than other historical schisms, for example the coming of Christianity and Islam, which – I believe – played a huge role for Judaism, just as the destruction of the two Temples did, as well as Holocaust and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. At least these events are deciding for Judaism and the Jewish people, both in self-awareness and development.
That I relate to a number of great events, and not the Enlightenment alone, probably also is the reason that I don’t see Herdian’s criteria (studying their religion seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically) in order to maintain integrity. Basically, when I view some Jewish groups and movements who have taken upon themselves to study their religion according to these criteria, I am not so sure about their integrity, but that is just my personal opinion.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with Herdian, indeed, the critical and scholarly study of Judaism, among learned Jews, has been an important element. I just need to mention people like Yehudah HaNasi, Sa’adya Gaon, Maimonides, Ibn ‘Ezra, and in more recent times, R. Soloveitchik and R. Yosef Qappah, to point to the important element of scholarly and critical study in Judaism.
More important, I believe, we should be aware that Religion, as other in other cases, is a product of the reality it exists in. Progress and developments in religions are reactions to what happens around them, and these reactions are left as historical imprints, being viewed and understood as something close to a revelation for the followers afterwards. Let me take one example to illustrate.
In Halachah it is not allowed for Jews to eat the food of non-Jews, since they might intermingle too much and marry their children to the children of the non-Jews. This prohibition is Talmudic, and there are discussions on whether one may eat food cooked by non-Jews, as long as the fire is lit by a Jew. For a more extensive discussion on this, see the following three discussions:
From the reasoning in these three discussions, we see the argument being that “[t]here are two reasons for the why our Sages decreed that a Jew may not eat food cooked by a non-Jew: The first is since a Jew may not marry a non-Jew, if Jews are accustomed to eating with non-Jews and mingling with them, this may cause intermarriage between them […] The second reason is because our Sages were concerned that the non-Jew may place non-kosher ingredients in the food and feed it to the Jew.”
See also Talmud Bavli Yevamoth 46a and Avodah Zarah 59a.
The prohibition is clearly based on a reaction to assimilation in Babylon. Based on the fear that the Jews would intermingle and become to friendly with the non-Jews, and from that marry their children with each other, the Talmudic Sages, z”l, saw to it to create boundaries which would make this intermingling difficult.
This is a decision taken, in order to protect the Jewish minority against the non-Jewish majority, and I wonder – had this been in the opposite case – whether they would have made the same decision, if they didn’t see the Jews marrying non-Jews.
Today in Israel – as is witnessed by the three discussions linked to – we are experiencing the aftermath of these rulings, but this time in the opposite situation, now in a state, where the Jews are the majority, and the non-Jews are the minority, as well as the consequences of this change. We see for example, in the discussion on legumes cooked by non-Jews, that there is leniency on canned legumes, since the danger that Jews intermingle with non-Jews does not exist in this case, and therefore there isn’t a problem in eating canned legumes, even when they are cooked by non-Jews, though other authorities do differ on this, relating instead to the chance that there might be non-kosher elements in the food.
And relating to the discussion on restaurants employing non-Jews, we see that as long as the fire is started by a Jew – in case of Ashkenazim – then the food is accepted, even if a non-Jew places the food (making the rationale be that the one starting the fire is the one cooking the food), whereas other – Sfardic – authorities rule that as long as the Jew does not place the food, then it is not kosher (relating the question of who cooks the food to who places the food, rather than who turns on the fire), though having R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, establishing the leniency that as long as the restaurant is owned by a Jew, and hence being under halachic authority and having to follow kashrut, then it is enough that a Jew lights the fire.
What this means in practice is, that the decision of R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, makes it possible for Jewish restaurant owners to survive in Israel, something which would be harder, had he not adopted this leniency, which again shows development being a reaction to developments in the society the religion exists in. Had we been in a society where the vast majority had been Jews, and only very few workers in a restaurant would have been non-Jews, making it a fact that there always would have been Jews in the restaurant, then I doubt that we would have seen this decision.
This leads us back to Herdian’s criteria. I don’t believe that his criteria alone is enough for integrity. Rather, the religious scholar need also understand the demands of the followers, the situation the religion exists in, as well as relating all his decisions to traditional rulings, as well as relating to Herdian’s criteria. But this has been the historical reality for those Jewish leaders, who managed to gather the Jews and strengthening the acceptance of the Jewish Rabbinical tradition, relating to the incidents and reality of their time, also before the Enlightenment.
That way we see that Ezra, a”s, related to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem, Yehudah HaNasi, z”l, relating to the need of conserving the Oral Tradition, Sa’adya Gaon’s understanding of a number of factors, Maimonides need to help the unlearned Jews having an easier time finding rabbinical rulings (as well as the general need of being an attentive and empathetic leader), and so on.
I hope that gave a more full picture of my thoughts on the issue.
No, not the political Israeli party, but rather the Talmud. Sha”S is an abbreviation of the Hebrew “shisha sedarim,” six orders, which relates to the six orders of the Talmud, namely Zera’im (on agriculture), Mo’ed (the festivals and holy times), Nashim (on women), Neziqin (damages, typical criminal law), Qodashim (the Holies), and Tehorot (purities).
A new initiative to strengthen the study of the Talmud, has been created by Sammy Sacks, Elon Weintraub, Brian Wartell,Atara Chouake, and Shmueli Englard, with the help of Scott Silver and Binyomin Burke, six American college students dedicated to the study of the Talmud.
Basically what they want to do, is to promote the study of the Talmud on their campus, but since they have gone internet it is possible for the rest of the world to follow their progress, and even participate in it. And I think we should, at least as much as we are able to.
From what I can see so far, what they are offering is both a systematic study, giving the students some order in what is being studied, explanations on what is being studied, as well as how to study the material at hand, material they also provide on their website and Youtube channel.
Personally I always appreciate new and serious initiatives in studies of Jewish texts, particularly the Talmud, and I would encourage the rest of you out there on participating in their efforts.
To add to that I would like to give some thoughts on why one should study Talmud. First off, to get rid of some of the misconceptions there exist about the Talmud, both as text and as of message. One of the major misconceptions I know of, is that the Talmud is a book of law. It is true that there is a great deal of law found in it, but not only law, and also true that the Talmud forms the basis – together, or based upon, the Torah – but not only so. Rather, as Elon also points out in one of their videos, Talmud is rather a book of Jewish thought. Jacob Neusner, one of the biggest scholars on Talmudic studies (in the academic world), describes it as a “fundamentally and deeply religious literature,” something he is right in. My own perception of the Talmud is that – though only formed and authored by a small number of Jews, compared to the overall number of Jews found through history – it is the piece of Jewish literature, forming and defining what it means to be “Jew” and what “Judaism” is. Of course, there has been differing understandings of what Judaism is, for example the Karaite Judaism, and it is not without a reason that scholars are talking about Rabbinites and Rabbinite Judaism, when they write on Jewish history – or rather on the history of Judaism. But still, if we are relating to Jewry of today, then the Talmud – together with the Bible, and none of them alone on their own – is the defining piece of literature, even when it comes to the Karaites and other Jewish groups/sects, which are more defining themselves in reaction to the Rabbinic teachings, as they are mainly defined by the Talmud, rather than on their own.
But yet the Talmud is a very mystical piece of literature for most. Many are talking about it, but not many know it. It is used against Jews, by antisemites promoting lies and distortions based on either faulty believes of the Talmud or fabricated claims of what it states. It is also being promoted as evidence of the genius of the Jews, as if it is some kind of superior writing, which can only be written by people of a certain intellectual level (which I tend to agree with, but not that this should something particularly Jewish).
The Talmud encourages thought, discussion, debate, curiosity, want for knowledge. It is never satisfied, until each and every stone has been turned, and nothing can be said for or against, besides what already has been said. And often it doesn’t even decide on a case, even then, at least not clearly. This in itself makes the Talmud curious, what is it that it wants to tell us? But also that it covers a span on 600 years of Jewish intellectual reactions to the changes of a rather turbulent world full of contrasts, relating to the meetings with various cultures and religions, and how the Jewish sages saw themselves, as well as the Jewish people as a whole, in contrast to these cultures and religions. It is a book by humans, on humans, in relation to humans, but all the time in connection to the Divine, and never does it back away from a difficult question.
So, go for it, at least allow yourself to be introduced to the world of Talmud, and give yourself the chance to understand the core of Jewish thought.
Being a religious Jew and an academic student of religions, can sometimes present you for some interesting reactions, especially when you live in a society like the Israeli, where the idea of various religious groups living together is okay, but studying each other religious texts are less normal (it does happen though).
One reaction I’ve gotten a couple of times is based on a mishnah in the Mishnah, Tractate Sanhedrin, which states that:
“… these do not have a portion in the world-to-come: One who says, ”Resurrection of the dead is not from the Torah,” and ”the Torah is not from Heaven,” and an heretic apikoros. Rabbi Akiva says, Even one who reads external books…” (Sanhedrin 10:1 – Kehati translation)
The problem being R. Akiva’s statement. According to the people reacting to when I tell what I study, what I study is contrary to what is allowed from the Mishnah (and the Mishnah is considered holy, also by me). The Hebrew is “af haqore bisfarim haḥitzonim” (אף הקורא בספרים החיצונים), the “ḥitzonim” meaning something external, that is, outside the accepted tradition, which would include any religious (or non-religious) book you can imagine, which is not either part of the Canon or Rabbinical of nature. Or does it mean this?
Let us take one Jewish commentary, before we delve into some of the interesting aspects of Talmuds and manuscripts, that of R. Yitzḥaq Alfasi, who states that these books are books of heretics who interpreted the Biblical texts according to their own opinions, rather than to follow those of the Rabbinical Sages, z”l. From this we can learn that external texts are not so much connected to non-Jewish religious texts, as they are connected to Jewish religious heretical texts. This will also be clear from the following discussion.
First I want to relate to the Babylonian Gemarrah on the Mishnah, which is found in Sanhedrin 100b. Here we can read (differences of wordings is caused by the use of a difference translation, the Hebrew is the same):
“R. Akiva said: Also he who reads uncanonical books, etc.” A Tanna taught: This means the books of the Sadducees. R. Joseph said: It is also forbidden to read the book of Ben Sira.”
So here we see that the books thought about, as understood by a Tannaic rabbi, as well as the later Amorai, R. Joseph, are Jewish books. They don’t relate to, e.g., Greek or Persian religious writings, only Jewish – in their eyes – heretical writings.
In the Yerushalmi we can read the following on the same mishnah (Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 28a):
“R. Akiva adds: one who reads the outside books such as the books of Ben Sira and the books of Ben La’aga. But he who reads the books of Homer and all other books that were written from then on, is considered like one who is reading a secular document… (here is a quote from Ecclesiastes 12:12)… Hence, casual reading is permissible but intensive studying is forbidden.”
Also here we see that it is related to other Jewish writings (Ben Sira and Ben La’aga both being Jews) as being problematic, as far as they are considered heretic, while Greek texts, and texts written after that particular time are not.
The question is why this is the case? What is so bad about the Jewish heretical writings, which is not found in the non-Jewish religious texts? The answer is found in the discussion following R. Joseph’s statement in the Talmud Bavli. Basically – to sum up – the problem lies in the fact that the Jewish heretical writings are too similar to the canonical Jewish writings, that is, the Canon of the Bible and the sayings of the Rabbinical Sages, z”l. One – particularly an unlearned – can easily confuse the two (as an example try to read the writings of Ben Sira and compare them with, e.g., Ecclesiastes), while this is not the case with non-Jewish religious writings (compare, e.g., the Torah and the Quran). Also, since they at this time, of the Mishnah, did have a canon, when it came to the Biblical writings, then it would not be a problem with later texts, since we would know that they are written too late to be part of the Biblical canon.
According to the Sages, z”l, what we are dealing with is a question of accepted texts being part of the canon, and therefore holy, or heretical texts proposing themselves as being holy texts, part of the canon.
There is also the question of which words were used about the texts in questions. We find differences depending on which manuscripts we are reading. As we saw, the Tanna taught that what was meant was “books of the Sadducees,” but some manuscripts have “minim” (מינים) instead of “Sadducees.” This word is used about heretic Jews, particular Christian Jews – which most likely also is why “Sadducees” have been inserted in some manuscripts, since Christians in the Medieval times didn’t take so lightly on what could be considered an affront to Christian dogmas and teachings.
But all in all we get a picture of a statement, which most likely was primarily concerned with the confrontation between canonical Holy Texts, and heretic writings, which might have been confused with Holy Scripture, rather than a statement against the study (even more the modern academic study) of non-Jewish religious texts, which – as we saw – were considered on level with secular writings, and as such would not be object for the same intensive study, as would be the case with Jewish Holy texts.
What can we learn from this, besides the already explained? Well, that when we are dealing with religious texts, particularly when they are found within a religious tradition (and most religious texts are, not surprisingly), then we need to get into the details and expand the reading if we want to really understand their meaning. Just reading one text artificially, and then believe that we get the full picture from that, is simply misleading. Unfortunately many religious people today seem to read their own religious texts that way, something which damage and bring their religion down on a level, rendering it without meaning or purpose. Religions, whether it be Judaism or other religions, are not afraid of the critical study of their texts, on the contrary, they demand it. They want the believer to understand what the religion is about, not just based on a shallow reading of one or two text, for then to believe that the answer and solution is found, based on that inadequate reading.
First off I want to relate you to an amazing and informative post by Jessica on askanislamicist, where she writes about Schacht and Hallaq, two Islamicists, who are important to know and understand in order to get the discussion at hand, and in the academic study of Islamic law in general. So please take a little time reading her post before reading the following.
Did you read it? Good, let’s get to it.
As you without a doubt read in my two last posts, I am telling a little about my assignments, having the last post being about my assignment on the Quranic view on Biblical texts. In this post I will deal with my seminar paper on the comparative study of stoning in Judaism and Islam. But first, why stoning? What is it that makes a sane guy (as far as I am sane, I’m doubting that sometimes, and I know my wife wasn’t too sure after having witnessed me going in depth with the issue) focus on stoning, maybe one of the most cruel capital punishments the human mind can think of? Well, let me tell you this; as part of this study I also read about other capital punishments, and there are methods of killing out there WAY worse than stoning. As a matter of fact, if I should choose between all the methods of being killed (and no, please don’t take this as an encouragement, I do like to live), stoning definitely comes on my top5 list. Just think about the Chinese way of cutting of pieces of the body, flesh first, then limbs, until you die. Or the Persian method of – well- feeding you with milk and honey until you – as a consequence – have certain natural urges, but then trap you in a hollow tree or two boats put together, place you in the desert, and let bugs be your only company, until you die from one of several causes. Detailed enough I think, and I do apologize. But this study was a lot about details, and how they did not fit together.
When one says “stoning,” many might think of “Muslim barbarians” stoning innocent women in Africa or wherever you find these kinds of guys. Well, breaking illusions, as it is portrayed these cases of stoning is actually going against Islamic law, and is more telling about people basing their judgment on lack of knowledge, than actually relating to Islamic law. Of course, the women being stoned (because it is interestingly enough mostly women, though Islam also prescribes stoning for men) probably don’t care much, but when we relate to Islam and the matter of stoning, this is of extreme importance. The equitant being that some Americans groups killed people randomly with gas, and then establish that this was telling of the States in general, since gassing is one of the ways of killing criminals convicted to death (and any innocent who ends up there, based on a error of judgment).
That aside, Islam is not the only religion having stoning as a death sentence, as well as stoning is not the only way of killing. There is also crucifixion and beheading, depending on what the crime is. Stoning in Islam is given for adultery, but not all people committing adultery are judged to stoning. One has to be “muhsan,” that is, married, free, Muslim, adult, and of sane mind. A slave, for example, cannot be judged to stoning, but “only” lashes, and only half of what the free non-muhsan Muslim would receive. So the punishment is to a lesser degree dependent on what is done, as to who has done it, except in case of sodomy, which also leads to stoning, no matter the status of the person doing the crime.
In Judaism it is a little different. Here it is not so much the status of the person who did the crime that matters, as the crime being done. For example, if you have sex with a married woman you would receive a different punishment than if you had sex with a betrothed woman, who was a virgin, or if you had sex with your daughter in law or your father’s wife. Also, in Judaism stoning is not only related to adultery, but also to certain rebellious attitudes, for example he who curses his parents, as well as idolatry.
Another difference, which I put particular interest in, is the concept of stoning, that is, how it is done. In the Bible, the Torah, we find stoning mentioned with two terms, s’qilah (סקילה), and regimah (רגימה). It is not clear what the difference between the two is, when reading the Torah itself, but relating to various dictionaries, such as Gesenius’, we can learn that the term s’qilah is related to something heavy, probably being related to the Arab word shaql (شقل), while the term regimah is related to the sense of something being thrown as a missile, piling up. This is interesting, since the Arabic word for stoning is rajm (), which is basically the Arab form of the Hebrew regimah, consisting of the same root (resh/ra, gimel/gjim, mem/mim), and they both carry the same basic meaning.
What is even more interesting is that when we read the Mishnah on stoning, in Seder Neziqin, Massechet Sanhedrin, we see that stoning is described in relation to s’qilah, namely via a heavy stone thrown on the sentenced in order to crush him (after having been pushed down from a height of two men – maybe an influence from Roman law, though not of interest here). If he does not die from this, a second heavy stone is thrown at him by the witnesses, and then – if he should survive that as well, he is to be pelted by “Israel,” that is, the people witnessing the stoning. The word used in order of the heavy stones is s’qilah, while the term used for the people pelting him is regimah. Here we clearly see the difference between the two terms, the one relating to crushing with a heavy stone, where as the other is relating to stones thrown/pelted at somebody. For the Hebrew speakers it might be interesting to read the verses in the Torah with that knowledge in mind, and see what meaning the verses give you now – and please write in a comment what you got out of it, could be interesting to hear.
Stoning in Islam is solely described with the term rajm, that is, the Arabic version of regimah. The understanding is the same, pointing at a shared Semitic origin. Also, if we read ancient Semitic laws, such as Hammurabi and the Eshnunna, we will see that the term regimah/rajm is also used, so there is a pre-Judaic/Islamic origin of the regimah/rajm.
Considering these details, and many more which I also describe, it is hard to reach the conclusion that the stoning of Islam is influenced or even borrowed from the Jewish ditto. Rather it seems like they share a common origin, but Judaism developed the concept of stoning, maybe influenced by some non-Semitic sources. It seems more that the Islamic concept of stoning is of a pre-Islamic Arabic and maybe even Semitic origin, going back to early Aramaic-Arabic relations, long before Islam.
This was the first part I dealt with in the paper. The second part is relating to the Schacht-Hallaq impasse (!!), and their claims. Schacht believes that stoning is a later Islamic concept, most likely borrowed from Judaism, and from Iraqi-Jewish sources (such as the Talmud and the early Geonim). Schacht sees the Iraqi Muslim scholars and jurist as the definers of Islamic law, particularly Shafi’î, who is considered one of the greatest and earliest Islamic legal minds, and the founding father of the four roots of Usul al-Fiqh (Quran, Sunnah, Ijma, and Qiyas). Hallaq on the other hand sees the Hijaz as the legal forming center, and refuses Schacht’s critical attitude to the hadiths. Hallaq sees a lot of pre-Islamic Arabic legal practice as the base for later Islamic law, or at least sees Islamic law as being founded in a shared Semitic origin, rather as mere borrowing from Jewish or Roman law (the latter is something Schacht believes strongly being the source of much of Islamic law).
But relating this to stoning. Since Schacht believes that stoning only entered Islamic law some centuries after Muhammad’s death, and that it is based on Jewish traditions, while Hallaq sees the opposite, what can my study say about this? I think it’s obvious. The Islamic concept of stoning does not seem to be much influenced by the Jewish concept. If indeed Islam “borrowed” the Jewish stoning as a punishment, and this is based on Iraqi Muslim scholars’ meeting with Jewish ditto, why then use the term rajm, and not for example shaql, based on the Hebrew s’qilah, or a derivation thereof? Why do we not see more similarities, or rather any similarities? Why is one judge enough to judge in Islam, when twenty-three (or more) is needed in Judaism? Why are four witnesses needed in Islam, when two is enough in Judaism? Why is Islam more focused on the status of the person, when Judaism is more focused on the crime being done? And so on. It seems a little weird to claim that the Jewish concept of stoning should be the base for the Islamic ditto, when so little is similar between. And Roman law is totally out of the question – as far as I know – since stoning is not used as a capital punishment.
I would rather believe that the roots of Islamic stoning is found in a Semitic environment not being too exposed to non-Semitic cultural encounters, and of all places I can think of the Arabian Peninsula is the only place that could be, which would mean that stoning in Islam most likely is based on pre-Islamic Arabic practices. And if that is the case, then this is definitely going in Hallaq’s favour.
Of course, stoning could be based on Sassanian law (pre-Islamic Persian dynasty), but my knowledge about Sassanian law is close to non-existent. So if anyone out there can enlighten me on that subject I would be grateful.
Some notes here in the end I probably need to share, which is obvious from the paper itself, but not from what I have written here: The Quran says nothing about stoning as a punishment. On the contrary, the Quran prescribes lashes as punishment for adultery. I related only to Sunni-Fiqh, not Shi’a, and I based the paper on the Maliki al-Muwatta, though many of the hadiths I related to also are found both in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. I also only related to the Mishnah, not so much to the Gemarrah, since the Mishnah lays the foundation and the Gemarrah only relates to the broadening of details. Furthermore I spent some space in the paper on discussing the hadith about the two Jews being brought to Muhammad, and the problematic nature of ‘Abdullah ibn Salâm’s involvement, considering that he should have been a learned rabbi, in comparison to the details being presented in the hadith.
With that said I think it’s time to stop. Thanks for your time.
All the best.
The finals for this semester are closing in, and it provokes the inevitable question: What am I going to write about in my assignments?
This summer will present me for five finals, which all need a written assignment, one of them being a seminar paper, so there will be a lot of writing, which is fine, I do love to write, but it also takes a lot of extra reading. Nothing to do about that, besides to read.
What is nice about this semester, contrary to the last, is that I have more freedom to choose subjects, so the subjects will be more interesting for me. Anyway, as far as I have decided the subjects I am going to write about are:
The Use of Quranic Verses in Umayyad Architecture: In the course Archaeology and History of Muslim Jerusalem I have been wondering where to put my focus. Since the course mostly focused on the archaeology, and not so much in the history (well, it is part of it), I wondered how to combine it with my study of religion. My decision fell on the use of Quranic verses, which seems to be have very widespread during the Umayyad Caliphate, e.g. in the Dome of the Rock, so I thought that it could be interesting to see how the Quran was used as part of architecture and whether it was meant as some sort of educational tool, as was the case with other expressions of thought, e.g. in mosaics.
Christian Thought on Free Will: In the Early Christianity and Late Antiquity we have dealt most of this semester with studies on Augustine. In one of the classes we dealt with another Christian and contemporary of Augustine, Pelagius, who did provoke some controversy, among other thing on the question of free will and original sin. I found the thought interesting, especially from a theological point of view. Do we really have free will? If not, is God then Just? And if so, is God then All Powerful? It’s going to be interesting to see what these two thinkers thought of it.
Abraham ibn ‘Ezra’s response to Muslim Polemical Arguments: In the Medieval Jewish Exegesis we have dealt with the commentaries and methodology of four great Jewish commentators from the medieval Western Europe, namely Rashi, his grandson Rashbam, Abraham ibn ‘Ezra, and RaMBaN. Since I am mostly focused in the meetings between Islam and Judaism, I have decided to focus on ibn ‘Ezra and possible answers against Muslim attacks on the Jewish faith. I have to admit that I’m not too sure whether he really did deal with it, so I might change focus to his answers to the Karaites instead, in order to keep my focus on the Muslim world.
The Jewish Convert’s Attack on Judaism, and the Jewish Thinker’s Responses: The Battle over the Bible has really been an interesting course, where I’ve learned a lot of new things concerning approaches to the Bible as text and as phenomenon, both concerning Jewish, Christian and Muslim attitudes. Especially one Muslim caught my attention, the 12th century Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi, who wrote a polemical work against the Jewish faith called Ifham al-Yahoud, Silencing the Jew. This work apparently did become rather known, since we see a lot of later responses to it. One who responded rather early is Maimonides, though not on all of the Ifham, and probably not directly on it either. In his Iggeret Teyman, Letter to Yemen, he responds on some of the claims which is being brought forth in the Ifham. It could be interesting to see how the two view the Bible, and how Samaw’el’s approach differ from earlier Muslim approaches to the Bible.
Jewish Influences on Early Islamic Jurisprudence: This is one I’m really looking forward to, and which I have spend a lot of time considering. In the Early Islamic Texts and the Formation of the Muslim Community I have chosen to write my first seminar paper. I did decide from the outset to focus on Islamic law, since I feel that there are a lot of similarities between law in Islam and in Judaism, both in rules but also in methodology and attitudes. It is going to be a challenging subject though, leaving me with four problems to choose between. The first is the obvious comparative study of Jewish and Islamic Jurisprudence, where I wondered about whether there are any Jewish influences in the way early Islamic scholars approached the deduction of laws. One reason why I think so is the contrast in method there existed between the two earliest schools of law in Islam, al-Maliki and al-Hanafi, the former being situated in Medina and Mecca, and traditionally focused on tradition, based on the logic that since the prophet lived there, then he would naturally correct people who did things incorrect as well as showing the people the correct ways, whereas the latter, situated in Iraq, was much more inclined to relate to logical reasoning, something they might have learned from the many great Jewish scholars which had their ancient dwelling there, namely in the old Babylon. It wouldn’t be totally weird for the early Muslims to have relations to the Jewish scholars of Iraq. This doesn’t mean that there was influences or that they were total in so far as there were. The problem is how to relate to the matter, do we choose to make an external or internal study, do we compare the apparent similarities or do we go in and focus on the approach and outlook.
The interest in this particular subject was raised by two articles, one by Judith Romney Wegner, “Islamic and Talmudic Jurisprudence: The Four Roots of Islamic Law and their Talmudic Counterparts,” and one by Joseph E. David, “Legal Comparability and Cultural Identity: The Case of Legal Reasoning in Jewish and Islamic Tradition.”
In Islamic Jurisprudence there are four sources traditionally, two revealed sources, Quran and the Sunnah of the prophet (as it is found in the Hadith-literature), as well as Ijma, which means consensus, as well as Qiyas, which means analogical reasoning. The two first sources are agreed upon a hundred percent by all four schools, where as the two latter sources are subject for discussions.
Wegner, in her article, argues that the four sources are influenced by Jewish sources in the Talmud, the Quran being the Islamic answer on the Written Torah, the Sunnah on Oral Torah (written down in what is called Mishnah, which root is close to the root of sunnah), the consensus of the Ulamah, the learned Islamic scholars, being the Islamic answer on the consensus of the Sages, and Qiyas, legal reasoning being the answer on the Talmudic reasoning, two forms of reasoning which seem pretty similar, at least from an external point of view. And it is here where David comes in with his article, where he deals with different approaches to the comparative study, attempting to present a new approach, “jurisprudential consciousness”, based on the conscious ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and reasoning of the jurist, which contrary to Wegner’s approach is a much more internal approach, leaving a different impression than the first.
An example is in its place, taken from David’s article. In both the Talmudic reasoning as well as in Islamic reasoning there is an understanding of judicial error, that is, a judge who makes a faulty decision. There are two categories under this subject, those faults which are based on lack of knowledge or understanding of the revealed sources, and those which is caused by flawed legal reasoning. In both Judaism and Islam the former has to be corrected, whereas the latter is accepted. And in both religions the former is based on precisely the same criteria, going against the revealed sources (in Judaism the Written and the Oral Torah, and in Islam the Quran and the Sunnah), where is the criteria differs in the latter case. In the Talmud the flaw based on legal reasoning is based on the wrong choice of two differing opinions, which have never been dealt with. It can be the case of two Tannaim (Mishnaic Sages) or two Amoraim (later Sages from the Gemarrah) who have a disagreement which was never solved. A later judge might then base his decision on one of the two opinions, whereas the general practice follows the other opinion. It is a fault, since he should have followed the normal practice, but it is still accepted. In case of Islamic thought, at least according to Shafi’i, the fault is caused based on flawed legal reasoning based on the principle of qiyas, analogy, not on the judge deciding the wrong of two differing opinions. And here we see a contrast between Jewish and Islamic legal reasoning.
But this is only the first of the four possible problems I might choose among. That is, how much similarity or difference are there between Jewish and Islamic legal thought, and can this be a sign of Jewish influence on early Islamic legal thought? The next problem is to establish connections. Namely, are there any Jewish converts who had influence on early Islamic law? If not, can we then assume that early Muslim legal scholars met with Jewish scholars and discussed with them? That is also an interesting question, a question which demands a different approach, focusing on historic accounts on interfaith meetings between Jews and Muslims within the first centuries of Islamic time.
The third question deals with the reasoning and methods of the “ahl al-ra’y,” the people of reasoning, the early Islamic scholars in Iraq, an important step in understanding the way the resonated in their dealing with legal questions. The reason for the importance of this, is obvious. If Shafi’i, a third century AH Islamic scholar, can be said to be influenced by Jewish thought, whereas the earlier Islamic scholar in Iraq differ strongly, then the question is how much Jewish legal thought influenced Islamic legal thought, and if at all.
The fourth problem is the already mentioned difference in approach found in the Meccan-Medinan legal thought, as expressed by imam al-Maliki, and the Iraqi legal thought, expressed by imam abu Hanifa, and their disciples. There are differences and the root and cause of these differences can be hinting to some Jewish influences on the one of them, so far as we can point to any similarity in the legal thought of the two religions.
My problem is to choose only one of these for problems, not having room or time enough to deal seriously with all of them. And I am in doubt which one of them to focus on.
So, there you are. This is my program for next two months. I’m looking forward to share thoughts and progress with you.
In the last part we dealt with the first mishnah of Tractate B’rachot, being presented for opinions on until when we can recite the Shma’, the context of the Shma’, and so on. In this part we will focus on the first discussion relating to the mishnah, called “sugya,” where the Gemarrah will discuss the issue of the order of the recitals of the Shma’:
|The text of the Gemarrah is build up by several parts, dealing with different issues. Each of these parts are called “sugya.”|
|When the Gemarrah talks about the Tanna, then it is referring to the Mishnaic Sage behind the Mishnaic text.|
|As It Is Written||Dichtiv||
|Whenever the Gemarrah states this term, then it deals with Biblical texts.|
|If You Want||`I Ba’yet||
|This expression introduces a strengthening analogy.|
|If This Is So||`I Hachi||
|This expression introduces a challenge to the preceding argument.|
תנא היכא קאי דקתני מאימתי ותו מאי שנא דתני בערבית ברישא? לתני דשחרית ברישא!
תנא אקרא קאי דכתיב בשכבך ובקומך – והכי קתני זמן קריאת שמע דשכיבה אימת? משעה שהכהנים נכנסין לאכול בתרומתן
ואי בעית אימא יליף מברייתו של עולם דכתיב ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד
אי הכי סיפא דקתני בשחר מברך שתים לפניה ואחת לאחרית ובערב מברך שתים לפניה ושתים לאחרית לתני דערבית ברישא
תנא פתח בערבית והדר תני בשחרית עד דקאי בשחרית פריש מילי דשחרית והדר פריש מילי דערבית:
To what is the Tanna referring since he teaches ”from when,” and more, why is it that he teaches about the evening first? He should teach about the morning first.
The Tanna refers to the verse ”when you lay down and when you rise” – And this is what he is teaching, when is the time of the recital of the Shma’ when laying down? From the time that the Kohanim enters in order to eat their Terumah.
And if you want, [then] say that he learned from the creation of the world, as it is written “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”
If this is so, [why is it] in the end [of the Mishnah] taught ”In the morning do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and once after [the Shma’], and in the evening do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and twice after”? Teach in the evening first.
The Tanna opened in the evening and then teaches in the morning, [and] while referring to the morning he explains the subjects of the morning and then returns and explains the subjects of the evening.
- What does the Tanna (of the Mishnah) refer to when he asks “from when”?
- Why does he teach about the evening Shma’ before the morning Shma’?
1: The Gemarrah wonders why the Tanna asks the question “from when” in regards to the evening Shma’. As we learned in the last post this is a rather sudden way of introducing the Mishnah. No explanations on what is going on or what we are about to deal with, just a question throwing us directly into the discussion. This isn’t the worry for the Gemarrah though – it is more interested in the source for the Mishnah’s question. “On what do you base this question? Why do you find the need to ask ‘from when’?” The answer is based on the Biblical verse of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which is part of the recital of the Shma’, and which gives us hints at when we should recite it. If we are to recite a Biblical text, shouldn’t it give us answers about itself as well? The Gemarrah answers for the Mishnah as well: when you lay down [to rest] and when you rise. And since the laying down comes first, then it is clear that this is the Shma’ which the Mishnah relates to, the evening Shma’, and evening, that is, when the evening Shma’ of “when you lay down” can be recited from “when the Kohanim enters to eat their Terumah.”
This first answer answers both the two questions asked, namely what is the basis (Devarim 6:7) for the question, and why is the evening Shma’ dealt with before the morning Shma’, namely because of the order of the wordings of “when you lay down” and “when you rise.”
The Gemarrah offers yet an answer, if the first isn’t satisfying, namely that we can establish the order of why the evening Shma’ is dealt with before the morning Shma’ on the order of Creation, namely that evening came before morning, as it is seen in Bereshit (Genesis) 1:5 – “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”
A third question:
- Why is a later mishnah dealing with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before the evening Shma’, if the order of the Biblical verses argues for the opposite?
The argumentation of the order is challenged by the Gemarrah, referring to a later Mishnah (B’rachot 1:4), which in its order deals with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before it deals with the subjects of the evening Shma. If this is the case, the Gemarrah states, then the Tanna should deal with the morning Shma’ first here also, not the evening Shma’.
This, explains the Gemarrah, is no problem since the Tanna begins with the evening Shma’, which should be so based both on the context of the verse commanding the recital of the Shma’ twice a day, as well as the order of the Creation, but only in order to begin the whole discussion, and then continue to the morning Shma’, and while he is dealing with the morning Shma’ then he deals with its subjects as well, for then to return to the evening Shma’ after that.
There are a number of answers given to us here, not all of them being answers to questions asked, but that is also part of the discussion of the Gemarrah. What we learn here is the order of the recital of the Shma’, having it based on two Biblical verses (Bereshit 1:5 and Devarim 6:7), that evening was prior to morning in the Creation, that the Tanna only used the evening Shma’ as an introduction to the discussions on the subjects related to the recital of the Shma’.
As we see from this first discussion the Gemarrah doesn’t have a problem conducting a discussion with itself. It raises problems as they come, and deal with them based on quoting sources, the Bible and various Mishnaic material, in order to establish a conclusion, a conclusion the Gemarrah itself isn’t afraid of questioning.
There are three sources for the deducing of rules presented for us here. The first, and most important, is the Biblical Scripture, the Torah, the second is the Oral Tradition, here presented in the form of the Mishnah itself, and the third is the inferring by analogy (called Maqqish or Heqqesh). The last is done by the comparison of two cases, in order to establish a conclusion. Here presented in the comparison between the evening Shma’ being presented before the morning Shma’. The question is why this is so. By comparing to two Biblical sources, Devarim 6:7 and Bereshit 1:5, we can learn that just as the evening Shma’ is mentioned in the Bible, so should it be in the Mishnah, which again follow the order of Creation. By this do we see the red thread between the Written and the Oral Torah. In the mishnah itself, the one dealt with already, we see a fourth source, namely consensus, which was the case of the “the Sages say.”
This conclude the first Sugya of the first mishnah.
Chapter 1, page 1b:
Mishnah (I struggled with the layout, so forgive me for the result, I simply couldn’t get it better):
מאימתי קורין את שמע בערבין (?). משעה שהכהנים נכסים לאכול בתרומתן עד סוף האשמורה הראשונה דברי ר’ אליעזר. וחכמים אומרים עד חצות. רבן גמליאל אומר עד שיעלה עמוד השחר.
מעשה(:) ובאו בניו מבית המשתה),) אמרו לו (:) לא קרינו את שמע(,) אמר להם(:) אם לא עלה עמוד השחר חייבין אתם לקרות
ולא זו בלבד אמרו אלא כל מה שאמרו חכמים עד חצות מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר(,) הקטר חלבים ואברים מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר וכל הנאכלים ליום אחד מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר
א”כ למה אמרו חכמים עד חצות(?) כדי להרחיק אדם מן העבירה:
“From when do we recite the Shma’ in the evenings? From the time that the Kohanim enter in order to eat their T’rumah until the end of the first shift, words of R. Eliezer. And the Sages say until midnight. Rabban Gamliel says until the dawn rises.
And it happened: And his sons came from the drinking house, they said to him “We did not recite the Shma’,” he said to them “If the dawn still has not risen, you are obliged to recite.”
And not this alone did they (the Sages) say [until midnight] but in all that the Sages commanded until midnight are we commanded [to perform] until the dawn rises. The incenses, the fats, and the limbs. And (we) are commanded until the dawn rises in all the eating on one day.
If that is so, why did the Sages say until midnight? In order to keep man from the sin.”
“From when,” does the Talmud start, following the Mishnaic order. We are from the first word presented with a question which leads us directly into a practice still followed today, but nevertheless also involving rituals not possible to follow today, and not even at the time of Yehuda HaNasi, when the Mishnah was written down. “From when do we recite the Shma’?” The question relates to the daily recitation of the Qriyat Shma’, what is considered to be the Jewish declaration of faith per excellence. Here the question is about the recitation of the evening Shma’, asking from when we can begin to recite it. The answer has implications also for the modern Jew, but the answer is already outdated when it was written. “From the time that the Kohanim enter to eat their T’rumah.” The T’rumah is the sacrifice designated for the Kohanim, the Levite family in charge of taking care of the sacrificial rituals at the Temple. But when Yehudah HaNasi wrote the Mishnah, the Temple had been in ruins for around 130 years, leaving the contemporary Jew confused as of when the Kohanim did just that. It doesn’t seem to bother the author though, since he continues to focus on until when we can recite the Shma’, even without stating the question. What is of more importance is the ending times of the Mitzvot, forming the discussion in the rest of the introductory Sugya. We will see later on that this does bother the Amoraim, the Talmudic Sages, spending some time and energy on the question of “why in the evening first?”
But let us start with what is at hand. The mishnah is presenting one asked and one unasked question, one answer to the asked question, and three answers to the unasked: From when? From the Kohanim enter. And until the end of the first shift, until midnight and until the dawn rises.
The first of the three answers are credited to Rabbi Eliezer, but it isn’t clear whether he also states the first question and answers it, or it is only the answer on “until when,” which is credited to him. Nevertheless, the answer on “from when” is accepted as being “from the Kohanim enters,” but in the matter of “until when,” we have the opinions of Rabbi Eliezer (until the end of the first shift), the Sages (until midnight), and Rabban Gamliel (until the dawn rises). As we normally follow the majority opinion, the opinion of “The Sages,” that is understood to be the case here as well. But then we are presented for a story. Rabban Gamliel’s sons come home from the “drinking house.” It is after midnight and they still haven’t recited the Shma’, so they ask their father what to do, and since the dawn still hasn’t started to rise, they are still obligated to recite.
This story leaves me with a slightly different understanding of what Rabban Gamliel had in his thoughts. Maybe he did indeed agree with the Sages, that we should recite before midnight, but if something kept us from it, then we are still obligated until the dawn begin to rise. Clearly the sons have an understanding of the demand to recite the Shma before midnight, otherwise they would not feel the need to ask their dad about whether it is expected of them or not, so I would think that it isn’t too far stretched to believe that it was the practice at their place to recite the Shma’ before midnight. Based on that I believe that we can see Rabban Gamliel being part of the majority here, but that he adds an addition, following both the rationality of the Sages (as we will see be explain), as well as following the limits of the Biblical Commandments.
The mishnah continues. “And not only that, but every time the Sages said until midnight, we are commanded until the dawn starts to rise.” What is going on here? Apparently the Sages tend to restrict the time limit of the Biblical Commandments, which happens not only in this case, but in any case when the Sages say “until midnight.” And then it follows up by telling that we are commanded until the dawn begins to rise in various incidences, but why is that? Wouldn’t it be enough just to say that when the Sages say until midnight, then we are from the Torah commanded until the dawn begins to rise? The thought here seems to be, that the Mishnah wants to teach us something. We will return to this later.
The mishnah concludes by asking why the Sages stated until midnight, when the Torah commands until the dawn starts to rise. Should we not follow the Torah? The question is ‘yes,’ and that is what we can learn from the happening with Rabban Gamliel and his sons, that even if we pass the rabbinical commandment of reciting (or fulfilling any of the other commandments, which is until the dawn begins to rise, but which the Sages have said until midnight), then we are still obliged to fulfill them. The reason, the mishnah explains, is that the limit of midnight is established in order to keep man from sinning, that is, better that he does it early while he is still awake, than delaying himself and then risking falling asleep. The rabbinic commandment, which is called mitzwah d’Rabbanan (commandment from the Rabbis) is a “fence,” placed around the Torah, in order that we don’t do wrong by mistake (the Pirqei Avot talks about this fence in chapter 1:2). The commandment from the Torah, on the other hand, is called mitzwah d’Orayta (commandment from the Source).
This concludes the first mishnah in the Talmud Bavli, Seder Zera’im, Massechet B’rachot.
 My translation has been kept very strict to the text, unless where I had no choice but alter it in order to give meaning. I will give a more meaningful translation, as well as insert in the original text additions, which will render it easier to read for a modern reader. There will be made differences between the original text and my own additions.
 The Hebrew term is more correctly translated to “The Wise,” but I would believe that “The Sages” gives more sense. It isn’t a fixed group of people, but should be understood as the majority of the Sages, according to which opinions the Halachah (legal decision) normally is set, though there are examples on the opposite. But as a guiding rule, we should see the majority rule as being the Halachah.
 It is important to note that we are not necessarily talking about 12 o’clock, as the end/beginning of the 24 hour day, but about the Halachic midnight, being fixed according to the hours of sunlight, which moves the midnight according to the time of the year.
 This is the literal translation of “Beyt Mishteh,” but there are various thoughts stating that it should not be understood as a pub or the like. RaMBaM, Z”L, states that when the word is used, it is always understood as being a gathering where there has been focus on the wine (in his commentary to the Mishnah, same place). Likewise the Tosefot Yom Tov explains that whenever the term is used, it is in regards to a wedding.
Before I begin on the first mishnah it would be a good idea to give an overview over a typical daf in the Talmud. Daf is Hebrew for page, and the subject is found by relating to the page it is written, that is, according to the Order, then the Tractate, and then the page. And since each page has two sides, the number of the page will be followed by a or b in order to indicate which side we are dealing with. That is when we use the Latin script to indicate where in the Talmud to look, the Hebrew is different, but the idea is the same. So if we for example should relate to where we will be begin then it would be Seder (Order) Zera’im, Massechet (Tractate) B’rachot 2a. Page two because each tractate starts on the second page, not the first page, and a because it would be the first side of the page.
Let’s look at what it looks like:
This is the first page in the Talmud Bavli, which we will be focusing on in the coming. I will tell you about the parts of the Talmud during the next couple of pictures or so.
The name of the chapter is given from the first word of the chapter. In this case it is “me’eimatai,” “from when,” which is written in top of the page to the right (as well as in the big box introducing the text):
The next part, next to the title of the chapter, is the number of chapter, here “Pereq Rishon,” the first chapter:
And then follows the name of the Tractate, here B’rachot:
As said, the title of the chapter is the first word of the text, which is introduced by the title:
In the middle of the page we have the talmudic text itself, with the Mishnah and the Gemarrah. It is this text which we will be focusing on:
The first part is the Mishnah, the first mishnah of the Talmud, actually beginning with the title, and then continuing until the two letters gimel and mem, which is short for Gemarrah:
The mishnaic text is rather short compared with the discussions following it. The following is the Gemarrah, which continues on the next many pages, before we will reach the second mishnah:
The text surrounding the Talmudic text to the right is Rashi’s commentary. On the second side of the page it will be to the left instead of to the right. Rashi, besides his commentary to the Torah, also wrote an extensive commentary to the Talmud, revealing his great insights and knowledge on both Torah and Talmud:
On the other side and underneath the Talmudic text we find the commentaries of the Tosafot, not to confuse with the Tosefta. The authors of the Tosafot were the disciples of Rashi and other later commentators, adding to his commentaries on a rather high level, taking advanced discussions for granted:
On the sides of the commentaries we have references to the Torah and various passages, as well as the commentaries of R. Nissim Gaon, Z”L, but I won’t be referring to these much.
So this was a short introduction to a typical page in the Talmud Bavli. The Yerushalmi reminds but has some differences, but I will get back to that when (if) we will study it instead.
In the following post I will make a study with you of the first mishnah. Until then, take care.
Something I have been thinking about for a long time, and which I have promised to per video but simply never can make myself get around, is to do a study of the Talmud, if not all the Talmud (that is going to take some time, maybe also too much time), then at least some. And not only in order to study it or to talk about it, but also to study the reasoning of the Talmud, especially the different ways of discussions in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah.
But before we get there an introduction is in its place.
First off, there are two Talmuds: The Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi. Why there are two and which one I will be relating to will be explained a little later. The structure of the two Talmuds are very alike, they consist of a textual body with commentaries being written around them, elucidating the text. The textual body consist of two parts, the mishnaic text, which is the foundation, and the text of the Gemarrah, which takes the most space by far. The reason for this is that the mishnaic text is the actual body being commented on by the Gemarrah.
In Judaism (that is, Rabbinic Judaism, which from now on in this context simply will be called Judaism for convenience) there are two bodies of holy Scriptures, the Bible (called TaNaCh) and the Mishnah. The Bible is structured in three parts, the Torah, the Nevi’im (Prophetical Books), and the Ketuvim (the Scriptures), thereby forming the word T-N-K (pronounced TaNaCh). The Torah, which is the five Books of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is the Holy Book in Judaism, being the foundation for every commandment and principle deduced by the Sages. It is known by other names as well, describing its nature in comparison with the other Jewish Scriptures, namely Torah she’bichtiv, the Written Torah, and Humash, the name being based on the number of books (the number five in Hebrew is hemesh). That the Torah, the Humash, is written is important in relation to that part of the Torah, which is believed to have been given Oral, namely the Oral Tradition or Torah she’be’al-Peh (the Torah which is in the mouth), which has been transferred orally from generation to generation, from Moshe Rabenu, A”S, until R. Yehuda HaNasi, Z”L, who saw the need to write down the Oral Tradition in the beginning of the third century CE.
The Mishnah is organized in six “Sedarim,” from the word ‘seder,’ which means ‘order.’ These Sedarim are organized in massechot, tractates, which each has a number of chapters, which each has a number of ‘mishnayot.’ The term “mishnah” with a small ‘m’ is the decisions brought down through the ages, though not all are going back to Sinai. In differing between the Mishnah in its total and the single mishnah, I will write it with capital m and without.
The six Sedarim are as follows:
Seder Zera’im, which deals with agriculture, though the first tractate, Massechet B’rachot, which we will be dealing with in the beginning, is concerned with prayers and blessings. It has eleven tractates in it.
Seder Mo’ed, which deals with the festivals, and which has twelve tractates.
Seder Nashim, which deals with issues concerning women, such as the various forms of marriage, divorce, female impurity and so on. It has seven tractates.
Seder Nezikin, which deals with civil law and the structure of the courts, as well as punishments, idol worship and witnesses. Here we also find the ethical tractate, Pirqei Avot. It has ten tractates, though the three first, Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Batra, originally was one tractate.
Seder Qodashim, which deals with issues related to holiness. It has eleven tractates.
Seder Tehorot, which deals with purities. It has twelve tractates.
There are other mishnaic materials besides the Mishnah. When R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, had organized the Mishnah there was still mishnaic material left. This material was collected by his disciples in a work called Tosefta, which means ‘addition,’ a work which is being referred to by various rabbis in the discussions of the Gemarrah as proof-text, in their attempts to strengthen or attack a position. But in comparison to the mishniyot of the Mishnah they have lesser authority.
The Mishnah is written in what is called “mishnaic Hebrew,” a form of Hebrew being slightly simpler than the Biblical Hebrew, showing its traces of being a spoken more than a written language. It has some differences from Modern Hebrew, such as the suffixes in the plural, but any Hebrew speaker should be able to read and understand the mishnaic text without any noteworthy troubles.
Not long after the death of R. Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, the compilation of the Mishnah, and the gathering of the Tosefta, the need to explain the mishniyot in the Mishnah appeared, both because the Jews found themselves under new situation as well as the Mishnah being presented in a very straightforward language, which leaves many details unexplained, something I believe will appear from the beginning of our study.
Therefore the rabbis of the religious centers, found in two geographical areas, namely in Eretz Yisrael, what constitutes the Galilee, Judea, and surroundings, and Babylon, began to comment on the Mishnah. Their comments, which were written in the spoken language of their time, Aramaic, show proof of their geographical background, such as local features being used in their examples and discussions. There are other differences as well, such as the type of Aramaic, the Babylonian Gemarrah being written in Eastern Aramaic, and the Palestinian Gemarrah in Western Aramaic. Also the elements differ, the Babylonian having a lot of Persian and Babylonian mythical elements incorporated.
The Babylonian Gemarrah is the most extensive of the two, having a century more to be edited and worked upon, finished most likely around 550 CE, though there has been proved later editing, conducted by the anonymous group of rabbis called Savoraim.
The Palestinian Gemarrah was never finished, being disrupted around 425 CE caused by anti-Jewish pogroms by the Christian emperor Theodosius II, and therefore lack a lot of material as well as organization. It does hold material which the Babylonian Gemarrah doesn’t cover, especially in context of agriculture, since that issue was important for the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, while not for the Jews in Babylon, having the commandments only being connected to the Land of Israel. Therefore the Babylonian Gemarrah is considered the more authoritative of the two, except on issues where it doesn’t mention anything.
From this we find one Mishnah and two Gemarrot, one Babylonian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Babylonian Talmud or Talmud Bavli, and one Palestinian Gemarrah, which together with the Mishnah is called the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud Yerushalmi.
Mentioning the Mishnah in this context one thing has to be pointed out, namely that there are some smaller differences on the mishnaic text in the two Talmuds. I have dealt with this issue in some earlier posts, which you can read here, here and here. This might have been caused by the Mishnah being transferred orally in the Land of Israel even at the time of the disruption of the Palestinian Gemarrah, causing the changes in language as will always appear through time, while the mishnaic text most likely was considered holy in its written form from the beginning in Babylon.
Regarding the Sages. We will see that a lot of Sages will be mentioned by names, and I will try to explain when and where they lived. But sometimes the Gemarrah talks about ‘Tanna.’ This is the title for the Sages living in the Mishnaic times, that is, from the time before the compilation of the Mishnah. The Sages of the Gemarrah are called Amoraim.
With this said (or written) I feel that we are ready to begin the study of the Talmud.
Okay, I’m way overdue with this one. My last post on the five pillars of Judaism, where I promised to follow Amani’s explanations of the Five Pillars of Islam, was posted on the first of April, more than a month ago. And even though I wanted to let Amani post before me, I certainly cannot blame her for my great delay. I’m terribly sorry for that.
Anyway, the last pillar was prayer, in Hebrew Tefillah. The next pillar, the third one, is alms-giving or, in Arabic, Zakât. Amani has already written a wonderful post on Zakât, which I really want to encourage you to check out. In general Amani is a writer, who knows what she is writing about, a great source for those, who want to have an easy introduction into Islamic themes, so please, take a little time and check her posts out.
Back to Judaism. As in Islam we also have a pillar focused on charity or alms-giving. The interesting thing though, is that we use the Hebrew term ‘Tzedaqah,’ a term which is also found in Arabic, namely ‘Sadaqah,’ but where Zakât is obligatory, Sadaqah is voluntary but still recommended.
The interesting thing is that when we look up the term in the TaNaCh, the Jewish Bible, the word always is used as ‘righteousness,’ as something being either correct or corrected. The root, TZaDaQ, implies being right or doing the right thing, showing justice and integrity. That is also the idea in Tzedaqah, being more of a Mitzwah, that is, a commandment, than a volunteering act. When one gives Tzedaqah, he does what is correct of him, what is expected of him. As said, the term tzedaqah, and its other form, Tzedeq, appear in the Bible in context of doing the right thing. For example we see in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:36 that the word tzedeq is used four times, about applying just or correct weights, balances, ephah, and hin (measures used in business transactions). But the Bible itself doesn’t coin the term to charity.
Only later, during the rabbinic times, did the idea of Tzedaqah become connected with charity, mostly with the Biblical commandment of not reaping the corners of the fields, in order that some may be left for the poor, as it is stated in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:9. In context of that verse we see a discussion in the Mishnah, tractate Peah 5:6, it being said that “one who prevents the poor to gather, or allows one but not another, or helps one of them, is deemed to be a robber of the poor.” The same was reflected in a discussion between R. Papa and R. Idi ben Abin, Z”L, about the same matter, where the latter reacted to the former’s reciting of things belonging to the Levites. What is reflected in these examples, is that giving the poor what is due for them is Tzedaqah, righteousness, and in that way Tzedaqah came to reflect charity, a charity that the poor actually have the right for, more than it is a deed of goodwill from the giver.
In later times other rabbis expanded on the rules, evolving an ethical system, which both should relieve the poor receiving the Tzedaqah for embarrassment, as well as securing that the giver gave out of love for Heaven. This we can see, among other examples in RaMBaM’s (Maimonides), Z”L, Mishneh Torah, his Halachich work, in the Hilchot Matanot ‘Aniyim, where he lists eight principles in the giving of Tzedaqah:
The first way of helping is by giving either a loan, making the needy a business partner, give him a job or help him find a job, all leading to the case that the needy no more will have to rely on others. This is the most praiseworthy form of Tzedaqah, since the needy will retain pride and be dependent on himself, and maybe even ending in a situation where he himself can help others.
The second way of helping is to give the money to a middleman, who is knowledgeable enough to know what to do with the money, helping others without the giver knowing who. This will make sure that neither the giver, nor the receiver, is aware that they were part of the action, should they meet each other. The receiver will be spared the humility to the giver, and the giver won’t risk feeling inclined to be arrogant towards the receiver. They will meet on equal terms.
The third way is to tell a middleman to give the Tzedaqah to a specific person. The person himself still doesn’t know who did it, but the giver does know who received.
The fourth way is to give to an unknown person publicly and directly. Though they don’t know each other, they both know who gave and received, and the receiver won’t be spared the feeling of humility.
The fifth way is to give before being asked. Though that will spare the needy the humility having to ask, it will still reveal an attitude with the giver, seeing the receiver as being below himself.
The sixth way is to give after being asked, and give what is needed.
The seventh way is to give with an open attitude, but not give enough.
The eighth way is to give with a sad attitude, not being happy about giving. The most likely way of understanding this, according to what is explained, is that one gives because the receiver is in need and in a bad state, not because one rejoice in fulfilling a positive commandment, imitating the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, who gave gladly and always had their homes open for visitors.
Today the most normal thing is to either give through an organization or to put money in a so-called Tzedaqah-box. These boxes can be found, if not in any Jewish shop, then at least by far the most Jewish shops. Some places they are even put various places, such as by bus-stops, so nobody at all will know who the giver is, so far he or she chooses to wait until the stops are abandoned.
Giving Tzedaqah is certainly considered a great Mitzwah, and it is encouraged to give Tzedaqah, when one has to atone for one’s sins, before praying for forgiveness. And it is not only through money, but comes in many ways, giving clothes or food. In fact, during Pessah one should open one’s house to poor people, and make sure to give them plenty of food, as well as one should give two abundant meals the day before Purim. Before oneself takes joy of the joyous seasons, one should make sure that the poor of the land also can find joy.