The Talmud and Other Writings – an Excerpt from Introducing World Religions

The following is an excerpt from Introducing World Religions, by Charles Farhadian.

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The Talmud (“learn,” “study,” “teach”) is the third major text used in the Jewish community. Written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, the Talmud is fairly inaccessible to laypeople because of its languages and difficult style. While the Talmud consists of the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud, the Babylonian Talmud is considered more authoritative, dating back to Babylon in the fifth century CE. The Talmud consists of two parts: the Mishnah (teaching), a compilation of Jewish oral law, and the Gemara (completion), the discussions of rabbis (teachers).

Cover ArtIn addition to the Hebrew Bible, the prayer book, and the Talmud, which form the most important sources of Judaism, a few other books have helped to shape the tradition. Among the medieval texts are Rashi’s (1040–1105) commentary on the Hebrew Bible and the Babylonian Talmud, Moses Maimonides’s (1135–1204) Mishneh Torah, a systematic presentation of the oral law, and his Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical treatise that sought to demonstrate to “the perplexed” how scripture could be interpreted spiritually and literally. Considered one of the greatest medieval Jewish philosophers, Maimonides produced works that influenced Christians such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Meister Eckhart.

In the late Middle Ages, Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488–1575) wrote a code of Jewish law and ritual, the Shulkhan Arukh (Prepared Table), which incorporated customs of Spanish and Asian Jews. Rabbi Moses Isserles (1525–72) later added to the text some of the customs of Central and Eastern European Jews, thus expanding the code of Jewish law and ritual and impacting Jewish communities worldwide. While normally the Hebrew Bible and prayer book would be found in the homes of religious Jews, the other works are chosen according to the particular emphasis that a community may uphold, since each Jewish movement (e.g., Orthodox, Reform) has produced its own works.

©2015 by Charles Farhadian. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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