Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Talmud
Critical Introduction by Max Leopold Margolis (1866–1932)
WHAT is the Talmud?  1
  Let us enter a Jewish school of Babylonia some time after the year 325 A.D. We may betake ourselves to Pumbaditha, whose academy, now almost a century old, is presided over by Abaye; or to the young school at Mahoza, where we shall meet its founder, Raba. A third and still older seat of learning, the Soran Academy, we shall find deserted: after half a century it will resume its former place as Pumbaditha’s rival. The attendance at the schools is largest in March and August, the months preceding Passover and Tabernacles. The scholars follow their occupations as husbandmen and tradesmen during the rest of the year: they are not all young men—some leave their families behind them: they all study for the sake of study, which is a duty incumbent upon every Israelite. In Pumbaditha poor scholars are supported from a public fund, to which the communities throughout the land contribute. What is the subject of the scholar’s study? what the topic of the master’s discourse? what are the points of controversy between the two rival scholarchs? Do they differ on some grave doctrinal question, similar to that which engaged the attention of the bishops convened at Nicæa? are the discussions of Abaye and Raba in any way to be compared to the controversy between Arius and Athanasius? When teacher and disciple equally are worn out by the heavy matter of daily school routine, and a change of subject is desirable for the purpose of relaxation, then you may perhaps hear a remark bearing on theology in our sense of the word; or if you choose a rather dignified term, a metaphysical observation. But then the rabbis are altogether in their lighter mood: the discipline is lax, mental concentration gives way to free rambling; wise maxims and witty epigrams, fantastic exposition of Scripture and facetious stories, succeed each other in playful connection; the jargon of the school with its Hebrew terminology yields to the easier flow of the Aramaic vernacular; in the language of everyday life a remark is sometimes made which is hardly consonant with the dignity of the class-room. These pleasant intermezzos seldom last long: a return is made to the sterner subjects of the school programme. The chief subject-matter of the schools is the interpretation of the Mishna. What is the Mishna?  2
  There are scholars who claim that the Mishna, as we know it at present, was not committed to writing until some two centuries after the time at which we have set out to study the Talmudic schools. But there is good ground for holding to the traditional opinion which makes the codification of the Mishna coincident with its redaction, which is placed at the end of the second century. For our present purposes we may, on the strength of this assumption, expect to find on the master’s desk at least—manuscripts are expensive—a voluminous book of the size of an ordinary pulpit Bible. As we turn its leaves, we shall be told that it is divided into six parts or orders, which are named:—Seeds (laws pertaining to agriculture: e.g., the law which prescribes that the corner of the field must not be reaped but left to the poor; the prohibition to sow mixed seeds; the regulations concerning tithes and sacerdotal revenues, the seventh year, etc.); Holy Seasons (Sabbath and festivals: the kinds of labor which must be abstained from on these days are minutely specified; the sacrificial and ritual ceremonies peculiar to each holiday); Women (laws pertaining to betrothal, marriage, and divorce; the Levirate, or marriage of the deceased brother’s wife; prohibited marriages; the woman suspected of adultery: in this part are also treated vows in general and the Nazirate in particular); Damages (civil and criminal laws; courts and proceedings of jurisdiction: in the treatise called “Fathers,” the ethical sayings of the doctors of the Mishna are recorded); Sacred Things (laws on things sacred; i.e., dedicated to the temple: the slaughtering of animals for ordinary purposes; what is fit to be eaten—kasher, and what is not—terepha); Matters of Purity (euphemistically for Impurity, Levitical impurity; resulting, e.g., from contact with a dead body, unclean animals, etc.). Each subject is handled, as a rule, in a special treatise: thus we have the treatise Sabbath, New Year, The Day (i.e., the Day of Atonement), Marriage Contracts, Bills of Divorce, etc. Each treatise is divided into chapters, and each chapter into paragraphs. The statements of law or practice are usually unaccompanied by argumentation; neither is the source indicated. Divergent opinions are quite frequently recorded; the scholars are then mentioned by name, otherwise no name is given at all.  3
  The Mishna then, we see, is a code of laws embracing the civic and religious life of the Jew. From our hasty survey of the subjects treated in this law-book, we gather that in the main the Mishna is meant to reproduce in an expanded form the laws and provisions contained in the Law,—i.e., the Pentateuch. Mishna, indeed, means Repetition; it is an expansion of the original law whence it derives its authority. If the subject-matter of the Mishna appears trivial to a modern reader, much in the legal portions of the Pentateuch is equally foreign to our tastes. Perhaps we shall object not so much to the matter, which is largely Scriptural, as to the manner in which it is elaborated. The prohibition to work on the Sabbath day is Biblical: it is reported in the Pentateuch that a man was stoned to death in the wilderness for gathering wood on the day of rest. The Mishna devotes over twenty chapters to a minute specification of what is prohibited labor and what is not. One chapter enumerates all articles of apparel which a woman may wear on the Sabbath. It is not sufficient to lay down the general rule, that the prohibition to carry burdens on the Sabbath does not apply to wearing apparel or jewelry worn for ornament; but a catalogue of articles of woman’s toilet is given, showing that the rabbis had an eye for the trinkets of their wives and daughters. Costly jewelry must not be worn on the Sabbath: the women are in the habit of taking their expensive ornaments off in order to show them to their friends; while it is permitted to wear ornaments, they must not be handled. The Pentateuch commands that the lost property of a neighbor, if found, be restored to him, or be kept until he claims it. According to the rabbis, certain things may be retained by the finder without making an effort to ascertain their owner: e.g., when a thing has no mark or distinguishing feature by which it may be identified, it is assumed that the owner has no thought of regaining it, and willingly renounces his ownership; the article becomes public property, to be the possession of the first person that finds it. A list of articles is given which come under the category of unrecognizable things. The principle itself is scarcely given expression to. Very often a case is gone through in all possible and impossible ramifications: the love of detail, of definiteness, strongly manifests itself everywhere; the cases are in most instances the invention of the schools, only a few coming from real life.  4
  It is fortunate, said some one facetiously, that the synagogue, unlike the church, has no bells; otherwise we should have had a treatise in the Mishna called Bells, setting forth the proper metal and size of a bell, and how often it should be rung, and what benediction should be pronounced over the ringing, and whether the benediction should be said before or after the ringing, etc. For the horn which is blown on New Year’s Day, or the booth in which the Israelite is to dwell on the festival which derives its name from it, or the scroll from which the book of Esther is read on the feast of Purim, are treated with exactly this kind of detail.  5
  The Mishna is a law-book replete with tedious matter. Yet it is not without its interesting parts, which deservedly claim the attention of even a modern reader. Occasionally amidst the rubbish of formalism, lies hidden a pithy remark betraying the spiritual and moral insight of the schoolmen. The treatise “Fathers”—the object of which is to record in chronological order the doctors of the Mishna—is in its entirety an ethical treatise, for the reason that incidentally to every name is attached an ethical maxim reported as coming from that scholar. These occasional glimpses of other than purely formalistic interests, these sayings on the most important spiritual concerns of man, on God and duty, may fitly find a place in the world’s literature. For their sake we are ready to overlook the unattractive surroundings in which they are found.  6
  Take for instance the treatise Benedictions, with which the code commences. While we again painfully notice the undue attention given to the minutiæ of etiquette and the ceremonial side of prayer,—at what time and up to what time certain prayers may be recited, what should be the posture of the body, which benediction must precede another, and what is to be done when an error is made in the recital,—we find there the warning: “He who maketh his prayer a matter of duty to be performed at set times, his prayer is not pure devotion.” “One must bless God for the evil as well as for the good.” Elsewhere we are told that he who serves God out of fear is inferior to him who is pious out of love. “Be not as slaves who minister to their master with a view to recompense; but be as slaves who serve their master without the expectation of reward.” “Better is an hour of repentance and good works in this world, than all the life of the world to come.” On the other hand: “Better is one hour of spiritual bliss in the world to come, than all the life of this world.” “This world is like a vestibule before the world which is to come: prepare thyself at the vestibule, that thou mayest be admitted into the hall.” “Be bold as a leopard, and swift as an eagle, and fleet as a hart, and strong as a lion to do the will of thy Father which is in heaven.” “Consider three things and thou wilt not fall into the hands of transgression: know what is above thee,—a seeing eye, and a hearing ear, and all thy deeds written in a book.” The rabbis exhort to love work and hate lordship. “Idleness leads to insanity.” Study is an obligation for everybody. It is a matter of private effort; it is not an heirloom which may be bequeathed by father to son. “Say not, When I have leisure I will study: perchance thou mayest not have leisure.” “He who learns as a lad, is like to ink written on fresh paper; and he who learns when old, is like to ink written on used paper.” “He who learns from the young is like one that eats unripe grapes, and drinks wine fresh from the vat; but he who learns from the old is like one who eats ripened grapes, and drinks old wine.” And yet he is wise who learns from every man. “There are four characters in those who sit at the feet of the wise,—a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve: a sponge, which sucks up all; a funnel, which lets in here and lets out there; a strainer, which lets out the wine and keeps back the dregs; a sieve, which lets out the flour and keeps back the pollard.” “Excellent is study together with worldly business, for the practice of them both puts away sinful thoughts; all study without work must fail at length and lead to sin.” “This is the path of study: A morsel with salt shalt thou eat, thou shalt drink water by measure, and thou shalt sleep upon the ground, and live a life of painfulness, and in the Law shalt thou labor.” “Seek not greatness for thyself, and desire not honor. Practice more than thou learnest: not learning but doing is the groundwork. And lust not for the table of kings; for thy table is greater than their table, and thy crown greater than their crown, and faithful is thy taskmaster who will pay thee the wage of thy work.” So is the young scholar addressed. “Thy own deeds shall bring thee nigh or put thee afar.” “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” “In the place where there are no men, endeavor to be a man.” “Yet lean not to thine own understanding.” “He is mighty who subdues his passion.” “There are three crowns,—the crown of scholarship, and the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty; but the crown of a good name surpasses them all.” “He is rich who is contented with his lot.” “Judge not thy friend until thou comest into his place.” “Let the honor of thy fellow-man be as dear to thee as thine own.” “Despise no man, and carp at no thing; for thou wilt find that there is not a man that hath not his hour, and not a thing that hath not its place.” “Do not conciliate thy friend in the hour of his passion, nor console him in the hour when his dead is laid out before him; and strive not to see him in the hour of his disgrace.” “Let thy house be opened wide, and let the needy be thy household.” “Receive every man with a cheerful countenance.” “Pray for the welfare of the State, since but for fear thereof we had swallowed each his neighbor alive.” There is something to be learned from this dry law-book after all.  7
  The exposition and interpretation of the Mishna constitutes the main activity of the Jewish schools of Babylonia, whether at Sora or Pumbaditha, whether at Mahoza or Naresh. Talmud is a term that signified first a method, before it became the name of a book. The Mishna, as we may remember, contains little of discussion or argumentation: it is, in the majority of cases, content to state a point of law in the form of a simple statement, without in the least indicating the process by which the law was evolved. The Talmudic method is principally concerned with retracing the law, as stated in the Mishna, to its source; which it is assumed, sometimes wrongly, must be found in Scripture. There is not a sentence in the Mishna which escapes the notice of the expounder: the reason of every remark must be established. “Wherefrom? whence all this?” is a constant query. If the origin is found to lie in Scripture, the exegesis of the Bible word is quite often forced, unnatural. It is true the rabbis are not always very earnest about their fine deductions. Much may be ascribed to the love of casuistry and mental gymnastics. They are always glad to find problems. Complications are artificially created where there are none. Where a law is deduced from a principle stated in the Mishna, that principle is now elaborated with exactness and finesse. Again, laws of various kinds and on different subjects are subsumed under new aspects, new principles. The work of abstract systematization begins: another opportunity for mental labor. The Talmudic scholar never confines himself to the law on hand: he compares it with others, finds similarities and dissimilarities, repetitions and contradictions. A clever scholar will find some discriminating point by which the seeming repetition will be removed. The text of the Mishna itself often presents difficulties. The language is concise, at times enigmatical. Then the Mishna is not the work of one hand. Its several parts are welded together, as a rule very adroitly, yet occasionally in a manner to create incongruities or ambiguities. It is the business of the Talmudic method to remove these difficulties. On the other hand, the Mishna must be adapted to new conditions and situations. New laws are formulated, which as a rule are deduced from a principle discovered behind the concrete decisions recorded in the law-book. As the work of the Talmudic schools goes on from generation to generation it becomes more complicated. The discussions of one generation are handed down to the next, and become the basis of all subsequent operations. Conflicting opinions become more frequent. One scholar is found to be at variance with another. Sometimes it is discovered that contradictory opinions are ascribed to one and the same scholar. As far as possible, the rabbis try to reconcile contradictions. They are of too peaceful a nature to allow contradictions to stand. These are in outline the characteristics of scholastic activity as it clustered around the Mishna. Let us listen for a moment to a Talmudic discussion.  8
  The first paragraph of the third chapter of the treatise Synhedrion is on the programme. The Mishna is read. “In civil suits the court must consist of three persons. Each party chooses one judge, while the third is chosen by the two judges. According to Rabbi Meir, the third is chosen by both parties. Rabbi Meir gives each party the right to object to the other party’s judge. The other scholars grant this right only in the case when it is proved that the judge is related to one party or morally disqualified; no judge who is morally qualified or licensed can be objected to. According to Rabbi Meir, each party may object to the other party’s witnesses: according to the other scholars, only when it is proved that the witnesses are related or morally disqualified; witnesses morally qualified cannot be ruled out of court.” So far the Mishna. Now begins the discussion. It is asked, How can any one object to a (competent, duly licensed) judge? Rabbi Meir has in mind Syrian courts; i.e., judges who are known as incompetent. It follows from this answer that Rabbi Meir would not allow any one to object to competent judges. It is pointed out that Rabbi Meir’s colleagues in the Mishna state it as their opinion that competent judges cannot be objected to; hence Rabbi Meir apparently is of the opinion that all judges, even such as are competent, may be objected to. The original question remains: How can Rabbi Meir reasonably hold such an opinion? The master meets the objection by resorting to textual emendation. In the opinion of Rabbi Meir’s colleagues he proposes to read, “No judge who is morally qualified can be objected to, for he is just as good as one duly licensed.” According to this reading, of course, Rabbi Meir as well is of the opinion that licensed judges cannot be objected to: the controversy turns about judges who are not licensed, but are otherwise morally qualified; according to Rabbi Meir they may be rejected by one of the parties, while according to the other scholars they are just as good as licensed judges, and are therefore not open to objection. One of the students quotes an extraneous source according to which Rabbi Meir’s colleagues, in the course of argumentation with him, made the remark: You will not allow any one to object to a duly licensed judge! It follows that the controversy really turned about licensed judges. The original question remains: How can Rabbi Meir reasonably hold such an opinion? The master who holds that Rabbi Meir never permitted the rejection of duly licensed judges claims that the student misquoted his source, and that the remark of Rabbi Meir’s colleagues should read, “You will not allow any one to object to a judge who is accepted by a community as competent (although not duly licensed)!” The master even quotes a source of equal authority as that adduced by the student where Rabbi Meir is made to say, “One has a right to object until a judge is chosen who is duly licensed.” But the students are none the less unyielding. They reason by analogy, and bid the master look at the second part of the paragraph just read. Witnesses, they say, unless related or morally disqualified, are fully competent, as much as a judge who is duly licensed is in his sphere. Yet Rabbi Meir grants the litigants the privilege of rejecting witnesses not related and morally qualified. Hence Rabbi Meir is evidently of the opinion that even a licensed judge may be rejected. The master is ready with his reply. He quotes an older Talmudic scholar, who, when reading our paragraph, remarked: “Is it possible that a holy mouth should have said such a thing (that fully qualified witnesses may be rejected)? Read—‘witness’ (each party may object to the other party’s witness, single witness).” Accordingly two witnesses, provided they are qualified, cannot be rejected, even according to the opinion of Rabbi Meir; therefore in the analogous case, a judge who is duly licensed will be declared by Rabbi Meir not less than his colleagues to be above rejection. Rabbi Meir’s statement was made to read: “Each party may object to the other party’s single witness.” The students proceed to inquire whether a single witness is not insufficient per se, independently of the objections of a litigant.  9
  But I think we have had enough of the atmosphere of Talmudic scholasticism and casuistry. We have heard enough to bear out our general conception of Talmudic methods. Suffice it to say that the scholastic work of several generations is finally codified. Multiply discussions like the one which we listened to, by the number of paragraphs and the smaller divisions contained in the Mishna, and you will have a pretty fair conception of the bulk as well as of the character of the matter of the Talmud—the Talmud as a book. The Babylonian (there is an earlier Palestinian recension embodying the less developed Palestinian scholasticism) Talmud was probably edited in the fifth century of our era. The work of the schools continued, with the written Talmud now as the basis of their operations. The Talmud was excerpted and commented upon. The best commentary on the Talmud was written by a French Jew in the eleventh century. In the same century an Italian Jew composed a Talmudic lexicon. Upon the Talmud are based the codes of Maimonides (twelfth century) and Karo (sixteenth century). The Talmud is still studied in the schools of eastern Europe, and is regarded by orthodox Jews as authoritative.  10
  It would be unjust to convey the idea that nothing except hair-splitting discussions, on topics more or less out of touch with modern interests, are to be found in the Talmud. There is enough in the Talmud to justify its claim to the attention of the student of general literature. It is by no means merely a literary curiosity to be picked up at some antiquary’s, marveled at, and then laid down and consigned to the dust of oblivion. The students of the Babylonian schools, whose work the Talmud records, occasionally give expression to a weighty maxim bearing witness to deep spiritual insight. The casuistry engages all their attention; but it is not the whole of their mental store that is exhibited in their dry discussions. They delve deeply into the mysteries of the Law; the rich treasures of spiritual life are equally known to them. They discourse on competent judges and witnesses, on what may be eaten and what may not, on what it is permitted to do on certain occasions and what is not permitted; but they are equally experts on the inward concerns of man, and speak wise words on lofty subjects. Listen to some of their obiter dicta:—“Be in attendance upon the wise; for even the ordinary conversation of a scholar is well worth a study.” “He who supports himself by his own labor is greater than he who fears heaven; for by thine own name they will call thee, and in thine own place they will seat thee, and give thee of what is thine own: but he who looks forward to the table of his fellow—the world, as it were, lies dark before him, and his life is no life.” “He who forces an opportunity, the opportunity forces him back; but he who is patient, it comes to him.” “Where there is a man, there be thou not the man.” “He who runs after greatness, greatness escapes him; but he who shuns greatness, greatness seeks him.” “It is not the position that honors the man: the man honors the position.” “Better is one feeling of contrition than many stripes.” “A man’s prayer is not accepted unless he have made his heart as soft as flesh; as it is written: ‘And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me.’” “Make thy Sabbath a week-day rather than to depend on thy fellow-man.” “A father who strikes his adult son puts a stumbling-block before the blind.” “He is rich who has a wife of beautiful conduct.” “He who loves his wife as himself, and honors her more than himself, in reference to him Scripture says: ‘And thou wilt know that thy tent will be in peace.’” “He whose first wife dies—the temple, as it were, was destroyed in his days; the world is darkened to him. Everything may be replaced save the wife of one’s youth. The husband dies to none except his wife, and the wife to none except her husband.” “The teacher’s work is the work of the Lord: ‘Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully.’” “By a single right judgment the judge becomes a participator in God’s creation; as, on the other hand, all punishments inflicted upon the world come because of the unscrupulousness of judges.” “Justice must make straight her path, even though mountains be in the way.” “‘Ye shall not make with me gods of silver and gods of gold.’ But gods of wood? Hence the passage is interpreted as referring to a judge who has secured his office through the use of silver and gold.” “You may violate one Sabbath to preserve the life of a child one day old: violate one Sabbath so that he may observe many Sabbaths.” “He who smites the cheek of his fellow-man is a wicked person. A smiting hand deserves to be cut off.” “The highwayman simply restores the robbed property, but the thief is punished with a fine; because the former slights both man and God, while the latter fears the eye of man, but is unconcerned about the eye of God.” “He who robs his neighbor of the smallest amount takes, as it were, his life.” “He who sets his eye upon that which is not his, is denied what he seeks, and is deprived of what he possesses.” “He who causes his fellow to blush publicly, is guilty of bloodshed.” “He who slanders his neighbor denies, the existence of God; for it is written: ‘Who have said, with our tongue will we prevail; our lips are with us, who is lord over us?’ Of him the Holy One, blessed be He, says, We cannot exist together in the world.” “They say of the man of the tongue, that he speaks here and kills in Rome, speaks in Rome and kills in Syria.” “The liar is not believed even when he tells the truth.” “Falsehood is popular, truth unpopular; falsehood is frequent, truth scarce: but truth prevails, while falsehood does not prevail.” “Ten hard things have been created in the world: the rocks of mountains are broken by iron; iron is melted by fire; fire is extinguished by water; waters are borne by clouds; clouds are scattered by the wind; a fierce wind is resisted by the body; a strong body is broken by fear; fear is dispelled by wine; wine yields to sleep: but the hardest of all is death, and alms-giving delivereth from death.” “Who is under the obligation of alms-giving? Even he who himself receives charity.” “Feed the hungry, if you are convinced that you are not imposed upon; clothe the naked and ask no questions.” “Charity is the salt of wealth.” “If you are not able to give yourself, encourage others.” “You are not obliged to make a poor man rich; but you must supply all his wants.” “Charity for the sake of pride is a sin.” “The giver should not know to whom he giveth; and the receiver should not know from whom he has received.” “He who does not visit the sick is guilty of bloodshed.” “He who finds anything blameworthy in his fellow-man must reprove him; on the other hand, he who unjustly suspects his neighbor must ask his pardon. One in whose power it is to reprimand the members of his household and fails to do so, is held responsible for them; the greater a man’s influence, the greater his responsibility. He who leads his fellow-man to goodness is, as it were, his creator.” “He who does not return a greeting is guilty of theft.” “Respect the customs of the place whither thou comest; for Moses ascended to heaven and ate no bread, while the angels descended to earth and partook of food.” “If a man give to his fellow all the gifts of the world grudgingly, it is accounted to him as if he had given nothing; but he who receiveth his neighbor with a cheerful disposition, even though he give nothing, it is accounted to him as if he had given him all the gifts of the world.” “What is hatred of mankind? A man ought not to say, I will love the master but hate the student; love the student but hate the common man: but a man ought to say, I will love them all.”  11
  Interesting are the ethical testaments, or counsels given by a dying teacher to his pupil:—“Do not enter your house suddenly, much less the house of your neighbor. Take heed thereunto that you honor your mother. More than a stranger can harm you, you can harm yourself. Bargain not for goods when you have no means to buy. Spread out a carcass in the street, and say not, I am a great man: it is unbecoming to me.” And to the daughters: “Be modest in the presence of your husbands. When a person knocks at the door, do not ask, Who (masculine) is there? but, Who (feminine) is there?” Of the same nature are ethical prayers:—“May my lot be among those who dwell in the house of study, and not among those who support it; among those who collect charity, and not among those who distribute it; among those who are unjustly suspected of wrongdoing.” Sometimes the scholars give a review of their moral character, often when asked by their disciples to state the cause of their long life:—“I have never acted against the will of my colleagues.” “I have never said anything which I afterwards retracted.” “I have never spoken profane speech.” “I never rejoiced in the misfortune of my fellow-man.” “I never accepted a gift, nor insisted on my rights.”  12
  Here are some of their thoughts on theological matters. “He who is instructed in the Law, but lacks fear of Heaven, is to be likened to him who has the key to the inner door, without that of the outer door: how can he enter?” “To love God is to act in such a manner that the name of God is loved through us.” “If one chooses to sin, no obstruction is put in his path.” “The evil thought is at first like a thread of spider-web, but finally it becomes like a cart-rope.” “The evil thought settles at first in our heart like a traveler that came from afar, but then it becomes a permanent lodger. It overwhelms its host every moment, and seeks to kill him. It seduces man in this world, and testifies against him in the world to come.” “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it, etc. ‘A little city,’ that is the body; ‘and there came a great king against it,’ that is the evil thought; ‘and built great bulwarks against it,’ i.e., the sins: ‘now there was found in it a poor wise man,’ that is the good thought; ‘and he by his wisdom delivered the city,’ i.e., by repentance and good works; ‘yet no man remembered that same poor man,’ for when the evil thought obtains the upper hand, the counsels of conscience are forgotten.” “The evil thought is the strange god in the heart of man.” “In the future world God will slaughter the evil thought in the presence of the righteous and the wicked; to the righteous it will appear like a high mountain, while to the wicked it will seem a tiny hair. Both will weep. The righteous will say, How could we pass this great mountain? The wicked will say, How is it that we were not able to surmount this tiny hair?” “In the world which is to come there will be neither eating nor drinking, nor wooing, no business, envy, hatred, or quarrel; but the righteous, with crowns on their heads, will enjoy the splendor of the Godhead.”  13
  We conclude with a few specimens of connected narrative found in the Talmud. We select those of an ethical character.  14
  SAID Rabbi Johanan: The first verse of Psalm cxxvi. (“When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream”) always caused difficulty to Onias (a pious man who was famous for his successful intercessions in times of drought): how can a man sleep for seventy years? One day, as he was walking along the road, he saw an old man planting a carob-tree. “Do you know,” he asked the man, “that these trees do not bear fruit before seventy years? Do you expect to live seventy more years?” The old man replied, “I found many carob-trees in the world: as my fathers planted for me, I plant for my children.” As Onias sat down to partake of his scanty meal, he was overcome by sleep; and covered from sight by a grotto, he slept seventy years. When he awoke, he saw a man eating of the fruit of that carob-tree. “Who planted this tree?” asked Onias. “My father’s father.” Onias said to himself, I have then slept these seventy years. He proceeded to his home. “Does the son of Onias live here?” he inquired. “The son of Onias is dead,” was the answer; “but you may see the grandson.” Onias then introduced himself as the grandfather, but no one would believe him. He went to the schoolhouse and overheard the discussions of the scholars. “The lesson is as clear to us as it was in the old times of Onias.” He again introduced himself, but no one would believe him or treat him with the respect he deserved. He prayed to God that he would take him away from this world. That is why people say, said Rabba, Either company, or death.  15
  ABBA HILKIAH was the name of the grandson of Onias. Whenever rain was scarce, he was asked to pray for rain; and his prayer met with response. Once two scholars were sent to him to ask of him a similar favor. They went to his home, and were directed to the field where he was digging. They greeted him, but he would not recognize them. In the evening, on his way home, he put some wood on one of his shoulders and his coat on the other. When he passed through water, he put on his shoes. When he came among thorns, he lifted his clothes. As he entered the village, his wife met him in her best attire. When they came to the house, his wife entered first and he followed her. He sat down to his evening meal, but did not invite the two scholars. As he dealt out the bread, he gave his younger boy two pieces, but one to the older boy. Then he said to his wife, “I know what these scholars want of me. Let us go up to the roof and pray, perchance that God will have mercy and send rain.” He stood in one corner and she in another. The clouds were soon seen to come from the side on which the wife stood. Then he descended. “What do you wish?” said he to the scholars. “We were sent to ask you to pray for rain,” answered they. “Blessed be God,” he replied, “who made you independent of me.” “We know well,” said they, “that the rain came through you. But would you kindly explain to us some of the strange things we have witnessed? Why did you not return our greeting?” “I was hired by the day, and did not deem it right to be idle for a moment.”—“Why did you put wood on one shoulder, and your coat on the other?” “Because my coat was not my own: I borrowed it for one purpose, and could not use it for another.”—“Why did you put on your shoes when passing through water?” “Because I can see what is on the road, but not what is in the water.”—“Why did you lift up your clothes when you came among thorns?” “Because the flesh may heal, but the clothes when torn cannot be made whole.”—“Why did your wife meet you in her best attire?” “That I might not cast my glance on another woman.”—“Why did you let us enter last?” “Because you were strangers, and I would not trust you.”—“Why did you not invite us to partake of your food?” “Because the food was scanty.”—“Why did you give the older boy one piece and the younger one two pieces?” “Because the former stays at home, while the latter goes to school.”—“Why did the cloud appear from the side where your wife stood?” “Because a woman is always at home and has more opportunity to give charity.”  16
  WHENEVER the collectors of charity saw Eleazar of Bartotha they would hide themselves; for he would give them whatever he had. One day he went to the market-place to buy a bridal outfit for his daughter. The collectors saw him and hid themselves. But he followed them and inquired what their mission was. He was told that they were trying to raise money to buy an outfit for two orphans that were to marry. “By the service!” said the rabbi: “they come first.” He gave them all the money he had save one zuz (a silver denarius). With that he bought some wheat, and stored it away in his corn chamber. The rabbi’s wife was eager to see the outfit which her daughter was to get. “What did your father buy you?” she inquired of her daughter. “I do not know,” replied the daughter: “he stored it away in the corn chamber.” The key was hurriedly brought, but the door could scarcely be opened: the chamber had meanwhile by Divine blessing been filled with wheat. When the scholar returned from the schoolhouse, his wife met him with the glad news: “See here what your Lover has done for you!” “By the service!” was the rabbi’s rejoinder: “sacred be it to thee! thou canst have of it only as much as any other poor Jew.”  17
  There are indeed two sides to the Talmud: one rigidly formalistic, legalistic, intellectual; the other ethical, spiritual, appealing to the feelings. If viewed from the intellectual point of view, Talmudic thought is mature, analytic, critical, penetrating to the bottom of things, capable of coping with the most abstruse and complicated problems of the human mind. Talmudic scholasticism was an excellent preparation for the philosophical and scientific erudition for which the Jews of the Middle Ages were noted. To this very day, in the Talmud schools are trained the future mathematicians, philologists, historians, critics, statesmen. If on the other hand the spiritual test is applied to the Talmud, the result is equally satisfactory. What we do regret is the disproportionally large space given to ritualism, the symbols of religion; which, if made the chief and most absorbing topic, may deal a fatal blow to religion itself. The Talmud has, however, been among the Jews the creator of institutions. The elementary schoolhouse and the higher academy; the various organizations for mutual help, common study, or spiritual encouragement; the societies for the dispensation of charity, for clothing the naked, befriending the homeless, visiting the sick, burying the dead, and for other purposes,—are all due to the influence of the Talmud. Of the invisible influence exerted by the Talmud on the individual Jew, his dealings with his fellow-men, his home life, etc., we possess unmistakable evidence in the lives of the great masters who were brought up in Talmudic lore; who in all their walks of life, whether in matters of ritual as the dietary laws, or in their moral and religious life, lived up to the letter of the Talmud, and were noted for their sincere piety and their saintly life. We have moreover the best evidence in the Jew of to-day, the Talmud Jew; who with all his shortcomings, and no matter how lowly his lot may be, always possesses a certain degree of culture and spiritual wealth. Institutions, however, are visible, tangible. There, even the outsider may recognize the points of contact between the doctrines of the Talmud and the practice of life. Such is the place which the Talmud still largely occupies in Jewish life.  18
Notes: Historical and Bibliographical

  1. The Jewish community of Babylonia had its origin in the Babylonian exile (597 and 586 B.C.). In 537 and 458 only a small body, consisting of the lovers of the ancient soil, returned to Palestine. We hear nothing of the Babylonian Jewry until some time before the destruction of the second temple (70 A.D.). The famous scholar Hillel, who flourished in the last decades of the first century B.C., was a Babylonian by birth. When the Temple was destroyed, the center of Jewish life still remained in Palestine. The descendants of Hillel became the religious heads of the Jews throughout the Roman empire; schools were established in various Palestinian towns: there was little formality about the organization of a school; the scholars flocked to this or that famous teacher, and the location of a school depended on the teacher’s place of residence. Most of the Jewish settlements were in Galilee: there the schools that produced the Mishna, there the schools that elaborated the Talmud of Palestine, are to be sought. Then taught Jehuda the Holy One, whose activity in the last quarter of the second century of our era gathered about him students from near and far: his disciple from Babylon, Abba, carried back with him his master’s methods to his native country; with Abba, Jewish learning in Babylonia may be said mainly to begin. The schools of Palestine still continued to exist; the scholars of both countries were in constant communication with one another: but the Babylonian schools soon became more important, and when the schools of the mother country came to an abrupt end with the advance of the Christian Church (during the fourth century), the academies of Babylonia and their heads came to be regarded as the representatives of Jewish learning, and wielded great influence until they in turn yielded to the advance of Islam; which again was the means of transplanting Jewish science into Spain and the countries of Europe. But the influence of Babylonia was felt even after it was extinct in the country where it first manifested itself. The Talmud of Palestine was forgotten, subsequently to be recovered from oblivion; it had no direct influence on Jewish life in the Middle Ages. That is why when we speak of the Talmud, we usually have reference to the Talmud of Babylon, the Talmud par excellence. In all matters of law, the authority of the latter is final. Jewish Babylonia comprised the southern part of Mesopotamia.
  2. The literature that clustered around the Talmud may fairly be said to be a library in itself. The commentary spoken of in the text is that of Solomon ben Isaac, commonly called Rashi, of Troyes; he died in 1105. His disciples, who belonged at the same time to his family, carried on his work in the form of supplementary notes to the Commentary (commentaire, kontres), called by the Hebrew name Tosaphoth (supplements). Our ordinary Talmud editions have the text in the center of the page, with Rashi’s commentary on the inner and the Tosaphoth on the outer side. The author of the lexicon is Nathan of Rome. The words are alphabetically arranged; and the exegetical work underlying the meanings which are assigned to them is mainly based on tradition and the works of older commentators. The codes based on the Talmud and alluded to in the text are written in the language of the Mishna,—i.e., not in Aramaic, but in late Hebrew; they also adopt the Mishnic method, inasmuch as discussions are avoided, the result being stated in concise language. It is needless to say that these codes have not escaped the commentator’s zeal; they are therefore as a rule printed in the form of the Talmud, text in the middle and commentaries on the two margins. To these codes, with their commentaries and super-commentaries and glosses and scholia, the orthodox rabbi has recourse whenever he is consulted on any matter of Jewish law; he may then at times follow up a given decision to its very source in the Talmud. But the Talmud is still studied without regard to practical application: the dialectical exercise in quick questioning and answering is sufficiently fascinating. In modern times the Talmud is also studied by Christians. Portions of the Talmud are translated, but as a rule badly: the right method has as yet been hit upon by no translator. D. A. de Sola and M. J. Raphall have translated eighteen treatises of the Mishna into English (London, 1843). A French translation of the greater part of the Palestinian Talmud was made by Moïse Schwab (Paris, 1871–1890). Of the Babylonian Talmud, single treatises have of late been translated into modern languages. To mention one, Hagigah was translated into English by A. W. Streane (Cambridge, 1891). The criminal and civil legislation contained in the Talmud was elaborated in French by J. J. M. Rabbinowicz (Paris, 1876–1879). Professor Hermann L. Strack of the University of Berlin is the author of a German introduction to the Talmud (Berlin, 1894); more comprehensive is the English introduction written by Professor Moses Mielziner of the Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, 1894). The treatise Aboth (The Sayings of the Fathers) has been translated repeatedly: Charles Taylor’s translation (Cambridge, 1877) is the most scholarly. August Wünsche has translated into German the haggadic portions of the Talmud,—that is, those portions which are the production of the leisure hours of the school, and deal with subjects which are of more interest to the general reader (Zürich, 1880; Leipzig, 1886–1889).  20

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