Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to read the Talmud

When it comes to reading the Talmud there are a whole host of questions that come to mind. The question that I would like to focus on: how does one begin to read it? One should probably approach the Talmud as if it were a play or perhaps a movie. The main focus is on the dialogue itself, however the reader is invited to become a stage director. As the stage director, the reader is free to decide on the setting, the stage blocking, as well as the timing for line delivery. However, there are several things that have been put in place for you as the director: namely, the cast of characters as well as the script.

First, one should recognize to some degree the names that will appear threw out the Talmud. Second, one should then be able to pose the question: how is this specific line functioning? This post seeks to provide a working list of names that appear within the Gemara and then I will provide taxonomy of interpretive questions, which one can presumably pose at any given line. Finally, I will provide a very broad framework for determining each individual scene within the play.

the dramatis personea

Oral tradition -- these characters are prominent within the mishna portion

Hillel (70 B.C.)-he is probably one of modern Judaism's most influential teachers. In fact, his teachings were probably greatly influential on Jesus.


Misha scholars

Rabban Gamliel -- the grandson of Hillel; the president of the Sanhedrin--the apostle Paul claimed to be a student of this mission a scholar (Acts 22:3; Philippians 3:1 -- 5).

Shimon Ben Gamliel -- the father of Rabbi Judah the Prince; live through the Bar Koche revolt (132 A.D.)

Akiva Ben Joseph -- contributing to the written formalization of the Mishna; he also supported the Bar Koche revolt and was later martyred by the Romans.

Shimon bar Yochai -- a student of Rabbi Akiva; he is credited with formalizing the


Rabbi Meir and his wife -- Rabbi Meir was a student of Rabbi Akiva; he lived during the second century.

Rabbi Judah the Prince -- continued Rabbi Akiva’s work by formalizing the Mishna to writing from the middle of the second century to 220

Talmudic developers

Rav and Shmuel -- both were students of Rabbi Judah who fled to battle on an established schools which eventually provided the breeding ground for the Talmud -- Rav was the greatest student of Rabbi Judah; he also represents the link between the Tanna’im and the Amoraim.

Yohanon and Shimon Ben Lakish -- Yohanon was the teacher of Shimon; he was also one of the compilers of the Jerusalem Talmud; generally speaking the law sides with his opinions.

Rava and Abbaye -- (fourth century) -- disagree on nearly everything

Rav Ashi and Ravina -- Ashi is considered to be one of the major editors of the Talmud; he also usually sides with more stringent rulings on law while Abbaye has more liberal rulings.

Talmudic commentators

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki -- a.k.a. Roshi -- Middle Ages -- lived in France as a wine grower

Moshe ben Maimom -- Maimonides -- 12th-century physician -- wrote Mishna Tora -- and A Guide for the Perplexed

Moshe ben Nachman -- his writings have a mystical bent

a taxonomy of interpretive questions

  1. Who is the rabbi that is presently speaking, or perhaps, which Rabbi is being invoked as an authority?
    1. When did he approximately live?
    2. what he is known for?
  2. how is line x functioning?
    1. is the speaker making a statement?
    2. is the speaker posing a question?
    3. is the speaker providing an answer?
    4. is the speaker posing a counterclaim?
    5. is the speaker providing proof for the truth of his claim or counterclaim?
    6. is the speaker indicating a difficulty with a claim or counterclaim?
    7. is the speaker making a resolution to a difficulty raised in relation to his original claim?
  3. what is the scope of the discussion that surrounds line x? (Now, admittedly this is probably one of the most difficult tasks, however if one is familiar with the broad contours of the Talmud, then one can with greater accuracy predict the contextual commensuration.)
    1. broad questions
      1. what order are you studying?
      2. what tractacte are you studying
    2. narrow question
      1. what is the defining problem?
      2. who is involved?
      3. what sources are being appealed to?
      4. is there a clear resolution?

Talmud and me

This discussion is dedicated to the topic of religious studies. Personally, I received my educational training from Taylor University, which is situated in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Upland, Indiana). My training was primarily in philosophy. After earning a bachelor of arts in in 2006, I went on to earn a master of arts in biblical studies. I expect to be graduating with my MA this August. Presently I'm continuing my biblical studies the area of Hebrew and other Old Testament studies. I plan to do a doctorate in the area of Jewish studies. Initially this would seem to be an easy leap, however the more I learn about this exciting area of study, the more I learn of my abounding ignorance in the area of Judaism.
the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate my thinking on the subject of Judaism with regard to Jewish law, philosophy, history, and literature.