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Note: There are at least two variant transliterations of of "Halacha." I prefer "Halacha" to "Halakha," but both are valid and used in the literature.
This page was developed in conjunction with an essay I wrote, Trust or Consequences responding to the misuse of quotations from the Talmud and Halachic sources, as well as other distortions. However, it may be useful to collect in one place as many sources as possible. Recommendations for additional materials will be appreciated.
The material below is from the first chapter of The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1976.
What Is the Talmud?
IF THE BIBLE is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice. In many ways the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture, the backbone of creativity and of national life. No other work has had a comparable influence on the theory and practice of Jewish life, shaping spiritual content and serving as a guide to conduct. The Jewish people have always been keenly aware that their continued survival and development depend on study of the Talmud, and those hostile to Judaism have also been cognizant of this fact. The book was reviled, slandered, and consigned to the flames countless times in the Middle Ages and has been subjected to similar indignities in the recent past as well. At times, talmudic study has been prohibited because it was abundantly clear that a Jewish society that ceased to study this work had no real hope of survival. The formal definition of the Talmud is the summary of oral law that evolved after centuries of scholarly effort by sages who lived in Palestine and Babylonia until the beginning of the Middle Ages. It has two main components: the Mishnah, a book of halakhah (law) written in Hebrew; and the commentary on the Mishnah, known as the Talmud (or Gemarah), in the limited sense of the word, a summary of discussion and elucidations of the Mishnah written in Aramaic-Hebrew jargon. This explanation, however, though formally correct, is misleading and imprecise. The Talmud is the repository of thousands of years of Jewish wisdom, and the oral law, which is as ancient and significant as the written law (the Torah), finds expression therein. It is a conglomerate of law, legend, and philosophy, a blend of unique logic and shrewd pragmatism, of history and science, anecdotes and humor. It is a collection of paradoxes: its framework is orderly and logical, every word and term subjected to meticulous editing, completed centuries after the actual work of composition came to an end; yet it is still based on free association, on a harnessing together of diverse ideas reminiscent of the modern stream-of-consciousness novel. Although its main objective is to interpret and comment on a book of law, it is, simultaneously, a work of art that goes beyond legislation and its practical application. And although the Talmud is, to this day, the primary source of Jewish law, it cannot be cited as an authority for purposes of ruling.
ADIN STEINSALTZ is a rabbi, scholar, and teacher who is Head of the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications. Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Rabbi Steinsaltz studied mathematics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Over the past 25 years he has been engaged in preparing a new edition of the Talmud in Hebrew, several volumes of which have been published.
Gates to the Talmud Photo of a page of Talmud with descriptions of the sections (various sources and commentary).
A Page from the Babylonian Talmud (Interactive) www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html
A detailed and useful FAQ on Talmud and Halacha can be found at http://www.shamash.org/listarchives/scj-faq/FAQ/03-Torah-Halacha.
An excellent response to antisemitic posting of Talmud "Quotes" and other anti-semitic fabrications and distortions by David S. Maddison The Talmud Exposed can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Cyprus/8815/index.html. The article page also contains responses to other antisemitic writings.Back to the top
Halakha is defined in the online Encyclopedia Britannica as "the totality of laws and ordinances that have evolved since biblical times to regulate religious observances and the daily life and conduct of the Jewish people."
Examining Halacha, Jewish Issues and Secular law
FAQ: Torah and Halachic Authority
Role that Halacha plays in Masorti (Liberal) Judaism
Halacha Online www.mcs.net/~kollel/www/halacha/halacha.html
Doctrine -- Article by Howard Wettstein
University of California, Riverside
Faith and Philosophy 14 no. 4
Back to Trust or Consequences The January, 2000 edition of Reflections of a ModemJunkie.
This page maintained and hosted by Leonard Grossman
Updated 01/30/2000 5:31:44 PM