Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback


Collection of Jewish writings providing religious and legal norms as wellas commentaries on them

Click to enlarge



Hebrew: TLMVD, a post-Biblical substantive formation of Pi’el LMD, “to teach” originally signified doctrine “study”. In a special sense, however, it meant the justification and explanation of religious and legal norms or Halakhoth (“conduct”, signifying “the law in accordance with which the conduct of life is to be regulated”). When in the third century the Halakhoth collection of Jehuda I or the recorded Mishna became the chief object of study, the expression “Talmud” was applied chiefly to the discussions and explanations of the Mishna. Finally, it became the general designation for the Mishna itself and the collection of discussions concerned with it. For the latter, the designation Gemara, interpreted as “completion” from GMR “to complete”, Aramaic GMRA, abbreviated GM, subsequently became the accepted term. The word first found entrance into the Talmud editions through Christian censorship; manuscripts and the old printed editions use the expression Talmud. We therefore understand by Talmud a compilation consisting of the Mishna, i.e. the codification of Jewish religious and legal norms, and of the Gemara, or the collection of discussions and explanations concerning the Mishna.


—Since Esdras the foundation of the Jewish religious community was the law. Everything was regulated in accordance with fixed norms; nothing could be added or changed in the law laid down in the Pentateuch. Yet the ever-varying conditions of life called for new ordinances, and these were decreed in accordance with the needs of the time and the special cases to be determined. There were thus formed a traditional law and custom orally transmitted. Every decree of this kind (halakha), if it had existed from time immemorial and nothing further could be said in regard to its origin, was called HLKH LMSH MSYNY, a law given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Even for orthodox Judaism of today it is an article of faith that Moses, at the same time that he received the written law, recorded in the Pentateuch also received detailed explanations of the different laws, which were handed down by tradition as oral law. In addition to this the scribes at an early period attempted, by interpretation of the Torah, to make the law applicable to the changed conditions of life, to base the new precepts at least retrospectively on the Torah, and to draw out of it further religious laws. For this kind of Scriptural learning hermeneutic rules (Middoth) were at a later period established, at first seven, which were then divided into fourteen, and finally increased to thirty-two. All the older additions to the Torah as well as the constantly increasing new material were for a long time transmitted orally, and, according to the prevailing view, it was forbidden to record it in writing. But it is at all events wrong to assume that there was a formal prohibition to record Halakhoth in writing. The prohibition probably referred to written records intended for public use; for a fixed record of the traditional law would have acted as a hindrance to its further development in accordance with the existing needs of the day. It is by no means improbable that the final reduction of the Mishna was preceded by previous written records, especially after Rabbi Agiba, at the beginning of the second century, had divested the study of the law of its previous Midrash character and had undertaken to arrange the materials systematically. Among his pupils it was probably Rabbi Me’ir who continued these systematic labors. But of such collections only one finally attained canonical recognition, and therefore was called Mishna par excellence, viz. the one edited about the end of the second century of our era by Rabbi Jehuda I, called Hanashi (the prince) or Ha-gadosh (the saint) or simply the Rabbi. This then is our Mishna, the basis of the Talmud.

Rabbi Jehuda had adopted only a part of the doctrines, which in course of time had been handed down in the different schools. Although he selected what was most important, he sometimes omitted much that seemed important to others; and, on the other hand, it was felt that even the unimportant should not be allowed to sink into oblivion. In consequence, other collections soon originated, which, though not canonical, were nevertheless highly valued. All the Halakhoth which were not included in the Mishna of Jehuda received the name Baraithoth (sing. Baraitha, “omitted doctrine”). The most important Baraitha collection is the Tosephta.

The precise brevity of expression and the pregnant form in which the Mishna had codified the Halakhoth made an interpretation of them necessary, while the casuistic features of the work were a stimulus to further casuistic development. In the profound study and explanation of its contents much weight was placed upon the Haggada, i.e. the doctrines not included in the law (folk-lore, legends, historic recollections, ethics and didactics, etc.), of which Jehuda, who aimed to draw up a code of laws, had taken little or no account. Everything, in fact, that tradition offered was brought within the range of discussion. In order to give a suitable designation to the new tendency in the teaching of the law, scholars, up to the time of the final transcription of the Mishna, were known as Tanna’im (sing. Tanna, “teacher”), those who came after them, Amora’im (sing. Amora, “speaker”). The collection of the Amora’im, as finally recorded, was called, as stated above, Talmud, later Gemara: that of the Palestinian schools, the Palestinian Gemara, that of the Babylonian schools, the Babylonian Gemara. The combined edition of the Mishna and Gemara, or the Talmud in our sense of the word, discriminates, therefore, between Mishna and Palestinian Gemara, or “Palestinian Talmud”, and Mishna and Babylonian Gemara or “Babylonian Talmud”. The latter is meant when the Talmud without further specification is referred to.


(Hebrew: MSNH, “repetition”, translated by the Fathers of the Church Greek: deuterosis). The word is a substantive formation from the root, SNH, “to repeat”. From this meaning was developed, in the language of the later schools, the characteristic method of all teaching and learning, particularly of doctrines orally transmitted, which was accomplished by repeated enunciation on the part of the teacher and frequent repetition on the part of the pupil. Both expressions (SNH and MSNH) thus became a term for the science of tradition, the former signifying the special study of orally transmitted law, the latter the law itself in contrast to MWRA (from QRA, “to read”), the written law. But the expression is also used for each of the doctrines orally transmitted, and differs from Halakha in that the latter signifies the traditional law so far as it is binding, while the former designates it as an object of study. Furthermore, the word Mishna is applied to the systematic collection of such doctrines, and finally to that collection which alone has attained canonical recognition, i.e. the collection of Jehuda I. This collection represents Jewish law codified in that development which it received in the schools of Palestine up to the end of the second century after Christ. Through it the orally transmitted law was finally established along with the written law or the Torah. The foundation of this collection is formed by the collections which already existed before Jehuda, particularly that of Rabbi Me’ir. The Mishna does not pretend to be a collection of sources of the Halakha, but merely to teach it. Whether its fixation in writing was the work of Jehuda himself or took place after him is a debated point; but the former is the more probable theory. The only question then is how much of it he wrote; in the extended form which it now presents it could not have been written by him alone. It has evidently received additions in course of time, and in other respects also the text has been altered.

As regards the subject matter the Mishna is divided into six institutes or Sedarim; for this reason Jews are accustomed to call the Talmud Shas. Each Seder has a number (7-12) of treatises; these are divided into chapters or Peragim, and each chapter into precepts. The six institutes and their treatises are as follows:

Seder Zera’im (harvest), containing in eleven treatises the laws on the cultivation of the soil and its products.

(1) Berakhoth (benedictions) blessings and prayers, particularly those in daily use. (2) Pe’a (corner), concerning the parts of the fields and their products which are to be left to the poor (cf. Lev., xix, 9 sq.; xxiii, 22; Deut., xxiv, 19 sq.) and in general concerning the poor laws. (3) Demai, more properly Dammai (doubtful), concerning the fruits of the soil of which it is doubtful whether the tithes have been paid. (4) Kil’ayim (heterogenea), concerning the unlawful combinations of plants, animals, and garments (cf. Lev., xix, 19; Deut., xxii, 9 sq.). (5) Shebi’ith (seventh), i.e. Sabbatical year (Deut., xv, 1 sq.). (6) Terumoth (heave offerings) for the priests (Num., xviii, 8 sq.; Deut., xviii, 4). (7) Ma asroth (tithes) for the Levites (Num., xviii, 21 sq.). (8) Ma’aser sheni (second tithe), (Deut., xiv, 22 sq.; xxvi, 12 sq.) which had to be spent at Jerusalem. (9) Halla (yeast) (cf. Num., xv, 18 sq.). (10) ‘Orla (foreskin) concerning uncircumcised fruits and trees (Lev., xix, 23). (11) Bikkurim (first fruits) brought to the temple (Deut., xxvi, 1 sq; Ex., xxiii, 19).

Seder Mo ed (season of feasts), treats in twelve treatises of the precepts governing rest on the Sabbath, the other feast and holy days, as well as fast days. (I) Shabbath. (2) ‘Erubin (combinations), the means by which one could circumvent especially onerous provisions of the Sabbath laws. (3) Pesahim (Passover). (4) Sheqalim (shekels), treats of the tax of half a shekel for the maintenance of Divine service in the temple (cf. Neh., x, 33), based upon Ex., xxx, 12 sq. (5) Yoma (day), i.e. day of expiation. (6) Sukka (Tabernacle), treats of the feast of Tabernacles. (7) Beca (egg), taken from the first word with which the treatise begins or Yom tob (feast), is concerned with the kinds of work permitted or prohibited on festivals. (8) Rosh hashana (beginning of the year), treats of the civil new year on the first of Tishri (Lev., xxiii, 24 sq.; Num., xxix, 1 sq.). (9) Ta’anith (fast). (10) Megilla (roll) of Esther, respecting the laws to be observed on the feast of Purim. (11) Moved qatan (minor feast), the laws relating to the feasts intervening between the first and last days of the Passover and Sukkoth. (12) Hagiga (feast-offering), treats (chaps. i and iii) of the duty of pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the private offerings on such occasions (cf. Deut., xvi, 16 sq.).

C. Seder Nashim (women), elucidates in seven treatises the laws of marriage and all pertaining thereto, vows, and the marriage laws of the Nazarites. Jebamoth, levirate marriages (Dent., xxv, 5 sq.). Kethuboth (“marriage deeds” and marriage settlements). (3) Nedarim (“vows”) and their annulment. (4) Nazir (Nazarite; cf. Num., vi). (5) Sota (“suspected woman”; cf. Num., v, 11 sq.). (6) Gittin (letters of divorce; cf. Deut., xxiv, l sq.). (7) Giddushin (betrothals).

D. Seder Nezigin (“damages”), explains in eight treatises civil and criminal law. In this institute are included the Eduyyoth, a collection of traditions, and the Haggadic treatise, Aboth.

The treatises 1-3, Baba Kamma (the first gate), Baba meci’a (the middle gate), and Baba bathra (the last gate), originally formed a single treatise, the subdivision of which was caused by its great length (30 chaps.). They treat of the laws of property, inheritance, and obligation. Baba Kamma treats of damages in a narrow sense (along with theft, robbery, and bodily injury) and the right to dam-ages; Baba meci’a is concerned chiefly with legal questions in regard to capital and treats finding, deposits, interest and loans; Baba Bathra is concerned with questions of social polity (possessions, limitations, buying and selling, security, inheritance and documents). (4) Sanhedrin, i.e. avv48pLov, treats of the law courts, legal processes, and criminal justice. Makkoth (stripes), treats of punishment by stripes legally acknowledged (cf. Deut., xxv, 1 sq.). Shebu’oth (oaths). (7) ‘Eduyyoth (test), containing a collection of legal decisions gathered from the testimonies of distinguished authorities. (8) ‘Aboda Zara (idolatry). (9) ‘Aboth (fathers) or Pirqe Aboth (sections of _fathers) contains ethical maxims of the Tanna’im (200 B.C.—A.D. 200). (10) Horayoth (decisions), concerning legal decisions and religious questions which were erroneously rendered.

E. Seder Qodashim (sacred things), treats in twelve treatises of the sacrifices, temple service, and dedicated objects (I) Zebahim (animal sacrifices). (2) Menahoth (meat offerings). (3) Hullin (things profane) of the sacrifice of pure and impure animals and of laws concerning food. (4) Bekhoroth (first born) of men and animals (cf. Ex., xiii, 2, 12 sq.; Lev., xxvii, 26 sq.; Num., viii, 16 sq.; xviii, 15 sq.; Deut., xv, 10 sq. (5) ‘Arakhin (valuations), that is equivalents to be given for the redemption of persons and things dedicated to God (Lev., xvii, 2 sq., xxv, 15 sq.). (6) Temura (exchange) of a sacred object (Lev., xxvii, 10-33). (7) Kerithoth (excisions), concerning the sins punished by this penalty, and what was to be done when anyone intentionally committed such a sin. (8) Me’ild (violation) of a sacred object (cf. Num., v, 6 sq.; Lev., v, 15 sq.). (9) Tamid (continual sacrifice), concerning the daily morning and evening sacrifice and the temple in general. (10) Middoth (measurements), a description of the temple and of the temple service. (11) Quinnim (“nests” of birds), of the sacrifices of doves by the poor (Lev., i, 14 sq.; xii, 8).

F. Seder Teharoth (purifications), treats in twelve treatises of the ordinances of cleanness and of purifications. (I) Kelim (vessels), treats of the conditions under which domestic utensils, garments, etc., become unclean. (2) Ohaloth (tents) of the defilement of dwellings by a corpse (Num., xix 14 sq.). (3) Nega’im (leprosy). (4) Para (red heifer; cf. Num., xix). (5) Teharoth (purifications) (euphemistically), treats of the lesser degrees of defilement lasting only till sunset. (6) Miqwa’oth (wells), the conditions under which wells and reservoirs are fit to be used for ritual purification. (7) Nidda (menstruation). (8) Makhshirin (preparers), the conditions under which certain articles, by coming in contact with liquids, become ritually unclean (Lev., xi, 34, 37, 38). (9) Zabim (persons afflicted with running issues; cf. Lev., xv). (10) Tebul yom (immersed at day), i.e. the condition of the person who had taken the ritual bath, but who has not been perfectly purified by sunset. (11) Yaddyim (hands), treats of the ritual uncleanness of the hands and their purification. (12) ‘Uqcin (stalks) of fruits and shells and their ritual uncleanness.

In our editions the number of treatises is sixty-three; originally there were only sixty, because the four paragraphs of the treatise Baba kamma, Baba bathra, Baba meci’a, likewise Sanhedrin and Makkoth, formed only one treatise. The Mishna exists in three recensions: in the manuscripts of editions of the separate Mishna, in the Palestinian Talmud in which the commentaries of the Amora’im follow short passages of the Mishna, and in the Babylonian Talmud, in which the Gemara is appended to an entire chapter of the Mishna. The contents of the Mishna, aside from the treatises Aboth and Middoth, are with few exceptions Halakhic. The language, the so-called Mishna Hebrew or New Hebrew, is a fairly pure Hebrew, not without proof of a living development—enriched by words borrowed from Greek and Latin and certain newly-created technical expressions, which seem partly developed as imitations of Roman legal formulas. The Mishna is cited by giving the treatise, chapter, and precept, e.g. ‘Berakh, i, 1.

Among the commentators of the whole Mishna the following deserve special mention: Maimonides, the Hebrew translation of whose Arabic original is printed in most editions of the Mishna; Obadia di Bertinoro (d. 1510), Jom Tob Lippmann Heller (d. 1654), Jisrael Lipschutz (his Mishna with commentary CHPAKH YSRAL.)’ Tt`Inn (6 vols., Konigsberg, 1830-50).

The first edition of the complete Mishna was at Naples in 1492. Texts with Hebrew commentaries exist in great numbers. Of importance as a confirmation of the Palestinian version is the edition of W. H. Lowe (Cambridge, 1883), after the Cambridge manuscript. Also deserving of mention are: “Misna. Latinitate donavit G. Lurenhusius” (text, Latin translation, notes, Latin translation of Maimonides and Obadia, 6 vols., Amsterdam, 1698-1703); “Mishnajoth”, with punctuation and German translation in Hebrew letters, begun by Sammter (Berlin, 1887- j still incomplete); Ger. tr. of the Mishna by Rabe (6 parts, Onolzbaeh, 1760-63).


—On the basis of the Mishna, juridical discussions were continued, at first in the schools of Palestine, particularly at Tiberias, in the third and fourth centuries. Through the final codification of the material thus collected, there arose in the second half of the fourth century the so-called Jerusalem, more properly Palestinian, Talmud. The usual opinion, which originated with Maimonides, that its author was Rabbi Jochanan, who lived in the third century, is untenable because of the names of the later scholars which occur in it. In the Palestinian Talmud the text of the Mishna is taken sentence by sentence, and explained with increasingly casuistic acumen. The Baraithoth, i.e. the maxims of the Torah not found in the Mishna, as well as the legal paragraphs are always given in Hebrew, and so are most of the appended elucidations; the remainder is written in a West Aramaic dialect (G. Dalman, “Grammatik des judisch-Palastinischen Aramaisch”, Leipzig, 1905). Along with the Halakha it contains rich Haggadic material. Whether the Palestinian Talmud ever included the entire Mishna is a matter of dispute. The only parts preserved are the commentaries on the first four Sedarim (with the exception of several chapters and the treatises Eduyyoth and Aboth) and on the three first divisions of the treatise Nidda in the sixth Seder. The supposed discovery by S. Friedlander of treatises on the fifth Seder is based upon a forgery (cf. “Theologische Literaturzeitung”, 1908, col. 513 sq., and “Zeitschr. d. Deutsch. Morgenlandisch. Gesellsch.”, LXII, 184). The Palestinian Talmud is generally cited by giving the treatise, chapter, page, and column after the Venetian and Cracow editions, mostly also the line, indicated by j (= jerus.) or pal.; e.g. pal. Makkoth, 2 Bl. 31d 56. Many scholars cite in the same manner as for the Mishna, but this is not to be recommended.

Editions: Venice (Bomberg), 1523-24; Cracow, 1609; Krotoshin, 1866; Zhitomir, 1860-67; Piotrkow, 1900-02. French translation by M. Schwab, 11 vols., Paris, 1879-80; 12 1890.

Several treatises are printed with Latin translations in Ugolini, “Thesaurus antiquitatum sacrarum”, vols. XVII-XXX, Venice, 1755-65; Wiinsche, “Der palastinische Talmud in seinen haggadischen Bestandteilen ins Deutsche iibersetzt” (Zurich, 1880).


—The Mishna is said to have been brought to Babylon by Aba Areka, generally called Rab (d. 247), a pupil of Rabbi Jehuda. In the schools there it became a norm of legal religious life and a basis of juridical discussion. But while in Palestine there was a greater tendency to preserve and propagate what had been handed down, the Babylonian Amora’im developed their interpretation of the law in all directions, which explains why the Babylonian Talmud acquired a greater significance for Judaism than the Palestinian. Thus the material grew rapidly and gradually led to a codification, which was undertaken by R. Ashi (d. 427), head of the school at Sura, and by R. Abina or Rabbina (d. 499), the last of the Amora im. The scholars who lived after him (at the end of the fifth and in the first half of the sixth centuries), called Sabora im (“those who reflect, examine”, because they weighed and also completed what had been written by the Amora im), are to be regarded as those who really completed the Babylonian Talmud.

Like the Palestinian, the Babylonian Talmud does not include the entire Mishna. In the first and sixth divisions only the treatises Berakhoth and Nidda are considered; in the second division Shegalim is omitted, in the fourth Eduyyoth and Aboth, in the fifth Middoth, Ginnim, and half of Tamid. It is indeed questionable if the greater number of these treatises were included in the Babylonian Gemara j Eduyyoth and Aboth are excluded, by reason of the subject matter, while the remainder treat for the most part ordinances which could not be applied outside of Palestine. The Babylonian Talmud therefore includes only 36% treatises, but is at least four times the extent of the Palestinian, although the latter deals with 39 treatises. The Haggada is even more fully represented than in the Palestinian. The language, excepting the legal paragraphs and the quotations of the older scholars and Palestinian rabbis, is that of the East Aramaic dialect of Babylonia (cf. Levias, “A Grammar of the Aramaic Idiom contained in the Babylonian Talmud”, Cincinnati, 1900; M. L. Margolis, “Grammatik des babylonischen Talmuds”, Munich, 1910). The Babylonian Talmud is cited according to treatise, folio, and page, as the content in nearly all the editions since that of the third Bomberg one (1548) is the same, e.g. Berakh 22a. In these editions there are usually appended at the end of the fourth Seder seven small treatises, partly from Talmudic, partly from post-Talmudic times, among which is the post-Talmudic treatise Sopherim (directions for the writer and public reader of the Torah). Among the commentaries the first place belongs to that of Rashi (d. 1105), completed by his grandson Samuel ben Me’ it (d. about 1174). Chiefly of a supplementary character are the works of the Tosaphists or authors of the Tosaphoth (additions), who lived in France and Germany during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They give amplifications and learned explanations of certain treatises. Other commentaries are enumerated by Strack, op. cit. infra, 149-51.

The Babylonian Talmud has often been printed, but until the present time a critical edition has remained a desideratum. Material for this purpose is furnished by Raphael Rabbinovicz, among others, in his”Variae lectiones in Mischnam et in Talm. Babyl.”, etc. (15 vols., Munich, 1868-86); Vol. XVI was edited by Ehrentreu (Przemysl, 1897). Serious mutilations and bungling changes in the text were caused by the Christian censorship, at first in the Basle edition (1578-81). The numerous bickerings among the Jews had the further consequence that they themselves practiced censorship. The excised passages were partly collected in small treatises, published for the most part anonymously.


Raphael Rabbinovicz, Hebrew: HTLMNK MAMR `L HKPST (Ma’amar at hadpasath ha-talmud), (Munich, 1877), a critical review of the editions of the Babylonian Talmud, as a whole or in part since 1484. The first complete edition appeared at Venice (Bomberg), (12 vols., 1520-23). The advantage of this edition consists in its complete character; the text itself is full of errors. A certain reputation is enjoyed by the Amsterdam edition (1644-48), in which the censured passages have been as far as possible restored. The edition of Frankfort (1720-22) served directly or indirectly as a basis for those which followed. Of the later editions may be mentioned those of Berlin (1862-68), Vienna (1864-72), and Vilna (1880-86). A quarto edition, the text after the editio princeps, with the variants of the Munich manuscripts and a German translation, was begun by Lazarus Goldschmidt in 1897. Up to date 6 vols., containing the Institutes I, II, IV, V, and the two first treatises of III, have appeared. Unfortunately this publication is by no means faultless. M. L. Rodkinson, “New Edition of the Babylonian Talmud”, New York, 1896; M. Mielziner, “Introduction to the Talmud” (Cincinnati, 1894; New York, 1903); M. L. Rodkinson, “The History of the Talmud” (New York, 1903); H. L. Strack, “Einleitung in den Talmud” (Leipzig, 1908), pp. 139-175, containing an extensive bibliography of the Talmud and of the questions concerning it.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!