The Talmud in English

The Babylonian Talmud. Seder Nezikin. Translated into English under the editorship of Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein. Soncino Press, London.

REVIEWED BY PROF. MAURICE CANNEY

The Talmud is a stupendous post-Biblical work which gathers up the results of Jewish legal, ethical, and religious discussions extending over several centuries. This is all that most people know about it.

Some people are aware also that, while there is only one Mishnah, there are in fact two Talmuds, a Jerusalem Talmud and a Babylon Talmud, one comprising the Mishnah together with the discussions of Palestinian rabbis, the other incorporating practically the same Mishnah together with the discussions of the Babylonian rabbis.

In each case the discussions for which the Mishnah provided the text are known as the Gemara, or Completion. The Gemara supplements the Mishnah, and the two together constitute the Talmud.

The Talmud is not easy to read for various reasons. The Mishnah is written in new Hebrew, a Hebrew in which many new words and phrases were coined to express new ideas, and in which foreign vocabularies, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin, were extensively drawn upon.

The language of the Babylonian Gemara, where it is not pure Aramaic, is a peculiar mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, with an occasional sprinkling of Persian words. The style also for the most part presents great difficulty, for it is a kind of précis-writing which presupposes oral amplification and explanation, so much so that the Talmud has been described as a collection of reporters’ notebooks rather than a connected book.

Thus the Talmud does not lend itself easily to translation. Often if the text were translated literally the result would read like pure nonsense. To make it intelligible words or even whole sentences have frequently to be supplied. Nor will even this entirely suffice; footnotes have to be added to make the matter clear. It must be remembered, however, that the Talmud has two different methods of exposition, one of which makes easier reading than the other.

One is the dry, legalistic method which discusses legal principles and provisions for the walk of life

NEXT STORY