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Hebraic Literature 1943

Hebraic Literature 1943

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The Project GutenbergeBook, HebraicLiterature;Translations from theTalmud, Midrashimand Kabbala, byVarious, et al, Editedby Maurice HenryHarris
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.net
 Title: Hebraic Literature; Translations from the Talmud,Midrashim and KabbalaAuthor: VariousRelease Date: December 16, 2004 [eBook #14368]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK HEBRAICLITERATURE; TRANSLATIONS FROM THE TALMUD, MIDRASHIMAND KABBALA*** 
E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland,David King,and the Project Gutenberg OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team
 
Hebraic Literature
 
 
Translations fromTHE TALMUD, MIDRASHIM andKABBALA
 
Tudor Publishing Co.New York 
1943
 
{iii}
 
SPECIAL INTRODUCTION
Among the absurd notions as to what the Talmud was, givencredence in the Middle Ages, one was that it was a man! Themediaeval priest or peasant was perhaps wiser than heknew. Almost, might we say, the Talmud was Man, for it is arecord of the doings, the beliefs, the usages, the hopes, thesufferings, the patience, the humor, the mentality, and themorality of the Jewish people for half a millennium.What is the Talmud? There is more than one answer.Ostensibly it is the
corpus juris
of the Jews from about thefirst century before the Christian era to about the fourth afterit. But we shall see as we proceed that the Talmud was muchmore than this. The very word "Law" in Hebrew—"Torah"—means more than its translation would imply. The Jewinterpreted his whole religion in terms of law. It is his name infact for the Bible's first five books—the Pentateuch. Toexplain what the Talmud is we must first explain the theoryof its growth more remarkable perhaps than the work itself.What was that theory? The Divine Law was revealed toMoses, not only through the Commands that were foundwritten in the Bible, but also through all the later rules andregulations of post-exilic days. These additional laws it waspresumed were handed down orally from Moses to Joshua,thence to the Prophets, and later still transmitted to theScribes, and eventually to the Rabbis. The reason why theRabbis ascribed to Moses the laws that they later evolved,was due to their intense reverence for Scripture, and theirmodest
{iv}
sense of their own authority and qualification. "If the men of old were giants then we are pigmies," said they. They felt and believed that all duty for the guidance of manwas found in the Bible either directly or inferentially. Theirmotto was then, "Search the Scriptures," and they did searchthem with a literalness and a painstaking thoroughness
 
never since repeated. Not a word, not a letter escaped them.Every redundancy of expression was freighted with meaning,every repetition was made to give birth to new truth. Someof the inferences were logical and natural, some artificial andfar-fetched, but all ingenious. Sometimes the method wasinductive and sometimes deductive. That is, occasionally aneeded law was promulgated by the Jewish Sanhedrin, andthen its authority sought in the Scripture, or the Scripturewould be sought in the first instance to reveal new law.So while the Jewish code, religious and civil, continued togrow during the era of the Restoration of the second Temple,to meet the more complex conditions of later times, still thetheory was maintained that all was evolved from originalScripture and always transmitted, either written or oral, fromMoses from Mount Sinai. It was not, however, till the year219 after the Christian era that a compiled summary of theso-called oral law was made—perhaps compiled from earliersummaries—by Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi (the Prince), and theadded work was called the Mishnah or Second Law. Mark thedate. We have passed the period of the fall of Judea'snationality. And it was these very academies in which the Jewish tradition—the Jewish Law was studied, that kept alivethe Jewish people as a religious community after they hadceased to be a nation. This Mishnah, divided into six
sedarim
or chapters, and subdivided into thirty-six treatises, becamenow in the academies of Palestine, and later in Babylonia,the text of further legal elaboration, with the theory of deduction from Scripture still maintained.Although the life of denationalized Israel was much narrowerand more circumscribed, with fewer outlets to theircapacities, nevertheless the new laws deduced from theMishnah code in the academies grew far larger than the
{v}
original source, while the discussions which grew aroundeach Halacha, as the final decision was termed, and whichwas usually transmitted with the decision, grew sovoluminous that it became gradually impossible to retain thecomplex tradition in the memory—remarkable as the Orientalmemory was and is. That fact, added to the growingpersecutions from Israel's over-lords, and the consequentprecarious fate of these precious traditions, made itnecessary to write them down in spite of the prejudiceagainst committing the oral law to writing at all. This workwas undertaken by Rav Asche and his disciples, and wascompleted before the year 500. The Mishnah, together withthe laws that later grew out of it, called also Gamara, orCommentary, form the Talmud. While the Palestinian schoolevolved a Gamara from the Mishnah which is called the"Palestinian Talmud," it was the tradition of the Babylonianacademies, far vaster because they continued for so manymore centuries, that is the Talmud
 per se
, that great work of 2,947 folio leaves. Were we to continue the tradition further,we might show how often this vast legal compilation was thesubject of further commentary, discussion and deduction by

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