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What Is Talmud? The Study of Talmud as Understood and Practiced by the Greatest Medieval Scholars

What Is Talmud? The Study of Talmud as Understood and Practiced by the Greatest Medieval Scholars

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Published by Ariel Krakowski
After the dispersion of Jewry, different views emerged about the nature of Talmud study. This paper examined the views of Rambam, Tosafot and Ramban. Their different outlooks are seen in their explanation of the mitzvah of Talmud and in their own approach to learning, as seen in their written works.
After the dispersion of Jewry, different views emerged about the nature of Talmud study. This paper examined the views of Rambam, Tosafot and Ramban. Their different outlooks are seen in their explanation of the mitzvah of Talmud and in their own approach to learning, as seen in their written works.

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Published by: Ariel Krakowski on Feb 16, 2012
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What Is Talmud?
The Study of Talmud as Understood andPracticed by the Greatest Medieval Scholars
 
1There are three different parts to Torah study, as the Gemara states: ³A person shouldsplit up his learning: one third Bible, one third Mishnah, one third Talmud.´
i
This paper willfocus on how the nature of this ³third part´ of Torah study, Talmud, was understood by thegreatest Rishonim. To understand their approach, it is first necessary to briefly review thedevelopment of Talmud until that time.
The Nature of the Oral Torah and Talmud Study
Originally, the only written texts the Jews used were the 24 books of Tanach, as therewas a prohibition on writing down any part of the Oral Torah. As the Gemara states:
ii
 
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This was considered the ideal way to learn Torah
iii
and was practiced for many centuries.Eventually, due to persecutions and hardships, the Oral Law came in danger of being forgottenand it became necessary to write part of it down. Rabbi Yehuda haNasi compiled the 6-order work of the Mishnah. However, the oral nature was not abandoned entirely. The Mishnah and
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iv
 Similarly, after the Talmud was written down, people continued to learn primarily in anoral manner.
v
Many students in the Geonic era did not learn from a written text of the Talmud, but recited it orally. Perhaps their focus was less on analyzing and comparing the
Gemarot 
fromthe outside, and more on partaking in the Talmudic process itself.Eventually, the majority of Jews left Babylonia and the era of the Geonim ended. Theoral nature of Talmud could no longer be maintained in the far-flung lands in which the Jews
 
2found themselves. Different schools of learning developed their own approaches to Talmudstudy. This paper will examine how the Rambam, Tosafot and Ramban viewed the Mitzvah of Talmud. Their views on this subject can be seen both in their discussions of the mitzvah and inthe way they themselves learned.
Talmud According to Rambam
The Rambam states that people learned the Oral Torah in the same manner during thetime the Gemara was compiled as they did right after the time of Moses:
 
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Just as Joshua and Pinehas studied in matters of analysis and law, so did Ravinaand R. Ashi (the last of the Amoraim).´
vi
 
He does not distinguish between before and after the Mishnah was written down; the basic nature of Talmud remained unchanged. Similarly, when describing the mitzvah for his own post-Talmudic time, the fundamental mitzvah remains the same:
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³A person is obligated to divide his study time in three: one third should bedevoted to the Written Law; one third to the Oral Law; and one third tounderstanding and comprehend the ultimate derivation of a concept from its roots,inferring one concept from another and comparing concepts, understanding [theTorah] based on the principles of Biblical exegesis, until one appreciates theessence of those principles and how the prohibitions and the other decisions

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