The Talmud, by Joseph Barclay, , at sacred-texts.com
History of the TalmudOther Rabbinical WritingsThe BereithaSchools of Tiberias and BabylonStruggles for SupremacyForm of Cherem.
From the six books or "Orders" the Jews call the Babylon Talmud by the pet name of "Shas" (six). The language in which it is written is Hebrew intermingled with Aramaic, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, and Latin words. The Gemara was first begun by Rabban Judah's two sons, Rabbi Gamaliel and Rabbi Simeon. It was vigorously carried on by Rabbi Ashé in Sura, a town on the Euphrates, from 365 A.D. to 425. He divided the Mishna into its sixty-three treatises, and every half-year summoned his disciples and assigned to them two fresh portions of the Law and two of the Mishna. At each meeting their remarks on these portions were discussed, and if approved were incorporated into the Gemara. Rabbis Zabid, Gebhia Rychuma, and Semo of Pumbeditha; 1 and Rabbis Marimer, Adda bar Abbin, Nachman bar Huno, and Touspho, presidents of the schools of Sura, laboured for its advancement; and it was finally completed by Rabbi Abino (Rabbina), and sealed by Rabbi José about 498 A.D. He was the last of the "Dictators." Those who lived after him were called "Opinionists," as they did not dictate any doctrines; but only deduced opinions from what had already been settled in the canon of the Talmud. The Opinionists were succeeded by the Sublime Doctors, who were in turn replaced by the ordinary Rabbis. In addition to the Talmud there has been handed down a vast amount of Jewish learning, such as the Bereitha, the Tosephtoth or appendices, the
[paragraph continues] Mechilta or traditions unknown to Rabbi Judah the Holy, and the commentaries Sifra and Sifre. Of these the Jews regard the Bereitha as second to the Mishna. "The mark of Bereitha is 'the sages learned,' or 'it is once learned,' or 'it is learned in another one.' And everything which is not disputed of all these things is an established decision. And whatever is disputed goes according to the concluded decision. What is disputed in the Bereitha, which is not questioned in the Mishna, the decision is according to the Mishna. What is disputed in the Mishna, and not questioned in the Bereitha, is not to be decided according to the Bereitha. And thus it is said, 'If Rabbi Judah the Holy did not teach it, whence could Rabbi Chayya know it?' The exception is, that when the decision of Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Jacob, is given, it is regarded as equal to the Mishna. In 102 questions the decision is always with him."
The period during which both the Jerusalem and Babylon Talmuds were compiled was a season of comparative peace for the Jews. From the death of Rabbi Judah the Holy until Constantine ascended the throne the schools in Tiberias were unmolested. Judah was succeeded in the Patriarchate by Gamaliel; and he in turn gave way to Judah the second. Being inferior in learning to some of his own Rabbis, the splendour of his Patriarchate was eclipsed by the superior talents of Simon Ben Laches and Rabbi Jochanan. From that time the Patriarchate gradually sank in estimation, till the struggles for unlimited power, and the rapacity of the Rabbis, brought the office into contempt, and caused the Emperor Honorius in one of his laws to brand them as "Devastators." Still, with a loyal affection to the race of Israel, the Jews, wherever scattered in the west, looked to Tiberias as their Zion, and willingly taxed themselves for the support of its Rabbinical schools. The Jews in the east regarded the Prince of the Captivity or Patriarch of Babylon as their centre and chief. He rose to power between the abandonment of the Mesopotamian provinces by Hadrian and the rise of the Persian kingdom. He presided over his subjects with viceregal power and a
splendid court. Rabbis were his satraps, and the wise and learned his officers and councillors. Wealth flowed in upon his people, who were engaged in every kind of commerce. One of his merchants in Babylon was said to have had 1000 vessels on sea and 1000 cities on shore. There was for a time a spirit of rivalry between the spiritual courts of Tiberias and Babylon. On one occasion there was an open schism about the calculation of the Paschal feast. The struggle for supremacy took place when Simon, son of Gamaliel, who claimed descent from Aaron, was Patriarch of Tiberias, and Ahia, who claimed descent from King David, was Prince of the Captivity. His two most learned men were Hananiah, the rector of Nahar-pakod, and Judah, son of Bethuriah. To humble these men was the aim of Simon. Accordingly he sent two legates with three letters to Babylon. The first letter was given to Hananiah. It was addressed, "To your holiness." Flattered by the title, he politely asked the reason of their visit. "To learn your system of instruction." Still more gratified, he paid them every attention. Availing themselves of their advantage, the legates used every effort to undermine his teaching and lessen his authority. Hananiah, enraged by their conduct, summoned an assembly, and denounced their treachery. The people cried out, "That which thou hast built, thou canst not so soon pull down; the hedge which thou hast planted, thou canst not pluck up without injury to thyself." Hananiah demanded their objections to his teaching. They answered, "Thou hast dared to fix intercalations and new moons, by which nonconformity has arisen between Babylon and Palestine." "So did Rabbi Akiba," said Hananiah, "when in Babylon." "Akiba," they replied, "left not his like in Palestine." "Neither," cried Hananiah, "have I left my equal in Palestine." The legates then produced their second letter, in which it was written, "That which thou hast left a kid is grown up a strong horned goat." Hananiah was struck dumb. Rabbi Isaac, one of the legates, ran, and mounted the reading desk. "These," said he, calling them out aloud, "are the holy days of God, and
these the holy days of Hananiah:" The people began to murmur. Rabbi Nathan, the second legate, arose, and read the verse of Isaiah, "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Then in a mocking voice, "Out of Babylon shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Nahor-pakod." The congregation was in an uproar. "Alter not the word of God" was the universal shout. The legates then produced the third letter, threatening excommunication to all who would not obey their decrees. They further said, "The learned have sent us, and commanded us to say, if he will submit, well; if not, utter at once the Cherem. 1 Also set the choice before our brethren in foreign parts. If they will stand by us, well; if not, let them ascend their high places. Let Ahia build them an altar, and Hananiah (a Levite) sing at the sacrifice, and let them at once set themselves apart, and say, "We have no portion in the God of Israel." From every side the cry arose, "Heaven preserve us from heresy; we have still a portion in the Israel of God." The authority of Tiberias was then recognized as supreme. But when Babylon was afterwards politically severed from the Roman power in the west, and fell to the Persians, the Prince of the Captivity represented the Jews of the east as their independent Head.
10:1 So named from its situation at the mouth (Pum) of the Bedaitha, a canal between the Tigris and the Euphratus.
13:1 The Cherem was most fearful. The excommunicate was cursed with the curse of Joshua against Jericho, and the curse of Elisha against those that mocked him, and the curse of fiends of deadly power: "Let nothing good come out of him, let his end be sudden, let all creatures become his enemy, let the whirlwind crush him, the fever and every other malady, and the edge of the sword smite him; let his death be unforeseen and drive him into outer darkness," etc. There were three degrees of excommunication. The first was "the casting out of the synagogue." The second "the delivering over to Satan." And the third was the anathema proclaimed by priests with the sounding of trumpets.