The Talmud, by Joseph Barclay, , at sacred-texts.com
The Talmud adopted by the JewsGentile and Christian hostility to itReuchlin demands toleration for itDistinctions made in its TeachingsSchools of Shammai and HillelBath KolPhariseesSadducees and other SectsKabbalistsMetatronSummary.
The canon of the Talmud was closed in a season of opulence and repose. This scene, however, speedily changed. Gloomy and dark days were followed by a storm of persecution from the Persian kings, Yesdigird and Firuz "the tyrant." When their schools were closed, the Jews clung more closely to the Talmud than before. Although never formally adopted by any general council, all orthodox Jews embraced it as supplying a want which they felt. And they have adhered to it through long and dreary centuries, despite the rack and fire of the Inquisitor, and the contempt and scorn of a hostile world. The Talmud has been periodically banned, and often publicly burned, from the age of the Emperor Justinian till the time of Pope Clement VIII. In the year 1569 the famous Jewish library in Cremona was plundered, and 12,000 copies of the Talmud and other Jewish writings were committed to the flames. The first to demand for it toleration and free inquiry was Reuchlin. He declared that he must oppose the destruction of "a book written by Christ's nearest relations." Before him, Haschim II., Caliph of Cordova in the close of the tenth century, had ordered it to be translated into Arabic. This was done by Rabbi Joseph, the son of Rabbi Moses, surnamed "clad in a sack," because he was thus meanly clad when his great talents were discovered.
The study of the Talmud has the most fascinating influence over the Jewish mind, and if the latter is to be comprehended, the teaching which moulds it must be clearly understood. "Every one," say the Jews, "is bound to
divide the time of his study into three partsone-third is to be devoted to the written law, one-third to the Mishna, and one-third to Gemara." To understand it in accordance with the thirteen rules of interpretation, it takes a study of seven hours a day for seven years. They also say that it is lawful to rend a man ignorant of the Talmud "like a fish." Israelites are forbidden to marry the daughter of such an one, as "she is no better than a beast."
To obviate arguments furnished by its own statements against itself, its adherents make a distinction between its decisions, its directions, and its legendary or romance part,a distinction fatal to its claim of equality with Holy Scripture. For this legendary part some of the ancient Rabbis had but little respect. Rabbi Joshua, son of Levi, says, "He who writes it down will have no part in the world to come; he who explains it will be scorched." Maimonides also says, "If one of the many foolish rabbis reads these histories and proverbs, he will find an explanation unnecessary, for to a fool everything is right, and he finds no difficulty anywhere. And if a really wise man reads them, there will be but two ways in which he will consider them. If he takes them in their literal sense and thinks them bad, he will say, This is foolishness, and in so doing he says nothing at all against the foundation of the faith." The School of Shammai, who lived before Christ, and the School of Hillel, who lived till eight 1 years after His birth, are brought forward as contradictory in their decisions. Like Christian leaders in later times, they strove to exceed each other in learning and pride. Hillel, called also the second Ezra, was born in Babylon. His thirst for learning drove him to Jerusalem. He was so poor he could not fee the porter of the college. So he used to listen at the window. One bitter winter's night he became insensible from cold, and the snow falling fast covered him up. The darkened window called the attention of those inside to his form without. He was then brought in, and soon restored to life. It is said that afterwards "he had eighty
scholars: thirty of them were fit that the divine glory should rest upon them, as it did upon Mosesthirty others were worthy that the sun should stand still for them, as it did for Joshuaand twenty were of a form between." By a sort of legal fiction both schools are supposed to be of equal authority. A Bath Kol 1 or holy echo, supplying the place of departed Urim and Thummim, and of oracles long since silent, is related to have established it. "There came forth a divine voice at Jabneh and said, The words of the one and of the other are the words of the living God, but the certain determination of the thing is according to the School of Hillel, and whosoever transgresseth against the words of the School of Hillel deserves death." Both schools were Pharisees, but the School of Shammai was the straiter sect. Seven different shades of character have been attributed to the Pharisees of that age: there were those who served God from selfishnessthose who did it graduallythose who avoided the sight of womensaints in officethose who asked you to name some duty which they ought to performthose who were pious from fear of Godand those who were pious from love of Him. Popular opinion differed with regard to them. Some said, "If only two men be saved, one must be a Pharisee;" while others defined a Pharisee to be "one who wished to play the part of Zimri, and to claim the reward of Phinehas." The great opponents of the Pharisees were the Sadducees, who arose B.C. 300, and were followers of Baithos and Sadok. Their rivals on the other side were the Mehestanites, who returned
from the Captivity versed in the doctrines of Zoroasterin astrology, and in the influences of good and bad spirits. To these might be added the Misraimites, who studied the Kabbala, specially in reference to the forms of letters. The letter Koph, for example, has its curved part severed from its stem, and thus teaches that "the door of mercy is always open to the penitent." The numerical value of the letters of Messiah and Nachash (serpent) is the same, and this teaches that "the Messiah will overcome the Serpent" The Kabbalists believed nothing but what they "received." Their teachers received from the prophetsthe prophets received from angelsDavid from the Angel Michael, Moses from Metatron, Isaac from Raphael, Shem from Yophieland the angels themselves from God. The Metatron is the connecting link between the Divine Spirit and the world of matter. It resembles the Demiurgos of the Gnostics. It is the mystical expression for the Being that forms an union between God and nature, or, as the Zohar puts it, between the "King and the Queen." There were also the Essenes, who allegorized the Law; the Hellenists, who mixed it up with Greek philosophy; the Therapeutists, who thought supreme happiness to be meditation; the political Herodians; the Zealots; and other petty sects who formed the great mass of the people, and held either with or against the two great schools. The decisions of both schools are remarkable for their concise brevity. A phrase suggests many thoughtsa single word awakes a whole train of reasoning. A German writer has said of the Mishna, that "it is a firmament of telescopic stars, containing many a cluster of light, which no unaided eye has ever resolved." Some of its sayings are of touching beauty. Such are the words of Rabbi Tarphon, "The day is shortthe labour vast;but the labourers are slothful, though the reward is great, and the Master of the house presseth for despatch." Some of its sayings are extravagantsome are loathsomeand some are blasphemous. But mixed up as they are together, they form an extraordinary monument of "human industry, human wisdom, and human folly."
15:1 Some think he died twelve years B.C.
16:1 The Jews say that the Holy Spirit spake to the Israelites during the Tabernacle by Urim and Thummim, and under the first Temple by the Prophets, and under the second by Bath Kol. The Bath Kol, which signifies "daughter voice" or "daughter of a voice," was a kind of divine intimation, which was as inferior to the oracular voice proceeding from the Mercy Seat as a daughter is supposed to be inferior to her mother. It was said to be preceded by a clap of thunder. This, however, was not always the case. The Talmud relates that "Rabbis Jochanan and Simeon ben Lachish wished to see the face of Rabbi Samuel, a Babylon Rabbi. 'Let us follow,' said they, 'the hearing of Bath Kol.' They journeyed near a school, and as they were passing it they heard a boy reading from the book of Samuel the words, 'And Samuel died.' Observing this, they concluded that their friend was dead. And it so happened that news was soon brought to them that Rabbi Samuel of Babylon had died." The Bath Kol seems to have been a sort of divination practised with the words of Scripture, like the Sortes Virgilianæ among the heathen.