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AMONG the absurd notions as to what the Talmud was, given credence in the Middle Ages, one was that it was a man! The mediæval priest or peasant was perhaps wiser than he knew. Almost, might we say, the Talmud was Man, for it is a record of the doings, the beliefs, the usages, the hopes, the sufferings, the patience, the humor, the mentality, and the morality 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 the first century before the Christian era to about the fourth after it. But we shall see as we proceed that the Talmud was much more than this. The very word "Law" in Hebrew--"Torah"--means more than its translation would imply. The Jew interpreted his whole religion in terms of law. It is his name, in fact, for the Bible's first five books--the Pentateuch. To explain what the Talmud is we must first explain the theory of its growth, more remarkable perhaps than the work itself. What was that theory? The Divine Law was revealed to Moses, not only through the Commands that were found written in the Bible, but also through all the later rules and regulations of post-exilic days. These additional laws it was presumed were handed down orally from Moses to Joshua, thence to the Prophets, and later still transmitted to the Scribes, and eventually to the Rabbis. The reason why the Rabbis ascribed to Moses the laws that they later evolved, was due to their intense reverence for Scripture, and their modest

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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 man was found in the Bible either directly or inferentially. Their motto was then, "Search the Scriptures," and they did search them 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. Some of the inferences were logical and natural, some artificial and far-fetched, but all ingenious. Sometimes the method was inductive and sometimes deductive. That is, occasionally a needed law was promulgated by the Jewish Sanhedrin, and then its authority sought in the Scripture, or the Scripture would be sought in the first instance to reveal new law.

So while the Jewish code, religious and civil, continued to grow during the era of the Restoration of the second Temple, to meet the more complex conditions of later times, still the theory was maintained that all was evolved from original Scripture and always transmitted, either written or oral, from Moses from Mount Sinai. It was not, however, till the year 219 after the Christian era that a compiled summary of the so-called oral law was made--perhaps compiled from earlier summaries--by Rabbi Jehudah Hanassi (the Prince), and the added work was called the Mishnah or Second Law. Mark the date. We have passed the period of the fall of Judea's nationality. And it was these very academies in which the Jewish tradition--the Jewish Law was studied, that kept alive the Jewish people as a religious community after they had ceased to be a nation. This Mishnah, divided into six sedarim or chapters, and subdivided into thirty-six treatises, became now 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 narrower and more circumscribed, with fewer outlets to their capacities, nevertheless the new laws deduced from the Mishnah code in the academies grew far larger than the

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original source, while the discussions which grew around each Halacha, as the final decision was termed, and which was usually transmitted with the decision, grew so voluminous that it became gradually impossible to retain the complex tradition in the memory--remarkable as the Oriental memory was and is. That fact, added to the growing persecutions from Israel's over-lords, and the consequent precarious fate of these precious traditions, made it necessary to write them down in spite of the prejudice against committing the oral law to writing at all. This work was undertaken by Rav Asche and his disciples, and was completed before the year 500. The Mishnah, together with the laws that later grew out of it, called also Gamara, or Commentary, from the Talmud. While the Palestinian school evolved a Gamara from the Mishnah which is called the "Palestinian Talmud," it was the tradition of the Babylonian academies, far vaster because they continued for so many more 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 the subject of further commentary, discussion and deduction by yet later scholars. But that takes us beyond our theme and is another story.

In forming an estimate of these laws, we must first remember that they belonged to the days when religion and state were one. So we shall find priestly laws mixed up with police laws, sanitary regulations side by side with regulations of sanctity, the injunctions teaching political economy and morality almost in the same line. It should rather then be compared to codes of law than to religious scriptures, though often there the comparison would be incomplete, since the religious atmosphere pervaded even the most secular circumstance of the life of the Jew., There was no secular. The meanest function in life must be brought in relation to the great Divine. This must be understood in studying the Talmud, this must be understood in studying the Jew. As law, it compares favorably with the Roman code--its contemporary in part. In the treatment of a criminal it is almost quixotically humane. It abhors the shedding of blood, and no man can be put to

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death on circumstantial evidence. Many of its injunctions are intensely minute and hair-splitting to the extreme of casuistry. Yet these elements are familiar in the interpretation of law, not only in the olden time, but in some measure even to-day. There are instances where Talmudic law is tenderer than the Biblical; for example, the lex talionis is softened into an equivalent.

Yet the legal does not form the whole of the Talmud, nor perhaps the part that would most interest the casual reader or the world at large. It is the dry, prosaic half. There is a poetic half, let us say a homiletic half, what we call Agada, as distinct from the legal portion called Halacha. The term Agada, "narrative," is woefully insufficient to describe the diverse material that falls under this head, for it comprehends all the discursive elements that come up in the legal discussions in the old Babylonian and Palestinian academies. These elements are occasionally biographical,--fragments of the lives of the great scholars, occasionally historical,--little bits of Israel's long tragedy, occasionally didactic,--facts, morals, life lessons taught by the way; occasionally anecdotic, stories told to relieve the monotony of discussion; not infrequently fanciful; bits of philosophy, old folk-lore, weird imaginings, quaint beliefs, superstitions and humor. They are presented haphazard, most irrelevantly introduced in between the complex discussions, breaking the thread that however is never lost, but always taken up again.

From this point of view the Talmud is a great maze and apparently the simplest roads lead off into strange, winding by-paths. It is bard to deduce any distinct system of ethics, any consistent philosophy, any coherent doctrine. Yet patience rewards the student here too, and from this confused medley of material, he can build the intellectual world of the early mediæval Jew. In the realm of doctrine we find that "original sin," "vicarious atonement," and "everlasting punishment," are denied. Man is made the author of his own salvation. Life beyond the grave is still progressive; the soul is pre-existent.

A suggestion of the wit and wisdom of the Talmud may be gathered from the following quotations:--

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A single light answers as well for a hundred men as for one.

The ass complains of cold even in July.

A myrtle in the desert remains a myrtle.

Teach thy tongue to say, "I do not know."

Hospitality is an expression of Divine worship.

Thy friend has a friend, and thy friend's friend has a friend; be discreet,

Attend no auctions if thou hast no money.

Rather flay a carcass, than be idly dependent on charity.

The place honors not the man, 'tis the man who gives honor to the place.

Drain not the waters of thy well while other people may desire them.

The rose grows among thorns.

Two pieces of coin in one bag make more noise than a hundred.

The rivalry of scholars advances science.

Truth is heavy, therefore few care to carry it.

He who is loved by man is loved by God.

Use thy noble vase to-day; to-morrow it may break.

The soldiers fight and the kings are heroes.

Commit a sin twice, it will seem a sin no longer.

The world is saved by the breath of the school children.

A miser is as wicked as an idolater.

Do not make woman weep, for God counts her tears.

The best preacher is the heart; the best teacher time; the best book the world; the best friend God.

The philosophy in the Talmud, rather than the philosophy of it, has been made the subject of separate treatment just as the whole of the Agada has been drawn out of the Talmud and published as a separate work.

What is the Talmud to the Jew to-day? It is literature rather than law. He no longer goes to the voluminous Talmud to find specific injunction for specific need. Search in that vast sea would be tedious and unfruitful. Its legal portion has long been codified in separate digests. Maimonides was the first to classify Talmudic law. Still later one Ascheri prepared a digest called the "Four Rows," in which the decisions of later Rabbis were incorporated. {p. xiv} But it was the famous Shulchan Aruch (a prepared table) written by Joseph Caro in the sixteenth century, that formed the most complete code of Talmudic law enlarged to date, and accepted as religious authority by the orthodox Jews to-day.

I have already referred to the literature that has grown out of the Talmud. The "Jewish Encyclopedia" treats every law recognized by nations from the Talmudic standpoint. This will give the world a complete Talmudic point of view. In speaking of it as literature, it lacks perhaps that beauty of form in its language which the stricter demand as literature sine qua non, and yet its language is unique. It is something more than terse, for many a word is a whole sentence. Written in Aramaic, it contains many words in the languages of the nations with whom Israel came in contact--Greek, Roman, Persian, and words from other tongues.

Like the Jew, the Talmud has had a history, almost as checkered as that of its creator. Like him it was singled out for persecution. Louis IX. burned twenty-four cart-loads of Talmuds in Paris. Its right of survival had often been wrested through church synods and councils. It has been banned, it has been excommunicated, it has been made the subject of popish bulls; but it was in the sixteenth century that the Benedictine Monks made a particular determined effort to destroy it. Fortunately they knew not the times. It was the age of Humanism, the forerunner of the Reformation, and the Talmud found its ablest defender in the great Christian humanist, John Reuchlin. He was the one first to tell his co-religionists, "Do not condemn the Talmud before you understand it. Burning is no argument. Instead of burning all Jewish literature, it were better to found chairs in the universities for its exposition." The cause of liberality and light gained the day, and the printing-press decided the perpetuation of the Talmud.

In the second stage of its persecution the censor figures. His Philistine pen passed ruthlessly over everything that seemed to hint at criticism of the Church; but not content with expunging the heretical and the inferentially heretical, the censor at times went even so far as to erase sentiments

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particularly lofty, in order that the Talmud should not have the credit of expounding noble doctrine, nor the Jew the advantage of studying it.

But the latest stage of its persecution belongs to more modern days, when inquisitions were out of date and monkish claws were cut. The traducer would spitefully engage the services of some renegade Jew, to gather from the Talmud all portions and passages that might seem grotesque and ridiculous, so that the world might form an unfavorable impression of the Talmud and of the people who treasure it. This has been done with so much success that up till very recently the Gentile world, including the Christian clergy, knew of the Talmud only through these unfortunate perversions and caricatures. Imagine the citation of a chapter from Leviticus and one from Chronicles, of some vindictive passages in the Psalms, of a few skeptical bits in Ecclesiasles and Job, and one or two of the barbaric stories in Judges, to be offered to the world as a fair picture of the Bible, and you will understand the sort of treatment the Talmud has received from the world at large and the kind of estimate it has been given opportunity to form.

What is the value of the Talmud for the Jew? Certainly its greatest value was rendered in the Middle Ages, when literature was scant and copies of the few books in existence were rarer. When the Jew was shut out of the world's pleasure and the world's culture and barred up in Ghetto slums, then it was that the Talmud became his recreation and his consolation, feeding his mind and his faith. In this way it not only became in the Middle Ages a picture of the Jew, but largely formed his character. It made him a keen dialectician, tempered with a thoughtful and poetic touch. It fostered his patience and his humor and kept vivid his ideals. It linked him with the Orient, while living in the Occident and made him a bridge between the old and the new.

To the world at large it has great value archaeologically. Here are preserved ancient laws, glint lights on past history, forgotten forms in the classic tongues, and pictures of old civilization. No one criticism can cover the whole work.

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It is so many-sided. It includes so many different standards of worth and value. If we take it as a whole, it is good, it is bad and indifferent; it is trash and it is treasure; it is dust and it is diamonds; it is potsherd and it is pearls; and in the hands of impartial scholars, it is one of the great monuments of mental achievement, one of the world's wonders.



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