THE HISTORY AND THE FUTURE
OF THE TALMUDIC TEXT
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA
December 9, 1895
MARCUS JASTROW, PH. D.
Rabbi Emeritus of the Congregation Rodef Shalom
(Reprinted from Gratz College Publication No. I.)
THE HISTORY AND THE FUTURE OF THE
TEXT OF THE TALMUD,
MARCUS JASTROW, PH. D.,
Rabbi Emeritus of the Congregation Rodef Shalom, Philadelphia.
THE HISTORY AND THE FUTURE OF THE
TEXT OF THE TALMUD.
BY MARCUS JA8TROW, PH. D.
The Talmud has often been called a Cyclopedia. If
by this we understand a collection of information on all
subjects of human thought and practice, the Talmud
may deserve the name, inasmuch as virtually there is
not a branch of human industry of ancient days that
does not find mention in it, not a problem of human
speculation that is not attacked in it, not a science or
pseudo-science that is not discussed in it.
But it is a cyclopedia in which that is wanting which
forms the main feature of a cyclopedia, namely, order
and systematic arrangement.
I do not mean to say that there is no logical order in
the discussions and even the digressions, or that there
is no systematic arrangement of subjects in the volumes
of the Talmud. What is wanting is the arrangement
of the matter ; what makes familiarity with the Talmud
difficult to obtain is the absence of a guide in the laby-
rinth to tell us wh,ere we may find what we are seek-
The history of the formation of the Talmud and of its
final redaction in the present shape accounts for its pecu-
The Talmud is a collection of traditional laws and dis-
cussions in schools and academies, decisions in courts
and colleges, interpretations, legal and homiletical, in
synagogues and schoolhouses, all of them preserved
and developed in the national mind, until finally reduced
4 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
Chronologically speaking, it is divided into Mishnah
and Gemara. The former contains a collection of laws
and discussions of the period of the early teachers, named
Tannaim, comprising at least four centuries. There
are elements in the Mishnah pointing back to the second
century before our present era, while its latest elements
lead us to the beginning of the third century of the
The Gemara is a collection of laws and discussions of
the period named after the Amoraim (lectors), which
comprises about three centuries.
In spite of its later development, however, the Gemara,
in the shape of citations as a basis for discussion, has
preserved elements of tradition as old as, and even older
than, the oldest constituent parts of the Mishnah. Its
close and reduction to writing took place in about 500 of
the present era.
But chronological dates are like the dates of the palm-
tree, dry and tasteless ; the real, spiritual fruits on the
tree of knowledge are not affected by time or season;
they often ripen in the most uncongenial climates,
and shrivel and fade under the most genial sun.
To know the nature of the Talmud, we must know the
character of the mental processes crystallized in the pro-
ceedings, the synopsis of which is deposited in the
What do these minutes of the sessions of scholars in
the course of eight centuries contain ?
The only exhaustive answer would be another ques-
tion : " What do they not contain ?"
To form a table of contents of the Talmud is impossi-
ble. All we can say is that, logically divided, it con-
tains two elements, the legal element (Halakhah), includ-
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW.
ing religious, civil, and criminal legislation, discussions,
and decisions, and a medley of observations, incidental to
these legal discussions, on all possible topics. For conveni-
ence sake we call this second element of the Talmud,
Agadah (Talk). There you meet serious and often ingeni-
ous Bible exegesis, alongside of sportive plays on words
and shrewd scholastic sophistry ; grave History and her
charming little sisters, Anecdote and Legend ; Medicine
and her parents, Magic and Superstition ; Astronomy
and her older companion, Astrology ; Metaphysics and
her next-door neighbor, Mysticism, and I regret that
I have nothing but an et cetera for the rest of the thoughts
and things contained in that store-house called the
All these productions of the Jewish mind of eight cen-
turies were stored in the national memory for ages and
ages. The traditions were taught orally in schools and
academies, the notes taken down now and then by indi-
vidual scholars having no value beyond that of
mnemonic guides to the student writing them. At last
the time was considered ripe to reduce these verbal
communications to writing, and to edit them in the form
in which they appear in the Mishnah and Gemarah
respectively. Thus was created a store-house wherein
the ages could lay down their productions, or at least
specimens thereof, protected from the storms of political
changes and the ravages of time.
When speaking generally of the Gemara, we mean
the collection of post-Mishnic discussions which had
their origin in, or were brought to, the Babylonian
academies, especially those of Sura and Pumbeditha.
There is, however, a similar, somewhat older col-
lection, which contains the result of the debates held in
6 THE ORATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
the Palestinian schools, and which bears the name of
Talmud Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem Talmud. Fragmen-
tary in condition, and lapidary in style, it has the
character of stenographic notes rather than of an edited
book. Its history cannot be told, for it is the history of
neglect. These preliminary remarks were necessary in
order to make us understand the history of the Talmudic
Text, or, we should rather say, Texts.
The Talmudic texts have a pre-original history ; they
had life and development before they were born. The
Mishnah, we have seen, existed and grew for centuries
in a liquid state (if I may use the expression) before it
was crystallized into its present shape, and the Gemara
likewise lived and developed in the mouth of tradition
from generation to generation, arid its text has therefore
a pre-original history.
Tradition with the Jewish people, as with the Arabs,
has not that vague meaning which we generally attach
to it. Tradition is a verbatim report, a faithful docu-
mentary record of proceedings, debates, and final deci-
sions and enactments, together with all the incidents and
digressions liable to come up in courts, which are at the
same time schools, and in schools, the headmasters of
which are vested with the authority of practical judges.
A tradition is called sh'mu'ah, or sh'm'ata (that which
has been heard), and its reporter gives his immediate
authority and all preceding authorities. Only when the
chain of tradition becomes too long, the reporter is per-
mitted to leave out the links between his own immediate
teacher, and the earliest authority traceable.
It is not sufficient to deliver the sense of a practical or
theoretical decision (or halakhah) ; you must give the very
words as you heard them from your teacher.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 7
Here is an example : In a discussion in the Mishnah
concerning the quantity of drawn water sufficient to dis-
qualify a tank from use for ritual immersion, it is re-
ported, " Hillel says, ' a Hin of drawn water disqualifies a
bath,' while Shammai says, 'nine Kab are required for
disqualification.' " (Eduyoth I, 3.)
You observe, the one makes the Hin (which is three
Kab) a standard measure, the other uses Kab for the pur-
pose. The editor of the Mishnah, feeling the incongruity
in his text, apologizes by adding, " One must report in
the very language of one's teacher."
Hillel had a preference for the old Biblical measure
Hin, and thus the tradition had to go down the ages
with Hillel as author and Hin as measure, although the
term was no longer used in practical life.
This instance referring to the Mishnah, let me quote
another example, which will serve to illustrate the origin
of the Gemara. In obedience to the rule of tradition, I
shall translate verbatim :
" Said Rab Judah, son of Rab Samuel, son of Shilath,
in the name of Rab : ' The guests around the table are
not permitted to eat anything until he who breaks the
bread has tasted.' When Rab Safra sat down [to teach],
he said, ' to taste has been said,' " which means that the
text reads, the guests must not taste anything until he
who breaks the bread has tasted.
The question now is asked, what difference is there
between the two forms of expression ? And the answer
is, " One is bound to report in the language of one's
Even differences in spelling are faithfully recorded and
commented upon. Rab and Samuel, we are told, differed
as to whether ed (an idolatrous festival) was to be spelled
8 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
with an Alef or with an 'Ayin, and the reasons for the
two forms are freely discussed, although not very satis-
factorily to our linguistic conceptions. (Erubin 2 a .)
However, in spite of all these safeguards, variations
and corruptions have arisen and have been verbally
transmitted from generation to generation.
Two causes account for these shortcomings of the na-
tional mind : the migration of the material from land to
land, and the fallibility of human memory, especially
when dependent on oral transmission.
As you are aware, there were two centres of Jewish
learning in those days. Palestine and Babylonia con-
tended with each other for the crown of scholarship,
and students, solicitous to have the benefits of both
schools, traveled from Sura and Pumbeditha to Tiberias,
enriching Palestine with Babylonian opinions, and on
returning to Babylonia brought valuable material for
the workshop of the Babylonian mind.
But the medium of communication between these two
countries offered some difficulties. The Hebrew and the
Chaldaic spoken in Babylonia differed dialectically from
the Palestinian tongues ; not enough, it is true, to prevent
mutual understanding, but just enough to produce occa-
sional misunderstandings. But the two countries had for
centuries been ruled by different nations, which naturally
left their impress upon the language of the Jews.
Institutions and customs of the Greeks and Romans
furnished Greek and Latin words to the Palestinian
vocabulary, and in like manner the Babylonian Jews, al-
though very sparsely, introduced into their language
Persian words and phrases.
On this point I may be permitted a slight digression
from the subject before us.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 9
A general impression (I may well call it a prejudice)
prevails, that the idiom of the Talmuds, especially
that of the Babylonian Talmud, is a motley mixture
of words borrowed from all sorts of languages and
dialects, neighboring or distant, living in those days or
extinct nay, even unborn. Up to the present day
linguistic students have helped to confirm the prejudice.
They ransacked the abstrusest dialects and remotest
literatures, and drew phonetical analogies between
languages that had never come in contact with
The philological method of the eighteenth century,
which Swift so ingeniously parodied when he derived
the name of Alexander the Great from the order " All
eggs under the grate," which his English-speaking at-
tendants were wont to issue when the great monarch,
who was fond of roasted eggs, approached his palace,
this phonetic philology, long ago discarded in all
other fields of linguistic research, still survives to a
large extent in Talmudic studies.
Only recently has the idea dawned, or, rather, begun
to dawn, upon philologians that the language of the
Talmud was developed under the same organic laws as
any other tongue, and that the extension of ideas and
the growth of mental and material influences caused a
natural and internal development and transformation
of the linguistic elements available.
Assyrian discoveries, too, have come and are still daily
coining to the rescue of the dignity of the Talmudic lan-
guage, and many a word hitherto believed to be a pho-
netic corruption and mental distortion of a Greek, or
Persian, or Pehlevi, or Huzvar expression, is now recog-
nized to be of good Semitic origin, and the Talmud, on
10 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
its part, repays these services of the Assyrian monuments
richly by helping Assyriologists to decipher many an
obscure expression and doubtful reading.
But worthless are both a language and a civilization
that do not borrow ideas and their verbal representatives
from their surroundings. Our English language would
never have been so rich and flexible as it is, had it
not increased its working capital by borrowing from all
accessible banks and treasuries.
In the same way the widening of views through
contact with other nations produced a literar}^ language
for the Jews of Palestine and of Babylonia, enriched
through legitimate and conscious importations of foreign
These influences, however, differed in the two centres
of Jewish settlement and Jewish learning. Words well
understood in one land were carried to the other, and, the
means of communication being mainty the tongue, and
but rarely the pen, the importations naturally were
often misshapen and not infrequently misunderstood.
A few illustrations may not be out of place here.
The discussion is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud
as to how bright a light must be in order that the bene-
diction customary at the exit of the Sabbath might be
said over it. " Ulla said, bright enough for one to dis-
tinguish between an Isar (the Roman As) and a Pundion
(the Roman Dipondiuni). Hiskiah said, bright enough
for one to distinguish between the M'luzma of Tiberias
and the M'luzma of Sepphoris."
You see at a glance, that this is a Palestinian tradi-
tion brought verbatim to Babylonia. The scenery is
Palestinian, the coins are those current in Palestine under
the Roman government, Tiberias and Sepphoris are Pales-
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JA8TROW. 11
tinian towns, and the authors quoted, it is needless to
say, are Palestinians, native or immigrant. What, now,
is the word M'luzmaf From the context as well as from
tradition for a living tradition accompanies the written
Gemara, almost in the same manner as the verbal
Gemara accompanied the Mishnah we know, that
M'luzma means the stamp or legend of a coin. There can
be no doubt that it is a foreign word, either Greek or
Latin. What was its sound originally ? It was the
Greek nomisma, which was adopted into Latin as
numisma, and which survives in our numismatics.
By what phonetic process could numisma in its trans-
mission from Palestine to Babylonia have been corrupted
into m'luzmat for students need not be reminded that
there is a phonetic law for corruptions as well as for
Now, the Latin nummus appears in the Talmud as
lumma ; the plural nummi as lummin; the Apostle Lucas
(Luke) is mentioned as Nakai. In accordance with this
dialectic law of " Lautverschiebung," numisma would be
changed into lumisma, and for the Babylonian tongue it
was more convenient to say meluzma than lumisma, just
as it is easier to the English tongue to say summersalt or
summerset than soprasalto, as the Italian has it.
Another and more interesting corruption, owing to
migration from Palestine to Babylonia, is the following :
There was an institution in the Roman empire called
angaria, a word borrowed from the Persian, and denoting
the service which a Roman officer in the provinces was
entitled to exact from the inhabitants of the places
through which they marched, as the seizure of men and
beasts for paving the roads, for transport of war material,
and the like.
12 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
This institution is well known in the Talmud, and it
gives rise to nice questions of law, as, for instance, if one
hires an ass and it is seized for angaria, whether or not
the owner is bound to furnish another beast in place of
the confiscated one. A distinction is drawn between an
angaria which comes back to the place whence it started,
and an angaria which does not come back, in which case
the owner has to help himself to his property as well as
he can. (Baba Metsia 78 b .)
The discussion of this point is reported in the name of
Rab and Samuel, both of whom were Babylonians who
had been pursuing their studies in Palestine, and who,
on their return, became the founders of Talmud schools
in their respective homes.
Now, this mental migration was accomplished with-
out any injury to word or sense.
But there was a similar institution known in the Roman
empire, which bore the name of parangaria. It was the ex-
tra service which Roman officials had a right to demand,
but for which they had to pay remuneration or indem-
Again it is Rab who brings the traditional law con-
nected with this institution to Babylonia. The law is,
that he who sells his slave for the parangaria, has for-
feited his ownership, and the slave, when dismissed from
the public service for which he has been bought, goes free.
The question is raised, what could the slave-owner do
to retain his slave ? The answer follows, that he might
have conciliated the officer by paying the requisite
amount, or by furnishing a substitute, and not having
done so, he surrendered his rights. (Gittin 44 a ).
Again the distinction is drawn between the parangaria
which returns and that which does not.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JA8TROW. 13
But through some mistake the word parangaria appears
as parhang goy, which is " a gentile parhang," and the
commentators, interpreting according to the sense, ex-
plain parhang to mean a man of power, an oppressor,
ignoring the grammatical difficulty that our word is used
in the feminine gender. To add to the confusion, later
editions have changed the somewhat odious goy into the
more refined nokhri, and thus, in place of the plain paran-
garia, arose the monster parhang nokhri, a female, and
a puzzle to the linguistic student.
Yet, even this corruption, though distorting the sense
to some extent, is harmless, compared with the injury
done by misreporting a traditional halakhah, and causing a
discussion based on a mistake.
Let me give you one glaring example.
The Roman law had a mode of manumission of a slave
known by the name ofvindicta or vindicalio. " The master
brought his slave before the magistrate ; the Lictor laid a
rod on the head of the slave, accompanied with certain
formal words, in which he declares that he is henceforth
a free man ex jure Quiritium. The master, in the mean-
time, held the slave, and after he had pronounced the
words, ' Huiic hominem liberum volo,' he turned him
round and let him go."*
" When a slave obtained his freedom, he had his head
shaven, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus
(cap). The figure of Liberty on some of the coins of
Antoninus Pius holds this cap in the right hand." f
These two symbols of manumission were, of course,
well known in Palestine, and were made the subject of Tal-
mudic law, not without a practical purpose. The Jews
* See Smith Antiquities, s. v. Manumissio.
t Ib.. s. v. Pileus.
14 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
under the Roman government, although holding fast
'to their own laws, and clinging to their own juris-
diction, had to deal with these Roman forms, and the
question how far these forms had to be recognized, was
forced upon them by the political conditions under
which they lived and struggled hard to maintain as
much of their independence as they possibly could. We
find, therefore, in the Palestinian Talmud, that a slave
freed by the form of manumission called vindicta, or by
proving that he had been permitted to wear the cap of
liberty without protest, needed, nevertheless, a letter
of manumission (Get) issued under Jewish jurisdiction.
(Yerush Gittin IV., 45 b ).
On the other hand, an old treatise on slaves, not em-
bodied in the Talmud collection, says: "A slave becomes
free by antukta (which is vindicta), and also by a record
found in the owner's pinax (account-book) or in tablets,
but cannot claim his liberty on the ground of wearing a
cap." (Treatise 'Abadim in Septem Libri Talm., ed
Kirchheim, p. 30).
Now, this tradition came to Babylonia, where those
symbols of liberty were unknown, and it assumed the fol-
lowing curious form. I shall again translate verbatim :
" A slave that went out by dint of a writing on a tab-
let or account-book, goes free, but he does not go free by
dint of a writing on a cap or andukhtra." (Gittin 20 a ).
The tradition just quoted is brought up in connection
with a discussion on the form of writing necessary to
give validity to a document of manumission or divorce.
Whether or not engraven or raised letters were a
legal form of writing, is the question under dispute, and
the tradition just cited is adduced in evidence of respect-
ive legality and illegality.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 15
Writing on wax-covered tablets or books is engraving,
while writing on a cap can only be thought of as
embroidery, and, by a natural analogy, the same applies
to the andukhtra.
Thus, the curious andukhtra or undakhtre, in which we
could not have recognized the vindicta, were it not for the
parallels in Palestinian literature, where the word is not
yet corrupted beyond recognition, becomes in Babylonia a
garment on which a letter of manumission is embroidered.
The difficulty of coping with these importations could
not but be deeply felt. Very frequently an interpreta-
tion of foreign words is asked for and in a more or less
correct way given in the very discussions in which they
incidentally appear, and many a student found it profit-
able to compose a glossary for his own use.
Such a glossary was called Agadta, the Chaldaic equiv-
alent of Agadah, the general expression for a collection
A scholar in the course of a debate in Babylonia
mentions some Greek words as he has heard them in
Palestine, or from a Palestinian scholar, as, for instance,
kynege (hunter), ballistre (archer), and the presiding
teacher says to his amanuensis, " Go and write kynege
and ballistre in thy collection."
Nor did the Babylonians take kindly to the foreign
teachers who burdened them with expressions which they
considered uncouth. We are told that when R. Ammi
and R. Assi were installed as rabbis, the students, mock-
ing at the frequent display of Greek and Latin by
their teachers, sang, " Such men, such men, appoint for
us, but do not give us men that talk sermis, sennit,
hemis, tremis" (Kethuboth 17 a ; Sanhedrin 14 il ).
But considering that all these importations of matter
16 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
and of words were carried by the least reliable vehicles
of communication, ears and lips, we are warranted in
saying that, on the whole, the condition of the text of
the Babylonian Talmud is a true reflection of the state
of culture and intercourse prevailing in the days preced-
ing its redaction, and of the intellectual intercourse
between the two countries.
Another source of corruption is the uncertainty of
human memory. Names especially are subject to errors
in the process of transmission.
We find, therefore, very frequently, that a tradition is
reported in the name of A, B, and C, and an editorial re-
mark is added : "Some say, in the name of D, E, and F."
No less frequent are such editorial glosses concerning
opinions and subjects, as, for instance : " Some say,
that the course of the discussion and its result are not as
just reported, but ran thus."
These editorial glosses, so frequent in the Babylonian
Talmud, serving on the one hand as adequate evidence
of the uncertainties that arose during the period of its
oral transmission, are, on the other hand, a guarantee of
the great care given to accuracy of tradition, both in
names and in substance.
It is strange, indeed, that writing should have proved
more prejudicial to accuracy than oral delivery, yet such
is the fact.
The main variations and corruptions of the Talmudic
texts arose during the period following the reduction to
writing, when each school procured a number of copies
made by professional copyists. As soon as copying be-
came a profession, the texts passed from the control of
their traditional guardians, and became dependent on
the greater or less faithfulness and care of the writers
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 17
nay, even on the greater or less distinctness of the
Who were the copyists ? That they were not abun-
dantly blessed with worldly goods, we should sur-
mise, even were we not told in the Talmud, that the
Men of the Great Assembly spent twenty-four days in
fasting and in praying that the copyists of S'farim,
T'fillin, and M'zuzoth might never grow rich, for, if they
did, they would soon abandon their occupation.
Troubled minds are not apt to be very accurate.
The Bible was under the control of the Massorah which
had counted the words and the letters of the entire
Scriptures, and given immutable fixity to spelling, to
marks, and interspaces ; but there was no such standard
in existence for Talmudic books, and their texts were
subject to the influences which affected the copyists and
the Jewish people at large.
Persecutions and migrations from place to place could
not but have a disturbing effect on the ease of mind
required for painstaking accuracy in literary pursuits.
Consider the quiet and retirement from the noises of
the world which the monks enjoyed in their cloisters and
could well utilize for the preservation of the literatures
of the world, ancient and modern, and contrast with it
the troubles and toils, the fears and dangers, to which the
dwellers of the Beth Hammidrash were subject as mem-
bers of a homeless people.
Nay, not only the people of the Talmud, but even
the Talmud itself was persecuted. As early as the sixth
century the Mishnah was interdicted by the Emperor
Justinian, as "a most execrable book," and the only rea-
son why the Gemara was not subjected to the same treat-
ment was that it did not yet exist in writing in his days.
18 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
" From Justinian," says my lamented friend, Emanuel
Deutsch, "down to Clement VIII and later, ....
both the secular and the spiritual powers, kings
and emperors, popes and anti-popes, vied with each other
in hurling anathemas and bulls and edicts of wholesale
confiscation and conflagration against this luckless book.
Thus, within a period of less than fifty years and these
forming the latter half of the sixteenth century it was
publicly burnt no less than six different times, and that
not in single copies, but wholesale, by the wagon-load.
Julius III issued his proclamation against what he gro-
tesquely calls the ' Gemaroth-Talmud ' in 1553 and 1555,
Paul IV in 1559, Pius V in 1566, Clement VIII in 1592
Twelve thousand copies were burned in the latter year
in Italy alone.
" Pope Gregory IX, in 1239, decreed the cremation of
the Talmud, and hundreds and thousands of copies were
burnt in France and Italy. In 1264, Pope Clement IV
set the penalty of death on whatsoever person should
harbor a copy of the Talmud in his house." I quote
this from the introduction to Dikduke So'frim by
Rabbinowicz (of whom we shall have to speak yet to-
night), as it refers to the period of copying books by
Writing and selling the Talmud under such conditions
must necessarily have had an injurious effect on the
manner of its reproduction, not to speak of the abbrevia-
tions necessitated by poverty for the sake of saving space
and costly material, and the confusion resulting there-
from. Final syllables, for instance, were marked by a
little stroke on top, and the reader or the next following
copyist had the choice between the singular and the
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JA8TROW. 19
plural number, between the masculine and the feminine
gender. An innumerable host of technical terms were
indicated by initials, many of which allowed of two or
three different interpretations.
Especially confusing are the abbreviations of proper
names, initials like Resh Yod 0""l), permitting the read-
ings, Rabbi Yishak, Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Yishmael,
Rabbi Jonathan, and so forth.
Hence it is not surprising that discrepancies, some-
times very material ones, exist between the few manu-
script copies of the Talmud still extant in Munich
and Rome, Oxford and Florence, Cambridge, Hamburg,
and other seats of learning. It is surprising that there
are no more of these variations, and that, on the arrival
of the Talmudic text at its third stage, the printing
period, it was possible to produce tolerably uniform and
measurably correct editions.
The printing of the Talmud began as early as 1494 in
Soncino. The luckless book was still under the ban of
the papal and imperial interdicts, and even when, thanks
to the untiring efforts of influential Jews and Christians,
fortified by offers of bribes more or less open and direct,
permission to print was granted (by Pope Leo X, in 1520),
it was so guarded and restricted as to make a complete
and accurate edition an impossibility. Passages believed
to be hostile to Christianity were to be omitted, or, what
is worse, modified, and the entire treatise 'Abodah Zarah,
containing laws concerning idolatry and dealing with
idolaters, was to be suppressed from the Basle- Venice edi-
tion, the bad conscience of the censor making him sus-
pect that idolatry in the Talmud was merely a disguise
Up to this day, wherever the sword of the censor has
20 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
not yet been sheathed, as, for instance, in Russia, that
treatise, which, by the way, is a veritable treasure-house
of antiquities, must be printed without the running title
" 'Abodah Zarah" on its pages.
That the permission granted by Leo X did not secure
immunity from persecution, we learn from the fact men-
tioned before, that autos-da-fe, were renewed at intervals
from 1533 to 1599. In fact, when, in 1564, at the
Council of Trent, the Italian Jews petitioned for
permission to republish the Talmud, the license granted
was, in spite of a vast amount of Jewish money in the
pockets of the Bishops, still more restrictive. Even the
title Talmud was to be omitted. We do not find, how-
ever, that the Italian printing houses availed themselves
of this dubious mercy.
I shall pass over the deficiencies of the early editions,
caused by the lack of experience in proof-reading, in
order to say a word about the disfigurements of the
printed texts through the ignorant fanaticism of the
censors, and no less through the self-restriction which
timid publishers practiced in order to protect their edi-
tions from governmental or Church interference.
A few instances will suffice to give you an idea of the
confusion created through these censorial changes. In
the countries under the control of the Catholic Church
"Rome" was under the ban, and with it all the disguises
it had assumed in early days, such as " Edom," " Aram,"
and the like. For " Rome " it was necessary to substitute
" Persia," or " Greece," or " Egypt," or some other appel-
Again, in countries where the Greco-Catholic or Ortho-
dox Church was dominant, " Yavan " (Greeks) had to be
avoided, and some other nationality had to take its place.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 21
For example : In Megillah lla, the Scriptural pro-
phecy, " And yet for all that, when they be in the land
of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I abhor
them, to destroy them utterly, to break my covenant
with them, for I am the Lord their God," is made the
subject of interpretation.
" I did not reject them " (says the Talmud) in the days
of the Greeks (meaning the Maccabean days), " and I did
not abhor them " in the days of Vespasian the Csesar
(meaning in the days of the destruction of the Temple,
when the very existence of the Jewish people was threat-
ened with dissolution); " to destroy them utterly " alludes
to the persecution by Haman ; " to break my covenant
with them " refers to the days of the Romans mean-
ing those days of friendly intercourse between Rabbi
Judah han-Nasi and his successors, and the Roman
emperors Antoninus Pius and his successor, the philoso-
pher, Marcus Aurelius.
In any edition of the Talmud issued after and copied
from the Basle edition (1578-81) "Nebuchadnezzar" is
found to be substituted for " Vespasian the Caesar, " and
"the days of the Persians" for "the days of the
Romans." Thus, it will be seen how the entire historical
perspective is destroyed by these changes.
Another favorable opportunity for maltreatment by
the censor was furnished by the word nokhri or Goy
(stranger or gentile). It had to be changed wherever
it pained the eye of the inquisitor, sometimes into Accum,
an abbreviation for " worshiper of stars and planets ",
at other times into Kuthi, the name of the Samaritan
sect which, in the early Talmudic days, played an
important part in Jewish ritual legislation ; at times,
again, Kuthi appeared to the censor too thin a disguise
22 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
for Christian, and Kushi (Ethiopian or Negro) was
inserted in its place, so that suddenly to the surprise
of the Talmudic student the poor Negro appeared in a
business transaction or in a ritual question.
Imagine the confusion which this promiscuous use of
words creates, both in legal discussions and decisions and
in historical and archaic allusions !
Only he who has lived under censorial supervision can
form an idea of the depth of stupidity, in conjunction
with bureaucratic petty tyranny, a censor is capable of
" He who has no wife, lives without joy, without bless-
ing, without good ; without joy, for it is said, ' And thou
shalt rejoice, thou and thy house' ; without blessing, for
we read, ' To cause a blessing to rest on thy house ';
without good, for the Scripture says, ' It is not good for
man to be alone.' " (Yebarnoth 62 b ).
Who, but an incorrigible old bachelor, could have any
objection to this gallant tribute to womanhood ? Yet,
the censors are shrewd men ; they look into the hearts of
those perfidious Talmudic teachers, and discover in this
apparently harmless sentiment a malicious reflection on
the celibacy of the Catholic clergy, sublimely oblivious
of the anachronism.
And the censors, being wise men, knew how to turn
aside an arrow hurled against their holy religion, and
now we read, " A Yehudi that has no wife, lives without
joy," etc. The Church is saved, and the cursed Jews
are permitted to worship wicked woman as they please,
preparatory to the eternal damnation awaiting them,
when they leave this home of the flesh.
A modern example although not bearing on Talmudic
texts, may serve to illustrate censorial ingenuity :
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 23
" Man is the slave of his passions." Is there anything
objectionable in this phrase to the most thin-skinned
absoluist? Yet, a Russian censor discovered that the
word slave, which, in the Slavic tongues, is rendered by
unfree, awakens rebellious thoughts, which it were better
to put to sleep again, ere they do any mischief. And
this sentence, which appeared in a little school-book
of exercises for translation from Polish into Hebrew and
vice versa, was changed into, " Man is the MOOR of his
passions." Perhaps the poetic censor thought of Shake-
speare and his " Othello."
Imagine, if you can, the condition, under such circum-
stances, of literature in general, and of Jewish literature
in particular, always apt to arouse the censor's jealous
suspicion ; and again the most cruelly abused of all was,
and in some places still is, the Talmud.
Even the latest editions, and even those published in
free countries, show the traces of this maltreatment, and
the task of purging the Talmud from these woful
corruptions will have to call for the ingenuity and
critical acumen of many a scholar, before they can be
With the exception, however, of these political
changes, our printed editions, on the whole, show careful
textual care, and compare favorably with the manu-
In three successive centuries the text of the Babylonian
Talmud has been revised by three critics of deep penetra-
tion and ingenious intuition.
Solomon Luria, known by the abbreviation, Maharshal,
Joel Sirks, named after his work, Bah (an abbreviation
of Beth Hadash), and Isaiah Berlin or Pick, these three
men, living in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth
24 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
centuries, respectively, have applied their vast erudition
to the thankless task of reconstructing a correct text, as
far as it could be done by comparing parallel passages
and incidental quotations in the vast post-Talmudic
literature, and by consulting the context.
Their services must be regarded as inestimable.
On a smaller scale, and in a more incidental way, in
our own days, men like Rapoport, Reggio, Luzzatto,
Krochmal, Schor, Geiger, Graetz, Carmoly, Perles, and a
host of less well known scholars, have furnished contribu-
tions, more or less valuable, towards a restoration of the
Talmud text, which the future editor of Mishnah and
Gemara will have to consult and reckon with.
But all these contributions, from Maharshal down to
Perles, are, as it were, personal equations, which may or
may not be accepted, but at all events must be carefully
sifted by the future editor. The main material for
textual criticism lies in the manuscripts preserved, in
their comparison with the earliest works on Talmudic
subjects, and in the philological achievements of the
most recent times in the province of Semitic studies.
To collect the material from manuscripts and early
writers was the life-work, unfinished alas, of the late
Subventioned and assisted by a Maecenas, himself a
scholar and, strange to say a man of wealth, the late
Abraham Merzbacher, of Munich, Rabbinowicz succeed-
ed in collecting and noting variants from all manuscripts
accessible, as well as from the earliest and rarest editions,
and from incidental early citations in the 'Arukh, the
Talmudic dictionary of the eleventh century, and in
many other books, published and unpublished.
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 25
To complete this collection should be the first of the
preliminar} r tasks of the future editor.
But where will you find a man, like Rabbinowicz,
combining vast erudition with utter self-abnegation,
willing to do bricklayer's work for the future builder,
contented, above all, with a sparse subsistence during
his years of study, and ready to devote the intervals
between the publication of one volume and the prepar-
ation of the next to travelling about and selling his
work, in order to collect the means with which to pay
his printer and his grocer?
Or where will you find a banker, like Merzbacher, with
a library of rarest books, and liberality no less rare ?
Of scholars qualified for the work there is no lack in
Europe, but the time has passed when Jewish scholar-
ship goes a-begging; it can afford to be begged, now
that it finds a home in universities and colleges.
I lift up mine eyes to the mountains of Jewish wealth
whence will the banker come ?
But, granted that there be the man arid the means,
we should have the material merely for a textually
correct or nearly correct edition, one which might be
called a Variorum edition of the Talmud.
A specimen of such an edition was furnished in the
year 1886, when, at the suggestion of Professors Theodor
Noldeke and D. H. Miiller, under the auspices of the
International Oriental Congress, assembled in Vienna,
the lector at the Vienna Beth Hammidrash, Mr. Mayer
Friedman, tentatively edited one treatise of the Talmud,
the treatise Maccoth, with critical notes and an occasional
brief commentary in Hebrew.
Though I cannot approve of the style of the critical
notes, and much less of the form of the commentary and
26 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
critical remarks, which, to an uninitiated student, are as
difficult to unriddle as the main text, yet Mr. Friedman
has proved that he would be able to give us what is
desired, if sufficiently endowed with means and leisure,
and supported by the advice of competent colaborers
in the field.
More difficult will it be to satisfy the demands of what,
in our days, we call the Higher Criticism.
To borrow a metaphor from geology, there are, espe-
cially in the Gemara, layers representing different ages
and epochs in the growth of this unique literature ; but
they have been inextricably fused by the skilful editorial
hands that gave the Babylonian Gemara its present
A critical eye can easily distinguish, but no hand can
separate them without destroying the characteristic text-
ure of the Talmud.
Permit me to give you a specimen of these geological
Here is a Mishnah, at, the beginning of Pesahim, say-
ing, " On the evening of the fourteenth [of Nisan] leav-
ened matter is to be searched for by candle light."
For "the evening," the Mishnah uses the word Or
("UK), which commonly denotes light. The original
meaning of the root 0r(TiX)is "to break through," and
as we speak of the break of day and the breaking in of
the night, so the Hebrew uses the word Or in that
double sense, and the Mishnah, literally translated,
reads : " At the breaking in of the fourteenth day leav-
ened matter is searched for," etc.
Based on this double meaning of the word Or, a dis-
cussion is started in the Gemara: "What is Orf Rab
Huna said, Naglie ; Rab Judah said, Lele. Naglie is the
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JA8TROW. 27
Chaldaic equivalent of the Hebrew Or, having exactly
the same double meaning of day-break and "night-
break," but, like Or, more commonly used for light. Thus,
Rab Huna translates Or with Naghe, and Rab Judah
with Lele, which means night." This is the first layer.
Now, in order to initiate the reader into the discussion
following this philological controversy over the meaning
of Or, an editorial remark is inserted, which says :
" The first impression was that he who said Naghe meant
really Naghe (that is, light or morning), as he who said
Lele meant really Lele (night)." This is the second layer.
After this editorial note, the flood-gates of discussion
Vers.e after verse from the Bible is adduced to prove
that Or stands for daylight or for evening, respectively,
and every argument for or against is refuted more or less
ingeniously. Even this discussion is interspersed with
incidental citations of older sayings connected with the
interpretation of the quoted Bible verses.
The arguments from Biblical usage leaving the ques-
tion as to the meaning of Or undecided, post-Biblical
usage is adduced in favor of the one or the other of the
two opinions, and a number of citations are made from
Mishnahs, both such as have found a place in the collec-
tion of Rab Judah han-Nasi, and such as were not deemed
worthy of his sanction, yet continued to live and to be
studied from written copies or verbal tradition. These
are all older elements, some of which can be traced to
extant literature, while others would have been entirely
lost but for the accident of this discussion. They form a
The argument pro and con ends with the indisputable
evidence that the Or in the Mishnah, from which sprang
28 THE GRATZ COLLEGE OF PHILADELPHIA.
all this trouble, is meant for night, and the editorial
remark, which introduced the discussion, is here con-
tinued, explaining that there was no difference of opin-
ion between R. Huna and R. Judah, both meaning
evening, only that in Rab Huna's home, the beginning
of the night is called Naghe, whereas in R. Judah's home
the more common word Lele is used.
It may be remembered that it was the unwritten law
of tradition that the report of the discussion must be
verbatim, and for how many most interesting linguistic
data we are indebted to this literal faithfulness!
Suppose a modern editor of the Talmud would, as has
actually been proposed, discard the entire discussion on
the meaning of Or, based on an erroneous presump-
tion, contenting himself with the editorial observations
which introduce and end the controversy, would not the
scholarly world raise a well-justified protest against such
a mutilation ?
The recent attempt in this country at producing " the
original Talmud," as the editor modestly called it, serves
to illustrate the impossibility of severing the various
layers without destroying the continuity of sense and
An abridged or " original " Talmud is neither possible
nor desirable, the latest insertions and seemingly trivial
digressions being as interesting as the earliest elements.
What we need for the future text of the Talmud is a
differentiation of the various layers by differences of
I would suggest that a different type be used for the
Mishnah, to distinguish it from the Gemara more clearly
than in the present arrangement, and to make
the different layers of the Gemara itself distinguishable
HISTORY AND FUTURE OF THE TALMUD TEXT.JASTROW. 29
from one another, I would suggest that the main discus-
sion be typographically differentiated from the digres-
Again, some typographical device should be invented
for making the citations of older traditional elements
visible to the eye.
I would not favor a polychrome Talmud, after the
manner of Prof. Haupt's edition of the Bible, its mere
cost, if nothing else, being a sufficient reason for reject-
ing that idea. This, however, is a mere technical ques-
What we need is a COMPLETE Talmud, with an ap-
proximately correct text and intelligible Variorum notes,
and with a graphic illustration of the growth of the
Talmudic text, from its beginning as a verbal tradition
to its close and final redaction.
It is needless to say that a work of this kind would
require the co-operation of the best scholars in the Jew-
ish world and the financial support of the Jewish com-
munity at large.
Who will undertake it?
History will answer this question. I am content with
having propounded it.
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