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December 9, 1895 



Rabbi Emeritus of the Congregation Rodef Shalom 

(Reprinted from Gratz College Publication No. I.) 




Rabbi Emeritus of the Congregation Rodef Shalom, Philadelphia. 




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- 
liar character. 

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 
to writing. 


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 
present era. 

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- 


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 


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. 


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 


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. 


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 
each other. 

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 


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- 


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 
legitimate growth. 

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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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 
of miscellanies. 

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 


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 


nay, even on the greater or less distinctness of the 
copyists' handwriting. 

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. 


" 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 
and 1599." 

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 


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 
for Christianity. 

Up to this day, wherever the sword of the censor has 


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. 


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 


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 : 


" 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 
entirely eliminated. 

With the exception, however, of these political 
changes, our printed editions, on the whole, show careful 
textual care, and compare favorably with the manu- 
scripts extant. 

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 


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 
Raphael Rabbinowicz. 

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. 


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 


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 


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 
are opened. 

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 
third layer. 

The argument pro and con ends with the indisputable 
evidence that the Or in the Mishnah, from which sprang 


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 
logical development. 

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 


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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