Find the appropriate chapter by clicking here

  • 1: From the Bible to the Mishnah
  • 2: The Babylonian Talmud Discusses the Mishnah
  • 3: The Ge'onim--Turning the Talmud into Law
  • 4: Rashi and His Critics
  • 5: The Spanish Codifiers
  • 6: The Sages of Provence (Scroll down or use the pop-up menus in order to go to the beginning of the section).
  • 7: In the Wake of Rabbenu Tam

  • Begin your studies by clicking here:

    The Time for the Evening Shema'--Introduction

    About this Course

    This course is intended to provide you with an introduction to the experience of Talmudic learning, as it has been carried on among traditional Jews since ancient times.

    Although any textbook or survey course that contains a description of Judaism can be expected to include references to works like the "Mishnah" and "Talmud," or to concepts like "midrash" and "halakhah," these terms are notoriously difficult to convey in ways that are meaningful to the student. Definitions such as "a compendium of laws from the Jewish 'oral tradition'" are extremely vague, and do not provide an adequate explanation. The inescapable fact that has been acknowledged by many teachers of Judaism is that Talmud is not something that can be effectively described or talked about--It is a dynamic intellectual process that can only be experienced.

    As you work through the texts and explanations that are presented in this Web site, you will be following through a single problem in Jewish law, ostensibly a technical issue of liturgical practice, as it was discussed and debated over a range of approximately two millennia. As often happens in Talmudic study, we will quickly discover that matters are considerably more complex than they appear on the surface. Traditions are open to multiple interpretations, and interact in different ways with the realities of life.

    Our presentation will try to introduce the student to a broad spectrum of methodological approaches to the study of Talmudic literature. Most of it will be devoted to a straightforward understanding of the texts on their own terms, and as they were interpreted within the traditional Jewish religious circles. On occasion, we will introduce some more academic considerations, noting how the statements of various scholars may have been influenced by their historical or cultural situations.

    As will quickly become evident, the standard mode of Talmudic learning is dialectical, as scholars or students seek to clarify the issues by lively debate and argument. In traditional Jewish religious seminaries ("Yeshivahs") it is often the custom to team up the students in pairs. In the present course, we will be encouraging our own students to adopt a similar procedure. You will be assigned a study-partner with whom you will be expected to discuss (or argue) the material as you learn and review it.

    Assignments should ideally be submitted by teams rather than by individuals. These assignments will take the form of "essay" questions. That is, you will be challenged to confront the material in a creative, independent manner rather than merely recording facts.

    In addition to the answers that are submitted for grading, you will occasionally find a sequence of "multiple-choice" questions. These will be graded automatically by the computer, and are intended for your own information, to help you review and to evaluate your progress.

    This course presumes no previous knowledge of Judaism, Jewish history or Talmudic literature. You will learn as you go along.


    Structure of the Screen

    Since the first printings of the Talmud in fifteenth-century Italy, the convention has been adopted of presenting the Talmud (and other Jewish religious texts) on a page surrounded by various commentaries and cross-references in the margins, a convention that is indeed eminently appropriate to a literature that is defined in large measure by the interaction between text and commentator. We shall attempt to reproduce some of that structure (perhaps even improve upon it!) with the help of frames and hypertext links.

    Although the presentation of the texts will, for the most part, follow a linear, sequential order, the student will be allowed--encouraged, really--to digress into supplementary notes, filling in background about the concepts, books, scholars, etc., that are mentioned in the text and commentary.

    Accordingly, the screen will be divided into three main areas:

    1. Upper left area: Text

      Here we will present English translations of the primary texts that serve as the foundation of our study.

    2. Upper right area: Comments

      This will include our interpretations of the Text.

    3. Bottom area: Notes

      Here you can find assorted explanations about terms, concepts, individuals, books, etc., that are mentioned in the Text and Commentary, as well as questions for self-review or for submission to the instructor. The information is accessed by "hyperlink" when the relevent term appears in a Text of Commentary.

      Much of the information contained in the Notes is found in special glossaries that were prepared especially for this course. However I have also incorporated a lot of material from my Web site "A Page of Talmud" which presents detailed information about the Talmud, its component parts, commentators, codifiers and more, based on the visual structure of the traditional printed pages.

      Because of the complexity of that site, links to it will be opened in a separate window, and not in one of the normal frames.


    Guide to Icons

    For your convenience we will indicate the different types of information and links by means of special icons.

    Following is a key to the various icons:

  • Comment
  • Hyperlink to Comment
  • Glossary Item
  • Hyperlink to Glossary Item
  • Biographical Information
  • Hyperlink to Biographical Information
  • Bibliographical Information
  • Hyperlink to Bibliographical Information
  •  
  • Hyperlink to the "A Page of Talmud" Web site
  • Homework Question
  • Hyperlink to Homework Question
  • Click to send e-mail
  •  

    Find the appropriate chapter by clicking here

  • 1: From the Bible to the Mishnah
  • 2: The Babylonian Talmud Discusses the Mishnah
  • 3: The Ge'onim--Turning the Talmud into Law
  • 4: Rashi and His Critics
  • 5: The Spanish Codifiers
  • 6: The Sages of Provence (Scroll down or use the pop-up menus in order to go to the beginning of the section).
  • 7: In the Wake of Rabbenu Tam

  • Begin your studies by clicking here: