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Religions have a central book and/or oral tradition that keeps adherents together, in Christianity it is the New Testament, in Islam it is the Koran, in Judaism it is the Torah

• Torah in the narrowest sense refers to the first five books of the Bible

• In a broader sense, Torah includes all Jewish law and tradition

• Torah was given to Moses in written form with oral commentary

• The oral component is now written in the Talmud

• There are additional important writings . These books are interpreted and provide ‘rules’.

The concepts and interpretation of Judaism have evolved over thousands of years. It has been the central core in keeping a people together in facing suffering, making major contributions to society and returning them to their own land after two thousand years.

How these rules are interpreted may lead a religion to divide into groups who may have animosity or be happy to live together. For example in Christianity they include Roman Catholics and Protestants, in Islam Shia and Sunni, in Judaism ultra orthodox and reform.

The Mosaic (that is, from Moses) Code was the first truly judicial, writ­ten code and eclipsed previously known laws with its humanism, passion for justice and love of democracy. Ideologically it was divided into three categories: man’s relation to man, man’s relation to the state and man’s relation to God.

The laws of Moses anticipated the statehood God promised the Israelites and the first principles of the sep­aration of church and state.  This was a concept not encountered again in world history for another three thousand years.

There is a resemblance between the philosophic outlook of American constitutional law and Mosaic law.  The Federal government has only the powers granted by the Constitution. Individual states can do anything not specifically denied them.

The gulf in thinking between Jews and Christians is illustrated by the following maxim. According to the Christians, Jesus said, “Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.” According to the Jews, Hillel, who lived 100 years before Jesus, said, “Do not do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you.” There is a major philosophic difference between these two expressions.  Reason out why you would prefer one to the other as applied to yourself.

The Mosaic Code made allowances for transgressions.

The Second Commandment, prohibiting making images of God had a profound influence on the Jewish char­acter. By making God spiritual instead of material the Jews were free to change the spirituality of God instead of merely altering his physical appearance.

The final fusion of the Five Books of Moses, (the Pentateuch), occurred around 450BCE eight to sixteen hundred years after some events narrated in them took place.  The final part in 1600CE is the Shulchan Aruch so an evolutionary period of over 2,000 years passed aimed at meeting the needs of different periods.  It governs all aspects of a persons life from birth to death including all social and civil aspects and what can be be eaten.  Hebrew remained in continual use.  This evolution is shown in the table below.

The 18th century, saw the appearance of  ‘reform’ Judaism  when a group modified accepted teachings. Today there are groups ranging from Ultra Orthodox to Liberal. There are also variations in practice and interpretation between countries. Development eras are shown at Jewish Law - Eras.

The importance of Interpretation is discussed by ex-British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks

Talmudic law was to make one of its largest impacts in England. The Jewish financiers under the Angevin kings were responsible for the entry into the English legal system of the Talmudic proper­ty law, which the Jews used in commercial transactions.

Talmudic law went on to influence legislation throughout the English-speaking world.

Minhagim are local customs and prohibitions. Some customs were eventually adopted universally (e.g. wearing a head covering) or almost universally (e.g. monogamy). Others are observed by some major segments of Jewry but not by others (e.g. not eating rice on Passover). These minhagim exist in various forms:

Judaism 101   (click on link for more detail)


David D Friedman  (click on link for more detail)  

Jewish law, as viewed by its practitioners, was initially based on two sources: The written Torah and the oral Torah. The written Torah, aka the Pentateuch, consists of the first five books of the Old Testament; it contains both a considerable number of legal rules and many accounts of events from which legal rules can, sometimes directly and sometimes only with the use of considerable ingenuity and imagination, be deduced.

The oral Torah consists of legal traditions of the Jewish people, believed to have been transmitted to Moses on Mount Sinai and from him through a chain of oral transmitters. It too contains legal rules, although the fact that it existed only in oral form made possible disagreements among the legal authorities[1] as to what those rules were. Further disagreements occurred over the rules found in or deduced from the written Torah. This led to a problem that runs through the history of Jewish law and other legal systems as well—ambiguity as to what the law actually was. It is a particularly serious problem when there exists no authoritative legislature or legal code to resolve disagreements.

For part of the early history of the Jewish legal system, there was a solution to this problem: The Sanhedrin, established in 191 B.C. as a combined high court and legislature. Functioning as a court, it could and did resolve disagreements among legal authorities by majority vote. While a legal authority was permitted to continue to argue for the minority view, he was not permitted to apply it in his decisions as judge.

In addition to the written and oral Torah, there were at least two other sources from which Jewish law derived legal rules. One was legislation by the legal authorities themselves, authoritatively by the Sanhedrin while it existed but also by individual scholars adding rules that they viewed as consistent with but not directly implied by Torah. There was also much that might be viewed as legislation by legal authorities in the form of interpretation, sometimes inconsistent with the apparent meaning of the text being interpreted. The other source of legislation was the King and, later, communal authorities seen as substitutes for a king who no longer existed. Their authority to legislate was justified by interpretations of passages in the Torah.[2]

The Roman conquest eliminated both the king and, eventually, the authority of the Sanhedrin; its last binding decision was in  358 A.D. The role of court of last resort, de facto if not de jure, passed to the Babylonian academies, where law was taught and debated; their rulings on disputed issues generally were accepted throughout the diaspora. For reasons not entirely clear, they eventually lost that authority. After about  1050 A.D. in the west (and 1250 in the east), different areas were able to develop different interpretations of the law, with conflicts resolved, if at all, through opinions given by scholars of the law seen as particularly learned.

While law existed in the written Torah and the teaching and writing of legal scholars, there was no written law code, or at least none that we know of, until the production of the Mishnah in about 200 A.D. It provided what was intended to be a complete collection of halakha, legal rules, along with associated materials. Unlike a modern law code, the Mishnah did not state what the law actually was. Instead, it offered arguments attributed to sages of the past for alternative interpretations of the law. Some later scholars believed that  Rabbi Judah haNasi, the author of the Mishnah, signaled which of the interpretations he thought correct by the way in which he referred to them. Others disagreed.

The result was several centuries of scholarship and debate, mostly in the Babylonian academies but also in centers of Jewish learning elsewhere, especially in Israel, over the meaning and implications of the Mishnah. The record of those debates, along with the Mishnah itself, made up the two Talmuds—the Babylonian Talmud, produced in the Babylonian academies, and the shorter, less complete, and less authoritative Jerusalem Talmud.

Once the Talmud was complete, Jewish legal scholarship was built on three layers. The first was the Torah. That was followed by commentary on the Torah, culminating in the Mishnah. That was followed by commentary on the Mishnah, culminating in the Talmud. Scholarship thereafter consisted largely of commentary on the Talmud—which had, in effect, the previous two layers embedded in it. Further layers were added as one or another work based on those sources—the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides is one example—itself became the subject of further commentary.

Throughout the history, there was tension between the restrictions imposed by the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud and the perceived requirement of current circumstances. Some conflicts were resolved by creative interpretation of the original sources, others by the creation of legal fictions designed to evade constraints from the Torah or Talmud. For example …

The Torah prescribes death by stoning for a child who defies his parents. Some legal authorities chose to read into the detailed wording of the biblical verse requirements that could not in practice be satisfied—for instance, that the mother and father bringing the accusation must have identical voices and be identical in appearance.

The Torah provides that, every seven years, debts are cancelled. This meant that lenders were increasingly unwilling to make loans as the seventh year approached, a problem recognized and warned agaisnt in the original text. To solve that problem a legal form, Prosbul, was designed with the specific purpose of making it possible to create a form of debt that would survive past the cancellation of ordinary debts. Many other examples can be found of ways in which the legal authorities succeeded in working around legal rules that they did not, in theory, have the power to change.

The Torah forbids Jews from lending to other Jews at interest. A variety of contractual forms were designed to make it possible to evade that restriction in effect while obeying it in form, and rules about the sharing of profit between partners one of whom contributed capital and one labor were developed, in part in an attempt to prevent such evasions.[3]

Another way around inconvenient restrictions of Torah was the holding that communal authorities were, to some degree, free to permit what the Torah forbade or forbid what it permitted. According to one view, such communal legislation was legitimate if there was no legal authority in the community to be consulted, it was legitimate if there was such an authority and he was consulted and approved of the legislation, but it was not legitimate if an authority was available and was not consulted or did not approve. Thus the legislation was ideally the joint product of communal authority and legal expertise—but communal authority alone was better than nothing if the legal expertise was not available.

According to another widely accepted view, communal authorities had a free hand to legislate with regard to mamon—secular matters such as most civil and criminal law—but were sharply restricted with regard to issur, religious law, including issues of family law such as marriage and divorce.

This raised a problem for communal authorities that wished to impose constraints on marriage beyond the very limited requirements of the religious law—for instance, to require ten witnesses to make a marriage valid. On the face of it, if a court ruled invalid a marriage that satisfied the requirements of religious law but not requirements imposed by the communal authorities, it was permitting a woman who was married to one man to marry another without having been first divorced, a clear violation of religious law.

One solution was to transform a decision in religious law into a decision in secular law. The court held that if a man married without satisfying the requirements of communal law it was entitled to punish him by confiscating—retroactively—the wedding ring or other object of value which was used in the ceremony. Since the groom did not own the ring which he used in the ceremony the wedding was invalid under religious law, hence the couple were not married. Perhaps because of the degree to which that stretched the distinction between mammon and issur, courts were often reluctant to enforce such rules, and chose instead to use their powers to force the groom to execute a legally valid divorce, thus making the bride unambiguously free to marry someone else.

Some legal authorities held that the communal authorities could forbid what religious law permitted, but could not permit what it forbade or forbid what it required. In practice, at least in matters of mammon, that restriction was frequently violated. Thus, for instance, courts enforcing secular rules were able to accept witnesses unacceptable under religious law, such as those related to a judge or one of the parties—arguably necessary in a small community where practically everyone was related to everyone else. Courts were permitted to impose the death penalty without satisfying the extremely restrictive conditions of religious law, such as the requirement that in order for the defendant to be liable to capital punishment he must be shown to have been told, independently by two different people, that what he was about to do was a capital offense. Courts were permitted to imprison debtors for failure to pay their debts, something explicitly forbidden under religious law.

One justification for such results was the doctrine that courts enforcing communal regulations were not functioning as religious courts under religious law, hence not bound by its restrictions; they were the successors to the king who was, judging by descriptions in later books of the Old Testament, free to execute people without first convicting them in a religious court. A second, and perhaps more telling, justification was that the communal regulations being accepted were in practice necessary for the survival, or at least the functioning, of the Jewish community in an environment very different from that in which the religious law had originally come into existence.

THE LAW - TIMELINE      (see also Torah)
By Max Dimont, Jews, God and History pp164/5

from Max Dimont ‘Jews, God and History’ pp41-48

The final fusion of the Five Books of Moses, called the Pentateuch, occurred around 450 BCE — 800 to 1600 hundred years after some of the events narrated in them took place. Is it not reasonable to suppose that in that period of time, before there were any written records, many changes and alterations must have occurred as the stories and legends were handed down orally from generation to generation? Furthermore, as we have seen, priests, prophets, and policy makers were also busy during these centuries editing the manuscripts.

The Torah was a bold leap into the future, a giant stride ahead of anything existing at that time. Its concept of equality before the law, a law based on a written code, seems be a Semitic innovation. The Sumerians, whose written code of laws dates back to 2500 BCE were probably the first people on earth to have a written code, but it lacked the passion for justice of the Mosaic laws. Five hundred years later, the Sumerian code was augmented and incorporated by the Babylonians into the Code of Hammurabi, but again this body of laws did not have the democratic spirit of the Torah. A written judicial code applicable to all without favoritism was totally unknown to the Egyptians until 300 BCE. We know of no written Roman laws until the second century BCE.

The Mosaic Code, then, was the first truly judicial, writ­ten code, and eclipsed previously known laws with its all- encompassing humanism, its passion for justice, its love of democracy. It also helped to establish a new Jewish charac­ter and directed Jewish thinking into new paths which j tended to set the Jews further apart from their neighbors.

The ideological content of these Mosaic laws is of great  interest. Here we find the Jewish concept of the state and philosophy of law. These laws were essentially divided into  three categories: those dealing with man’s relation to man, those dealing with man’s relation to the state, and those dealing with man’s relation to God.

The laws of Moses anticipate the statehood God promised the Israelites. Though at this juncture of their history the Jews are still nomads, the Code of Moses is not for a no­madic people. These laws of Moses are designed to safe­guard a national entity, not merely the family unit, though individual rights are never subordinated to the needs of the state. The lofty framework of these laws permitted the emer­gence of a democratic form of government virile enough to last eight hundred years until the Prophets in turn renovated them. The American Constitution thus far has weathered just over two hundred years.

The Mosaic Code laid down the first principles for a sep­aration of church and state, a concept not encountered again in world history until three thousand years later, during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century of our era. In the Mosaic Code the civil authority was independent of the priesthood. Though it is true that the priesthood had the right io settle cases not specifically covered by Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:8-12), that did not place it above the civil government. The priesthood was charged with the responsibility of keeping this government within the framework of Mosaic Iaw, just as the United States Supreme Court is not above the federal government but is, nevertheless, charged with the responsibility of keeping it within the framework of the Constitution. Moses also laid the foundation for another seperation, which has since become indispensable to any de­mocracy. He created an independent judiciary.

There is a curious resemblance between the philosophic outlook of American constitutional law and that of Mosaic law The federal government has only the powers specifically granted to it by the Constitution. The individual states can do anything not specifically denied to them. In essence, the Mosaic law also established the principle that the Jews could do anything not specifically denied to them. Instead of saying “Do such and such a thing,” the laws of Moses usu­ally say “Don’t do this or that.” Even where the Mosaic law makes a positive statement, it is often either an amendment to a negative commandment or else hemmed in by a nega­tive admonition, saying, in effect, “When you do this, then don’t do that.” The Ten Commandments, for instance, list only three do's but seven don’ts. The three positive Com­mandments are: “I am the Lord thy God”; observe the Sab­bath; and honor your parents. The seven don 'ts leave little doubt as to what one is not supposed to do. By fencing in only the negative, Moses left an open field for positive ac­tion. This allowed the Jews great flexibility. As long as they did not do anything specifically prohibited, they could, like the individual American states, do anything they wanted to do. This type of thinking led Jewish philosophers into stat­ing their maxims in negations.

We can see this gulf in thinking interestingly illustrated in a maxim attributed by Christians to Jesus and by Jews to Hillel, one of the great teachers of Judaism. According to the Christians, Jesus said, “Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.” According to the Jews, Hillel, who lived 100 years before Jesus, said, “Do not do unto others whal you don't want others to do unto you.” There is a world of philosophic difference between these two expressions, and the reader is invited to ponder on them and reason out why he would prefer one to the other as applied to themself.

In reading these laws, formulated some three thousand years ago, one is amazed at their humanitarianism. One cannot help but wonder if the world would not be better off to-day if these laws, in the main, had been universally adopted. Slaves were treated more humanely and leniently than they were treated in the United States in 1850. All laws applying to free men also applied to the slaves, who had to be set free after seven years of servitude. Divorce laws were more liberal in the time of Moses than in present-day England, and women were held in high esteem.

It might be of interest to outline briefly the views on sex held by Jews twelve hundred years before Christ. The Puritan idea of sex as a sin never gained a foothold in Judaism. Sexual desire was held to be normal. It also was felt that its fulfilment should be within the marriage institution only. Therefore, early marriages were encouraged. Cohabitation between man and wife should be joyous, but it also had to be voluntary. It was a crime for one partner—wife or husband—wilfully to avoid sexual relations, and such contin­ued avoidance was grounds for divorce. Bachelorhood was frowned upon, and all males were strenuously encouraged to marry, whereas women were given greater freedom to re­main unmarried, though they, too, were expected to marry early.

The Mosaic Code also realized that transgressions would occur and therefore provided for the safety of children born out of wedlock. Children born to partners who could not marry legally (such as one partner already married, or cou­ples related by blood) were the only ones regarded as bastards. All other children born out of wedlock were legitimate and could not be disinherited. Chastity among the unmarried was held in high esteem, prostitution was looked upon as a degradation, and religious prostitution, so prevalent in pagan days, was viewed with abhorrence. Homosexual relations between men were grave criminal offenses, whereas such relations between women were regarded as scandalous but not criminal.

The Second Commandment, prohibiting the making of images of God, had a profound influence on the Jewish char­acter. Freud makes a most interesting observation. “If there were to be no images of God”, he says,“ “If this prohibition was to be accepted,” says Freud, “it was bound to exercise a profound influence. For It signified subordinating sense perception to an abstract idea it was a triumph of spirituality over the senses.”

By making God spiritual instead of material the Jews were left free to change the spirituality of God instead of merely altering his physical appearance. This was done successively by prophets, redeemers, and rabbis. Having a spiritual God rather than gods in stone gave the Jews a feeling of cultural superiority. Thus Moses succeeded in inculcating a feeling of pride in the Jews, not merely a veneer of uniqueness. The intellectualism of the Jews was a character trait which also followed as a direct result of making God abstract. Another result was the renunciation of brutality and sadism. Here we have an instance where a value judgment can be put to a statistical test. Though Jews presently constitute three percent of the total American population, the number of Jews imprisoned for crimes of violence is but one tenth of one percent of the prison population. For whatever else Jews are sent to prison, it is not, as a rule, for sadistic acts—murder, rape, beating, or bestiality—though exceptions do exist. This tremendous disproportion in the statistic continually amazes sociologists.

The Second Commandment also had an adverse effect. It helped to stultify the Jewish artistic spirit. Because the Jews were prohibited from making images of God, they turn away from painting, sculpture, and architecture, though as will later be discussed, there were notable exceptions. Not until the nineteenth century CE, when Jews began disregarding the Second Commandment the way the Christians had been doing for two thousand years, did they, too, begin to develop painters, sculptors, and architects. However, by the nineteenth century the Jewish character had already been formed, and their expansion into the fields of plastic arts does not seem to have affected this “Jewish character.”

The Mosaic theophany — the giving of the divine law - had been accomplished. The mission of Moses had been fulfilled. Now he had to die. Younger men were ready to take over the destiny of this people to whom he had given a constitution. Abraham’s grand illusion had not been a delusion. Moses, the reluctant Prophet, had made it a reality.

When, finally, in the twelfth century BCE the Jews settled in a country they could call their own, they used the worst possible judgment. They selected a strip of land that was a corridor for the armies of warring empires. Over and over again the Jews were to pay for this error of judgment by being decimated in battle, sold into slavery, or deported to alien lands. Yet they showed up persistently at the same old place, building anew their little strip of real estate which has been alternately called Canaan. Palestine, Israel, Judah. Judea, and now again. Israel.


The final fusion of the Five Books of Moses, called the Pentateuch, occurred around 450 BCE, 800 to 1600 years after some of the events narrated in them took place. The final part occurred in 1600 CE in the form of the Shulchan Aruch and so covered an evolutionary period of over 3,000 years.  Its evolution meeting different needs at different times.  It governed all aspects if a persons life from birth to death including all social and civil aspects and what could be eaten.  Hebrew remained in continual use.

The 18th century, saw the appearance of  "reform" Judaism  some of the teachings and the authority of earlier rabbis in many matters of halakhah were changed.  Today it comprises groups ranging from Ultra Orthodox to Liberal with variations between countries.

From Wikipedia

The Zugot  (515 BCE - 70 CE)

during the time of the Second Temple (515 BCE – 70 CE), in which the spiritual leadership of the Jewish people was in the hands of five successive generations of zugot ("pairs") of religious teachers.

The Tannaim  from approximately 10-220 CE.  

Tanna "repeaters", "teachers" were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah,  The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 210 years. It came after the period of the Zugot ("pairs"), and was immediately followed by the period of the Amoraim ("interpreters")

The root tanna (תנא) is the Talmudic Aramaic equivalent for the Hebrew root shanah (שנה), which also is the root-word of Mishnah. The verb shanah (שנה) literally means "to repeat [what one was taught]" and is used to mean "to learn".

The Mishnaic period is commonly divided up into five periods according to generations. There are approximately 120 known Tannaim.

The Tannaim lived in several areas of the Land of Israel. The spiritual center of Judaism at that time was Jerusalem, but after the destruction of the city and the Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and his students founded a new religious center in Yavne. Other places of Judaic learning were founded by his students in Lod and in Bnei Brak.

Some Tannaim worked as laborers (e.g., charcoal burners, cobblers) in addition to their positions as teachers and legislators. They were also leaders of the people and negotiators with the Roman Empire

The Amoraim  (200 to 500  CE)

"those who say" or "those who speak over the people", or "spokesmen"), were renowned Jewish scholars who "said" or "told over" the teachings of the Oral Torah, from about 200 to 500 CE in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara. The Amoraim followed the Tannaim in the sequence of ancient Jewish scholars. The Tannaim were direct transmitters of uncodified oral tradition; the Amoraim expounded upon and clarified the oral law after its initial codification.

The Savoraim  (500 to 700 CE)

A term used in Jewish law and history to signify one among the leading rabbis living from the end of period of the Amoraim (around 500 CE) to the beginning of the Geonim (around 700 CE). As a group they are also referred to as the Rabbeinu Sevorai or Rabanan Saborai, and may have played a large role in giving the Talmud its current structure. Modern scholars also use the plural term Stammaim (Hebrew; "closed, vague or unattributed sources") for the authors of unattributed statements in the Gemara.

The Geonim  (589 to 1040 CE)

The presidents of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita, in the Abbasid Caliphate, and were the generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community world wide in the early medieval era, in contrast to the Resh Galuta (Exilarch) who wielded secular authority over the Jews in Islamic lands.

Geonim is the plural of גאון (Gaon') [ɡaˈʔon], which means "pride" or "splendour" in Biblical Hebrew and since the 19th century "genius" as in modern Hebrew. As a title of a Babylonian college president it meant something like "His Excellency".

The Geonim played a prominent and decisive role in the transmission and teaching of Torah and Jewish law. They taught Talmud and decided on issues on which no ruling had been rendered during the period of the Talmud.

The Rishonim  (1038 to 1563 CE)

sing. ראשון, Rishon, "the first ones") were the leading Rabbis and Poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries,

The distinction between the Rishonim and the Geonim is meaningful historically; in Halakha (Jewish Law) the distinction is less important. According to a widely held view in Orthodox Judaism, the Acharonim generally cannot dispute the rulings of rabbis of previous eras unless they find supports of other rabbis in previous eras. On the other hand, this view is not formally a part of halakha itself, and according to some rabbis is a violation of the halakhic system. In the The Principles of Jewish Law Orthodox rabbi Menachem Elon writes that:

The Principles of Jewish Law   —  [such a view] "inherently violates the precept of Hilkheta Ke-Vatra'ei, that is, the law is according to the later scholars. This rule dates from the Geonic period. It laid down that until the time of Rabbis Abbaye and Rava (4th century) the Halakha was to be decided according to the views of the earlier scholars, but from that time onward, the halakhic opinions of post-talmudic scholars would prevail over the contrary opinions of a previous generation. See Piskei Ha'Rosh, Bava Metzia 3:10, 4:21, Shabbat 23:1

The Acharonim (literally the "lasts") 1563 to the present.

Hebrew: אחרונים Aḥaronim‎; sing. אחרון, Aḥaron; lit. "last ones") is a term used in Jewish law and history, to signify the leading rabbis and poskim (Jewish legal decisors) living from roughly the 16th century to the present, and more specifically since the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך, "Set Table", a code of Jewish law) in 1563 CE.

BBC - Religions

The Talmud is the comprehensive written version of the Jewish oral law and the subsequent commentaries on it. It originates from the 2nd century CE. The word Talmud is derived from the Hebrew verb 'to teach', which can also be expressed as the verb 'to learn'.

The Talmud is the source from which the code of Jewish Halakhah (law) is derived. It is made up of the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the original written version of the oral law and the Gemara is the record of the rabbinic discussions following this writing down. It includes their differences of view.

The Talmud can also be known by the name Shas. This is a Hebrew abbreviation for the expression Shishah Sedarim or the six orders of the Mishnah.

Between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE these rabbinic discussions about the Mishnah were recorded in Jerusalem and later in Babylon (now Al Hillah in Iraq). This record was complete by the 5th Century CE. When the Talmud is mentioned without further clarification it is usually understood to refer to the Babylonian version which is regarded as having most authority.

The rabbi most closely associated with the compilation of the Mishnah is Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (approx. 135-219 CE). During his lifetime there were various rebellions against Roman rule in Palestine. This resulted in huge loss of life and the destruction of many of the Yeshivot (institutions for the study of the Torah) in the country. This may have led him to be concerned that the traditional telling of the law from rabbi to student was compromised and may have been part of his motivation for undertaking the task of writing it down.

In addition to the Talmud there have been important commentaries written about it. The most notable of these are by Rabbi Shelomo Yitzchaki from Northern France and by Rabbi Moses Maimonedes from Cordoba in Spain. They lived in the 11th and 12th centuries respectively. Both of these men have come to be known to Jews by acronyms based on their names. These are respectively Rashi and Rambam.

Rambam compiled the Mishneh Torah which is a further distillation of the code of Jewish Law and has come to be regarded by some as a primary source in its own right.

It is also worth mentioning another codifying work from the middle ages. This is the Shulcan Aruch (laid table) by Joseph Caro which is widely referenced by Jews.

Some Orthodox Jews make it part of their practise to study a page of the Talmud every single day. This is known as Daf Yomi which is the Hebrew expression for page of the day. The tradition began after the first international congress of the Agudath Yisrael World Movement in August, 1923. It was put forward as a means of bringing Jewish people together. It was suggested by Rav Meir Shapiro who was the rav of Lublin in Poland.

It is now possible to study the Talmud online.

The Mishnah (original oral law written down) is divided into six parts which are called Sedarim, the Hebrew word for order(s).

The Talmud is a collection of rabbinical writings that interpret, explain and apply the Torah scriptures.

Jews, God and History’, Max Dimont pp 166 et seq     

Deep in the heart of the Sassanid Empire, formerly Parthia formerly Seleucia, formerly Persia, formerly Babylonia there flourished, between the fourth and twelfth century: A.D., at Sura, Pumpaditha, and Nehardea, three unique Jewish institutions of learning. These “Ivy League” Yeshivas, or academies, played the same intellectual role in Jewish 11:'i then as Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne play in Western life today, and served as a prototype for the first European universities in the twelfth century. Here Jewish thought was crystallized into a body of knowledge known as the Talmud. or “learning.”

The Talmud was the instrument for Jewish survival arc exercised a decisive influence in directing the course of Jewish history for fifteen hundred years, as it meandered through the Sassanid, Islamic, and feudal civilizations, h was the drawbridge which connected the Jewish past in the East to the Jewish future in the West. One end of this bridge was anchored in the Written Law, and the other end lowered into the Oral Law. Over this bridge rode the messengers of the Responsa, bringing “the Law” to the Jews in Egypt Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany - wherever Jews lived. This was the Talmudic Age of Judaism.

Talmudic learning, or Talmudism, accomplished three things: It changed the nature of Jehovah; it changed the nature of the Jew; and it changed the Jewish idea of government. The Prophets had transformed Jehovah into a God of justice and morality, into a God of mercy and righteousness the Talmudist injected God into the everyday activities life, demanding that the actions of the Jews themselves tinged with these attributes of God. The Torah had created the religious Jew; the Talmud expanded his interests into scientific and theoretical speculations. The Bible had created the nationalist Jew; the Talmud gave birth to the universally adaptable Jew, providing him with an invisible framework for the governance of man.

But the Talmud had not always been known by that name. Though its seeds had been sown in the fifth century B.C., the name “Talmud” was not applied to this growing body of knowledge until the sixth century A.D. The historic function of the Babylonian yeshivas was to fuse the traditions of the past into the Jewish culture of the future, to give Jewish law the flexibility it needed in order to protect the rapidly changing fortunes of the Jews in the centuries ahead. Let us, there- fore, trace the origin of the Talmud in Palestine to the Babylonian yeshivas and from there follow its further development until its final stultification in the eighteenth-century ghettos of Europe.

The seeds for Talmudism were sown inadvertently. The idea took root back in the fifth century B.C. when the two Persian Jews, Ezra and Nehemiah, canonized the Five Books of Moses, closing the door to further revelation, implying that God and Moses had said all there was to say, and that no new “divine” laws could be added. But, heedless of the consequences, life remained indifferent to the implications of this canonization. Life did not stop at the command of Ezra and Nehemiah the way the sun had stopped at the command of Joshua; it went right on throwing new problems into the unappreciative laps of the descendants of Abraham. As Mosaic Law did not seem to answer the new needs, the question became: Should the Jews discard a seemingly outmoded Torah, or should they constrict life within its limits?

The Christians were faced with this same dilemma after the death of Jesus. To prevent a future “teacher of righteous- ness” from proclaiming himself a messiah in, accordance with prophecy, they followed the precedent set by the Jews; they canonized the New Testament and forbade all further revelation. This froze Christianity into a mold; no change was permitted, no new way of life tolerated. Western civilization became a “closed society” for almost a thousand years, until the internal pressures of heresy and revolution exploded the feudal world.

The Jews did not fall into the same trap. They neither closed their way of life, nor threw the Torah away. They amended, or reinterpreted, the Mosaic laws in the same way Americans are amending or reinterpreting the Constitution in order to cope with new problems.  Instead of squeezing new challenges into the pattern of the past, the Jews fashioned new pattern to cope with new circumstances.


Religion Facts

Many believe that the Talmud was written between the second and fifth century CE, yet Orthodox Jews believe it was revealed to Moses, along with the Torah, and preserved orally until it was written down. The Talmud is thus known as the "Oral Torah," with the first five books of the Tanakh designated the "Written Torah."

In Orthodox Judaism, the Oral Torah is accepted as equally sacred, inspired, and authoritative as the Written Torah. One of the aims of Orthodox Judaism in Israel is to establish Talmudic law as the state law of Israel. Elsewhere in the world, Orthodox Jews submit themselves voluntarily to Talmudic law and the rabbinic court system, especially in matters of dietary and ritual law, marriage and divorce, and social work.


The Talmud also plays an important role in Conservative Judaism, although it is viewed as an evolutionary process that changes with the times. Both professional and lay Talmudic scholarship is dedicated to determining the proper response to modern issues by intensive study of the Talmud. Reform Judaism officially rejects the Talmud as an entirely human invention reflecting medieval thought and values.

In 1923, Polish Rabbi Meir Shapiro organized the Daf Yomi ("the daily page") for a group of students, in which one page of the Talmud is studied each day. This took 2,711 days - about seven and a half years.

The Daf Yomi has since been undertaken by thousands of Jews around the world, and in 1997 a global celebration was held to celebrate the completion of the 10th cycle of readings. Over 70,000 took part in the celebration, which gathered at the locations around the world connected by satellite, including Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, Eugene, Oregon, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Current Daf Yomi groups, now embarked on the 11th cycle of readings, can be found around the globe and the daily reading is available on the Internet.


There are actually two Talmuds: the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The former was composed circa 500 CE and the latter was completed around 600 CE. By the 11th century, the Babylonian Talmud had established supremacy and today it is the one that is meant by "the Talmud." Thus it is the one on which we will concentrate.


The Talmud consists of two parts: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is rabbinic commentary on the Torah and the Gemara is rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah.

Mishnah The Mishnah ("a teaching that is repeated") is organized as a law book, and consists of legal rulings and teachings by rabbis of the first through third centuries CE. It was codified by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi around 200 CE and divided into "six orders," or shisha sedarim in Hebrew (the Talmud is known colloquially as "shas" for short), each of which addresses a different aspect of Jewish life:

- Zera'im ("Seeds") - blessings, tithes, temple offerings, agriculture - Mo'ed ("Set Feasts") - Sabbath laws and holiday observances - Nashim ("Women") - marriage and divorce - Nezikin ("Damages") - idolatry, matters of civil law, and the Pirke Avot - Kodashim ("Holy Things") - sacrificial system in the Temple, dietary laws - Tohorot ("Purities") - ritual purity and impurity

‘Atlas of Jewish Civilisation’ Gilbert p69

The centers of Jewish scholarship in Europe switched from country to country, according to where it was safest and permiss­ible for Jews to live. Talmudic law was to make one of its largest impacts in England. The Jewish financiers under the Angevin kings were responsible for the entry into the English legal system of the Talmudic proper­ty law, which the Jews used in commercial transactions. Some of these laws are actually enshrined in the guarantees of rights and privileges granted by King John in the Magna Carta of 1215. Although trial by combat remained on British statute books until as late as 1817, its place was gradually taken by the rule of law to which the Jews had always subjected themselves: the right to be judged on the facts alone. Through the English legal system, Talmudic law went on to influence legislation throughout the English-speaking world.


Minhag (Hebrew: מנהג‬ "custom", pl. minhagim) is an accepted tradition or group of traditions in Judaism. A related concept, Nusach (נוסח‬), refers to the traditional order and form of the prayers.

The Hebrew root N-H-G (נ-ה-ג‬) means primarily "to drive" or, by extension, "to conduct (oneself)".

The actual word minhag appears twice in the Hebrew Bible, both times in the same verse and rendered in this translation as "the driving":

The watchman reported, saying, "He has reached them, but has not returned. The driving is like the driving of Jehu [grand]son of Nimshi, for he is driving [his chariot] recklessly." (II Kings 9:20, Tanach: The Stone Edition)

Homiletically, one could argue that the use of the word minhag in Jewish law reflects its Biblical Hebrew origins as "the (manner of) driving (a chariot)". Whereas Halakha (law), from the word for walking-path, means the path or road set for the journey, minhag (custom), from the word for driving, means the manner people have developed themselves to travel down that path more quickly.

The present use of minhag for custom may have been influenced by the Arabic minhaj, though in current Islamic usage this term is used for the intellectual methodology of a scholar or school of thought (cf. Hebrew derech) rather than for the customs of a local or ethnic community.


Observant Jews consider Halakha, Jewish law as derived from the Talmud, binding upon all Jews. However, in addition to these halakhot, there have always been local customs and prohibitions. Some customs were eventually adopted universally (e.g. wearing a head covering) or almost universally (e.g. monogamy). Others are observed by some major segments of Jewry but not by others (e.g., not eating rice on Passover). These minhagim exist in various forms:

Ancient minhagim go back to the time of the Talmud and earlier. Today they are generally regarded as universally binding. The oldest recorded minhag is that of 'beating the Aravot' (Willow Branches) on Hoshanah Rabbah, and dates back to the era of the Prophets.


Jews whose ancestors continued to live in the Middle East and Africa until the establishment of the State of Israel, regardless of where they live now, tend to follow a variety of customs, such as Mizrahi-Sephardi or Temani. Jews whose ancestors lived in Central Europe in the Middle Ages (regardless of where they live now) tend to follow Ashkenazic customs, while those whose families originated in the Iberian peninsula generally follow Sephardic customs. (The Talmud gives detailed rules for people who visit or move to a locale where the custom differs from their own.) Hasidim tend to follow their own minhagim.

Within these broad categories there are also sub-groups by origin (e.g. Lithuanian or Polish or German customs), by location (e.g. "minhag Yerushalayim") or by branch (e.g. Skverrer Hasidim follow different customs than Chabad Hasidim).

Families and even individuals may adhere to specific minhagim not followed by others.


Various sources in Rabbinic literature stress the importance of a long-held tradition, culminating in the statement "the minhag of our fathers is [equivalent to] Torah" (e.g. Tosafot to Menahot 20b s.v. nifsal). Custom can thus determine halachic practice in cases of disagreement among rabbinic authorities. In numerous instances, Rabbi Moses Isserles warns that one should not abolish long-held customs. (Isserles' gloss on the Shulchan Aruch was, in fact, written so as to delineate Ashkenazi minhagim alongside Sephardi practices in the same code of law.)

Despite the above, a minhag does not override clear biblical or talmudic enactments, and one may not transgress the latter for the sake of the former. In fact, any minhag that intrinsically involves an element of halakha violation is considered null and void (see Piskei Riaz, Pesachim 4:1:7).

The Talmud (Pesachim 50) rules that a valid minhag accepted by previous generations of a family or community is binding upon all later generations. The Rosh (Makom Shenahagu, 3) states that the Talmud's ruling fundamentally applies to practices undertaken by learned individuals; innovations by the unlearned need only be followed publicly. Other halakhic authorities hold that the Talmud's ruling applies to all valid practices initiated by either learned or unlearned individuals (for discussion of this point see Bach and Beit Yosef to Yoreh Deah 214; Shach, ibid., 214:7).

In most cases, personal acceptance of a new minhag is tantamount to vowing performance of that minhag. Consequently, abandonment of such a minhag typically requires hatarat nedarim or sh'eilat chakham, halakhic procedures for absolving oneself from oaths. This was often necessary when, for example, an Ashkenazi Jew moved to the Ottoman Empire and wished to join the local Sephardi community.


Jewish law provides for a number of mechanisms to change or remove a custom when it is held to be mistaken or illogical. (See Tosafot on Talmud Pesachim 51a; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Biah; Be'er Heitev, Orach Chaim 182 in Hilchot Birkat Ha'mazon, Orach Chaim 653 in Hilchot Lulav, Orach Chaim 551:4 in Hilchot Tisha B'av.) Orthodox rabbi and historian of Jewish law Menachem Elon writes:

Custom, because of its spontaneous and undirected nature, sometimes calls for a measure of supervision and control. At times a custom may be founded on error, or develop unreasonably or illogically in a certain direction, or may even be in conflict with substantive and fundamental principles of Jewish law in a manner leaving no room for its integration into the system. From time to time the halakhic scholars exercised such control in order to contain or discredit entirely a particular custom.


The acute displacement brought about by World War II and the Holocaust, and the large-scale immigration to the United States, various European countries, and especially the State of Israel, have led to a "liberal mixing" of various minhagim, and arguably the falling into disuse of certain customs. In addition, the baal teshuva movement has created a large group who have no clear tradition from their parents. In response to these phenomena, certain scholars have focused on the minhagim, and attempts have been made to revive minhagim that have fallen into disuse.


Nusach (properly nósach) primarily means "text" or "version", the correct wording of a religious text. Thus, the nusach tefillah is the text of the prayers, either generally or as used by a particular community. In common use nusach has come to signify the entire liturgical tradition of the community, including the musical rendition. It is narrower than minhag, which can refer to custom in any field, not necessarily that of communal prayer.

Both nusach and minhag can thus be used for liturgic rite or liturgic tradition though sometimes a nusach appears to be a subdivision of a minhag or vice versa; see different Jewish rites and popular siddurim under Siddur. In general one must pray according to one's "nusach of origin" unless one has formally joined a different community and accepted its minhag. (Perisha rules that if one abandons a nusach that has been accepted universally by the wider Jewish community, his prayer is disqualified and must be repeated using the accepted nusach: Arba'ah Turim, Orach Chayim, 120 ad loc).

The main segments of traditional Judaism, as differentiated by nusach (broadly and narrowly), are these:

Nusach Ashkenaz: the general Ashkenazi rite of non-Chasidim. Can be subdivided into:

Nusach Sefard or Nusach Ari (Ashkenazi Chasidic rite, heavily influenced by the teachings of Sephardi Kabbalists)

Minhag Sefaradi: in general refers to the various Sephardi liturgies, but also to obligation/permissibility of Kabbalistic elements within the rite. Versions of this are:

Minhag Edot HaMizrach: often used to mean the Baghdadi rite, is more or less influenced by the Sephardi minhag

Nosach Teiman, can be subdivided into:

Nusach Eretz Yisrael; has not survived in any community, though an attempt to revive it has been made by Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo; however it is thought to have had some influence on:


Max Dimont ‘Jews, God and History’, Monitor Books, 1994

The Amazing Advetures of the Jewish People, Max Dimont, Behrman House 1984

Heritage,, Civilisation and the Jews, Abba Eban, 1994 Summit Books

The Jewish Enigma, The Open University, 1992

Judaism   Encyclopedia Britannica

Halakah Encyclopedia Britannica

Halacha Overview

Talmud Wikipedia

Talmud  Revolvy

Tale of the Two Talmuds My Jewish Learning

Lost Kings of Israel - National Geographic  47mins

The Bible Unearthed - 1 - The Patriachs You Tube

The Bible Unearthed (History Channel version 2009)

 Halakhah: The Laws of Jewish Life  My Jewish Learning

Reform Judaism: History & Overview   Jewish Virtual Library

Kabbalah: An Overview  by Joseph Telushkin

See Also:   
The Hebrew Bible
Jewish History Videos




Jewish Law





445 BCE

Torah Canonized

Written in Hebrew. Canonised by Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem.

400 to 200


First beginnings of Talmudic learning. Unofficial interpretations of Mosaic law and Biblical exegesis, in Hebrew.


200 to 200 CE


Written in Hebrew. Composed of two disciplines:  Halacha (Law) and
Aggadah (Narration)



200 to 400

Palestinian Gemara or Palestinian Talmud or Jerusalem Talmud

Written in Aramaic; some Hebrew. Had three main sections Halacha (Law), Aggada (Narrations), Midrash (Sermons)

200 to 500

Babylonian Gemara
or Bavli or Babylonian Talmud; Talmud Bavli  

Written in Aramaic; some Hebrew. Took essentially same forms as Palestinian Gemara but intellectually more brillliant.

See Tale of the Two Talmuds


500 to 700


Name given to scholars en­trusted with editing and writ­ing down the Mishna and Gemara, now known as the Tal­mud

(see 'The Law' in 'The Source' by James Michener)

700 to 1100

Gaonim or Geonim

Titular name of heads of Bab­ylonian universities dissemi­nating Talmudic learning.

See also Geonim, New World Encyclopedia


Rash i


And  Tosaphot

Rashi, bom in France. Modem reinterpretation of the Talmud. Written in Hebrew. Commen­taries by his children and grandchildren known as Tosaphot.




Rabbi Alfasi, born in Fez, North Africa; codifies the Tal­mud. Written in Hebrew


Mishna (Mishneh) Torah

Maimonides, bom in C6rdoba. Spain. Second main codifica­tion of the Talmud. Written in Hebrew




Rabbi Joseph Caro, born in Toledo, Spain

Third main codification of the Talmud. Written in Hebrew, in Pales­tine .

The word "Torah" is a tricky one, because it can mean different things in different contexts. In its most limited sense, "Torah" refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. But the word "torah" can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah), or in its broadest sense, to the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.


To Jews, there is no "Old Testament." The books that Christians call the New Testament are not part of Jewish scripture. The so-called Old Testament is known to us as Written Torah or the Tanakh.

This is a list of the books of Written Torah, in the order in which they appear in Jewish translations, with the Hebrew name of the book, a translation of the Hebrew name (where it is not the same as the English name), and English names of the books (where it is not the same as the Hebrew name). The Hebrew names of the first five books are derived from the first few words of the book. The text of each book is more or less the same in Jewish translations as what you see in Christian bibles, although there are some occasional, slight differences in the numbering of verses and there are some significant differences in the translation

TORAH (The Law):

Bereishith (In the beginning...) (Genesis)

Shemoth (The names...) (Exodus)

Vayiqra (And He called...) (Leviticus)

Bamidbar (In the wilderness...) (Numbers)

Devarim (The words...) (Deuteronomy)

NEVI'IM (The Prophets):

Yehoshua (Joshua)

Shoftim (Judges)

Shmuel (I & II Samuel)

Melakhim (I & II Kings)

Yeshayah (Isaiah)

Yirmyah (Jeremiah)

Yechezqel (Ezekiel)

The Twelve (treated as one book):

  • Hoshea (Hosea)
  • Yoel (Joel)
  • Amos
  • Ovadyah (Obadiah)
  • Yonah (Jonah)
  • Mikhah (Micah)
  • Nachum
  • Chavaqquq (Habbakkuk)
  • Tzefanyah (Zephaniah)
  • Chaggai
  • Zekharyah (Zechariah)
  • Malakhi

KETHUVIM (The Writings):

Tehillim (Psalms)

Mishlei (Proverbs)

Iyov (Job)

Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs)


Eikhah (Lamentations)

Qoheleth (the author's name) (Ecclesiastes)



Ezra & Nechemyah (Nehemiah) (treated as one book)

Divrei Ha-Yamim (The words of the days) (Chronicles)

Written Torah is often referred to as the Tanakh,
which is an acrostic of Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim