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 in 1923, rabbi Meir Shapiro introduced a Talmud study regime known as daf yomi, or "page-a-day".    Going through the text a page a day, the book takes seven-and-a-half years to complete - a moment that is eagerly anticipated and celebrated with an event called Siyum Hashas.

Attendance levels at Siyum Hashas events illustrate the Talmud's growing popularity. In 1975, the completion of the seventh cycle was marked by an event in New York's Manhattan Center with 5,000 attendees. In 1990, some 20,000 people in the US took part in the event and in 2012, at the completion of the 12th cycle, all 90,000 seats at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey sold out.


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 made a major impact on civil law.  For example Jewish financiers under the Angevin kings were responsible for the use by the English legal system of the Talmudic proper­ty law.

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

Minhagim are local customs and prohibitions. Some customs were eventually adopted widely such as wearing a head covering or monogamy. Others are observed by some major segments of Jewry but not by others for example some forbid rice to be eaten on Passover while others allow it to be eaten.  The Jews became the only people to develop a common culture without having having their own state for 2,000 years.    

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.

Forward, Dr. Shuki FriedmanFebruary 5, 2018

Dr. Shuki Friedman is the director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation, and State, and a lecturer in law at the Peres Academic Center.

Jewish men gather to watch the funeral of leading spiritual authority for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world, Rabbi Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman, in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on December 12, 2017. Shteinman, who also wielded heavy influence on Israeli ultra-Orthodox political parties, had been hospitalised at the Mayanei Hayeshua medical centre three weeks ago over breathing problems. He died aged 104, the hospital said.

Jewish men gather to watch the funeral of leading spiritual authority for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the world, Rabbi Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman, in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on December 12, 2017. Shteinman, who also wielded heavy influence on Israeli ultra-Orthodox political parties, had been hospitalised at the Mayanei Hayeshua medical centre three weeks ago over breathing problems. He died aged 104, the hospital said.

For decades, religious and ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset, backed and encouraged by their rabbis, have worked to inject the secular state with as much Judaism as possible. In an extended and collective effort, they have done all they can to pass religious laws, to base the governing of the state on Jewish law, and to make Jewish law the foundation for Israeli law wherever possible. Over the course of 70 years, the results of this ongoing effort have been minimal, but the price paid by Judaism has been great.

Since pre-state times, the founders and leaders of the State of Israel have been secular. As a result, the state is not run according to halacha or to a religious vision, but according to principles of modern Western law. This being the case, those who have a religious vision for the state have had to resort to religious politics.

Judaism and Islam differ fundamentally from Christianity on the issue of the desired relationship between religion and state. According to the Christian approach, (which has not always been enforced in reality), religion and state should be kept separate. Pope Gelasius I (died 496) encapsulated this idea in his “Two Swords” letter to Emperor Anastasius I, in which he distinguished between the sword of God, wielded by the clergy, whose concern is the spiritual realm; and the sword of Caesar, wielded by the state rulers, whose role it is to oversee terrestrial life. Later on, this idea developed into the separation between religion and state that has been maintained, to some degree or another, in most Western Christian countries.

Unlike Christianity, Judaism (like Islam) is a holistic religion. That is, it seeks to regulate all areas of existence, and to direct the conduct of both the individual and the state by legal (halachic) means. The openly declared goal is that “no area [of life] is free of Halacha” and “The whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah Chapter 6 and 3). Many thinkers, especially ones in recent decades such as Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, have adopted the position that the state should be run according to the dictates of the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law, and that halachic responses should be developed for issues regarding the public arena that are not covered in its four volumes. From hospital management to the defense establishment and the systems of government and the courts, in this opinion, all areas of the state can and should be run according to Halacha. In modern legal terms, Judaism does not limit itself to private law between individuals, but also seeks to institute public law, which regulates the conduct of the entire state.

The past few weeks have made very clear the consequences of religious politics. In one wintry month, the ultra-Orthodox MKs, supported by national-religious MKs and others, have managed to incur harsh criticism, and even loathing, felt by large parts of the Israeli public. In God’s name, Deri, Litzman, and their colleagues have passed a series of legislative changes (amendments to the Hours of Work and Rest Law, the “Supermarket Law,” (to give the Minister of Interior the authority to deny confirmation of Shabbat municipal laws) and the “Litzman Law” (to confer powers to deputy ministers) that have contributed nothing to the Jewishness of the state, that were based on nothing more than political cynicism, and whose only outcome has been the sullying of religious Judaism in the eyes of the public that reject the Haredi religious coercion and cynicism.

Has the time come to give up on the Jewish character of the State of Israel, and to simply pray and wait for Messianic times? Heaven forbid. I believe it is legitimate, and even desirable, for the state to have a Jewish character, and the way to achieve this is undoubtedly through the political system. However, the conduct of religious political parties and representatives in recent weeks and months demonstrates the potential inherent in the confluence of religion and state, and the promotion of a religious, heavenly agenda via earthly means, for causing damage that far outweighs any benefit, either for Judaism or for the state.

I do not believe that the Church was right. The “Two Swords” philosophy has no place in Israel, and I do not support the separation of religion and state. I also believe that the Torah has much to say about running a Jewish state. But this is not the way. No “religious” gain that is achieved via cynical political means, including ensuring a tiny majority by pulling MKs away from sitting shiva (mourning) for their loved ones in order to vote in the Knesset, will advance the standing of Judaism in Israel; in fact, it will only have the opposite effect. As much as we may want the Torah to play an influential role, this can only be achieved in a consensual and respectful way, and not by coercion. In this issues of Shabbat, personal status, conversion and religious services, only a serious willingness to compromise from the Haredi side or unity of all the others, might bring an accepted solution. The path of coercion leads to disaster for us all, religious and non-religious alike.

Halacha is the "way" a Jew is directed to behave,
encompassing civil, criminal and religious law.
My Jewish Learning

he root of the Hebrew term used to refer to Jewish law, halacha , means “go” or “walk.” Halacha, then, is the “way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life, encompassing civil, criminal and religious law.

The foundation of Judaism is the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, sometimes referred to as “the Five Books of Moses”). “Torah ” means “instruction” or “teaching,” and like all teaching it requires interpretation and application. Jewish tradition teaches that Moses received the Torah from God at Mount Sinai. The Torah is replete with instructions, directives, statutes, laws, and rules. Most are directed to the Israelites, some to all humanity.


The words of the Torah constitute what the rabbinic tradition calls the Written Torah. However, beginning around 400 BCE, teachings emerged based in or connected to the Torah, but not literally evident in the text. This body of teaching is known as the Oral Torah, and rabbinic sources claim that it, too, was revealed at Sinai. Halacha per se begins with this “Oral Torah.”

Some laws in the Torah required procedures for their observance that were not explicit. Sometimes conditions under which Jews were living were so different from earlier periods that the ancient rabbis simply enacted new rules in keeping with the laws of the Torah. This process of developing, interpreting, modifying and enacting rules of conduct is the how halacha develops. The rabbis of classical talmudic Judaism developed a system of hermeneutic principles by which to interpret the words of the written Torah.

As rabbinic teachings increased, it was necessary to commit them to writing, lest they be forgotten. Around the year 200 CE, the Mishnah, the earliest compendium of Jewish law, appeared. It became the curriculum of rabbinic instruction. In approximately 425 CE, the interpretive traditions of the rabbis of the Land of Israel were compiled, forming the Talmud Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud).

Another Talmud, the “Bavli” (Babylonian Talmud), was compiled in the Persian Empire a century later. It presents digests of the various teachings of many generations of rabbis on issues of law and other subjects. Although it frequently fails to specify which cited opinion is authoritative, it nevertheless became the universally accepted arbiter of halachah and the subject of many extensive commentaries.


In every age, outstanding Jewish teachers and thinkers emerged who became the rabbinic leaders of their communities. Individuals, including other rabbis, would send them questions about the proper observance of Judaism or matters of Jewish thought. This body of questions and responses (teshuvot, or responsa), preserved through the ages, is also an important source of halacha.

In the Middle Ages, the body of Jewish legal writing was so voluminous that great scholarly acumen was required to be able to determine exactly what the halacha was on many points. Compendia of Jewish law were written to summarize the debate and render a decision. One of the most complete and influential of these, Maimonides‘ Mishneh Torah, was compiled in the 11th century. The sixteenth-century Sephardic rabbi Joseph Caro developed a handbook of halacha, the Shulhan Arukh (“Prepared Table”). Supplemented by the comments of Rabbi Moses Isserles, the leading Polish rabbi of the time, the Shulhan Arukh became the worldwide standard of halacha, authoritative (even if not the final authority) even now in the eyes of observant Jews everywhere.

Historically, in Jewish law, a majority view prevailed. While the majority opinion usually became the accepted practice, in certain circumstances later rabbis could rely on a minority view in deciding a difficult matter. By the high Middle Ages, most Jewish communities each recognized one rabbi as the arbiter of Jewish law in that community.


This system collapsed with the onset of modernity in the 18th century, particularly in western Europe. Rabbis emerged who wanted to “reform” Judaism. They rejected both some of the teachings and the authority of earlier rabbis in many matters of halacha.

Today, spiritual descendants of both traditionalists and reformers interpret Jewish law according to their respective principles for their communities. Many Jews reject the notion of Jewish law as binding, regarding halachah as spiritual guidance for Jewish living. The approach to halacha is the central factor differentiating Jewish religious movements today. Secular Israeli jurisprudence treats halacha as a valid and valued source of precedent.

Judaism 101   (click on link for more detail)

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.


The Mishnah or Mishna (/ˈmɪʃnə/; Hebrew: מִשְׁנָה‬, "study by repetition", from the verb shanah שנה‬, or "to study and review", also "secondary") is the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature. The Mishnah was redacted by Judah the Prince at the beginning of the third century CE[4] in a time when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten. Most of the Mishnah is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are Aramaic.

The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. "web"), 63 in total, and further subdivided into chapters and paragraphs. The word Mishnah can also indicate a single paragraph of the work, i.e. the smallest unit of structure in the Mishnah. For this reason the whole work is sometimes called in the plural, Mishnayot.


According to Rabbinic Judaism, the Oral Torah (Hebrew: תורה שבעל-פה‎) was given to Moses with the Torah at Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb as an exposition to the latter. The accumulated traditions of the Oral Law, expounded by scholars in each generation from Moses onward, is considered as the necessary basis for the interpretation, and often for the reading, of the Written Law. Jews sometimes refer to this as the Masorah (Hebrew: מסורה), roughly translated as tradition, though that word is often used in a narrower sense to mean traditions concerning the editing and reading of the Biblical text (see Masoretic Text). The resulting Jewish law and custom is called halakha.

While most discussions in the Mishnah concern the correct way to carry out laws recorded in the Torah, it usually presents its conclusions without explicitly linking them to any scriptural passage, though scriptural quotations do occur. For this reason it is arranged in order of topics rather than in the form of a Biblical commentary. (In a very few cases, there is no scriptural source at all and the law is described as Halakha leMoshe miSinai, "law to Moses from Sinai".) The Midrash halakha, by contrast, while presenting similar laws, does so in the form of a Biblical commentary and explicitly links its conclusions to details in the Biblical text. These Midrashim often predate the Mishnah.

The Mishnah also quotes the Torah for principles not associated with law, but just as practical advice, even at times for humor or as guidance for understanding historical debates.


The Gemara (also transliterated Gemora, Gemarah, or, less commonly, Gemorra; from Hebrew גמרא‬, from the Aramaic verb gamar, study) is the component of the Talmud comprising rabbinical analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah. After the Mishnah was published by Judah the Prince (c. 200 CE), the work was studied exhaustively by generation after generation of rabbis in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their discussions were written down in a series of books that became the Gemara, which when combined with the Mishnah constituted the Talmud.

There are two versions of the Gemara. The Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi) was compiled by scholars of the Land of Israel, primarily of the academies of Tiberias and Caesarea, and was published between about 350–400 CE. The Talmud Bavli was published about 500 CE by scholars of Babylonia, primarily of the academies of Sura, Pumbedita, and Nehardea. By convention, a reference to the "Gemara" or "Talmud," without further qualification, refers to the Babylonian version. The main compilers were Revina and Rav Ashi. see Talmud.


Demonstrating how the Mishnah's rulings or disputes, derive from interpretations of Biblical texts. The Gemara will often ask where in the Torah the Mishnah derives a particular law. See Talmudic hermeneutics.


(Editor’s Note:  All pages of the Talmud have the same layout.  
Click here to view a A sample page in English and Hebrew )

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 Shulchan 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).

Zera'im (Seeds), is about the laws on agriculture, prayer, and tithes

Mo'ed (Festival), is about the sabbath and the festivals

Nashim (Women), is about marriage, divorce and contracts – oaths

Nezikin (Damages), is about the civil and criminal laws, the way courts operate and some further laws on oaths

Kodashim (Holy Things), is about sacrificing and the laws of the Temple and the dietary laws

Toharot (Purities), is about the laws of ritual purity and impurity.


The Talmud (/ˈtɑːlmʊd, -məd, ˈtæl-/; Hebrew: תַּלְמוּד talmūd) is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law (halakha) and Jewish theology. Until the advent of modernity, in nearly all Jewish communities, the Talmud was the centerpiece of Jewish cultural life and was foundational to "all Jewish thought and aspirations", serving also as "the guide for the daily life" of Jews.

The term "Talmud" normally refers to the collection of writings named specifically the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), although there is also an earlier collection known as the Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi). It may also traditionally be called Shas (ש״ס), a Hebrew abbreviation of shisha sedarim, or the "six orders" of the Mishnah.

The Talmud has two components; the Mishnah (Hebrew: משנה, c. year 200 CE), a written compendium of Rabbinic Judaism's Oral Torah; and the Gemara (circa year 500 CE), an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible. The term "Talmud" may refer to either the Gemara alone, or the Mishnah and Gemara together.

The entire Talmud consists of 63 tractates, and in standard print is over 6,200 pages long. It is written in Mishnaic Hebrew and Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis (dating from before the Common Era through to the fifth century) on a variety of subjects, including halakha, Jewish ethics, philosophy, customs, history, lore and many other topics. The Talmud is the basis for all codes of Jewish law, and is widely quoted in rabbinic literature.


Whether it is in school, yeshiva or university,
the Gemara (Talmud) page looks exactly the same:
Gemara text in middle, and Rashi and Tosafot  commentary in both sides.
How extraordinary that this structure was actually
set by a Catholic printer in 16th century Venice.
The National Library of Israel

The Gemara page (Daf) is recognizable to all students of the Talmud, whether the student is in school, yeshiva, or university. The Daf, structured with the Gemara in the center of the page, Rashi's commentary in the interior section, and the Tosafot (lit. addendums, an important set of medieval commentaries) in the exterior section.

This page layout makes good sense, because it allows the student to move from the text in the center, to Rashi in order to understand the issue presented in the Daf, and to the Tosafot. This is the way the Talmud is printed and it seems as though it had always been this way, since the dawn of Jewish study.

Surprisingly, this structure was actually set by a Catholic printer in 16th century Venice.

Prior to the invention of the printing press, books were written and copied by hand, so each copy was laid out differently from every other one. Often the text and commentaries were written in separate manuscripts, which required maneuvering between several books and documents.

 Italian manuscript of Rashi on Pentanteuch,
15th century

With the onset of the printing press, the Talmud also appeared in printed form. Different printed editions were laid out differently and included different commentaries. An edition from Guadalajara in 1482, for example, included Rashi but no Tosafot.

Talmud Guadalajara 1482,
Mesechet Kiddushin with Rashi

In the early 16th century, Venice became the center of printing books, but Jews were not permitted to own their own printing presses. Gentile printers would publish Hebrew and Jewish works, because they hoped to make money by selling books to Jews. In addition, renaissance culture encouraged Christian readers to return to ancient sources – including Hebrew sources – thereby creating a Christian market for Hebrew texts.

Between 1519-1523, a Christian Printer from Antwerp who had settled in Venice, Daniel Bomberg, working together with his Jewish staff (some of whom converted to Christianity) published the first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud, and he added the remarkable system of fixed page. The pages, which included Rashi and Tosafot, were carefully numbered, so that anyone anywhere could refer to a particular passage. With the publication of the Bomberg Talmud, the fluidity and page layout ended.


Bomberg Babylonian Talmud,
Venice Pesachim, 1520 (?)

With only a handful of exceptions (the 1616 Kraków edition, for example), every single printed edition of the Talmud since then has followed Bomberg's lead, both in terms of page layout and in terms of fixed pages.

The Venice Hebrew print spread far and wide in the Jewish world and there is simply no denying that the system of study works.


These writings, which fill in gaps in biblical texts,
falls into two categories: halacha and aggadah
My Jewish Learning.

              see also  What Midrash Teaches About the Rabbis

Midrash (מדרשׁ) is an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. (In the Bible, the root d-r-sh [דרשׁ] is used to mean inquiring into any matter, including occasionally to seek out God’s word.) Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.

Midrash falls into two categories.When the subject is law and religious practice (halacha ), it is called midrash halacha. Midrash aggadah, on the other hand, interprets biblical narrative, exploring questions of ethics or theology, or creating homilies and parables based on the text. (Aggadah means”telling”; any midrash which is not halakhic falls into this category.)


It is often difficult to determine, simply from reading the biblical text, what Jewish law would be in practice. The text of the Torah is often general or ambiguous when presenting laws. Midrash halacha attempts to clarify or extend a law beyond the conditions assumed in the Bible, and to make connections between current practice and the biblical text. It made possible the creation and acceptance of new liturgies and rituals which de facto replaced sacrificial worship after the fall of the Second Temple, and the maintenance of continuity by linking those practices to the words of the Torah .

Midrash halacha from the two centuries following the fall of the Temple was collected in three books — the Mekhilta on Exodus, the Sifra on Leviticus, and the Sifrei on Numbers and Deuteronomy — known as the tannaitic midrashim. (The tannaim were the rabbis from the time of the Mishnah, edited in approximately 200 C.E.)


The type of midrash most commonly referred to (as in, “There is a midrash which says…”) is from the collections of midrash aggadah, most of which were compiled between about 200 and 1000 C.E. (Many midrashim circulated orally before then). Midrash aggadah may begin its exploration with any word or verse in the Bible. There are many different methods of interpretation and exposition.

Written by rabbis both steeped in Bible and absorbed by the Jewish questions of their time, works of midrash aggadah often occupy the meeting ground between reverence and love for the wording of the fixed text of the Torah, and theological creativity. Midrashic writings thus often yield religious insights that have made Torah directly applicable to later Jewish realities, especially the concerns of its authors. Some of what midrash aggadah yields is insight into the burning, sometimes time-bound questions of those who wrote it. Still, the interpretations produced often have more universal and timeless application to our, or any, generation.

In addition to works devoted to midrashic compilations, midrash aggadah also appears throughout the two Talmuds. Midrash Rabbah, the “Great Midrash,” is the name of the collections linked to the five books of the Torah and the “Five Scrolls” (Esther, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes) read on holidays. Some of these works read like verse-by-verse commentaries. Others may have originated in sermons linked to the weekly Torah reading.


A tractate is a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject; the word derives from the Latin tractatus, meaning treatise.

One example of its use is in citing a section of the Talmud, when the term Masekhet (מסכת‬) is used in conjunction with the name of the subject, for example, Masekhet Berakhoth, which is relevant to plants and farming.

From Wikipedia  (links shown below)

The Zugot  (170 BCE - 30 CE)

The Zugot /ˌzuːˈɡoʊt/ (Hebrew: הַזּוּגוֹת haz-zûghôth, "the Pairs"), also called Zugoth /ˈzuːɡɒθ/ or Zugos /ˌzuːˈɡoʊs/ in the Ashkenazi pronunciation, refers both to the two-hundred-year period (c. 170 BCE – 30 CE, Hebrew: תְּקוּפַת הַזּוּגוֹת təqhûphath haz-zûghôth, "Era of the Pairs") during the time of the Second Temple in which the spiritual leadership of the Jews was in the hands of five successions of "pairs" of religious teachers, and to each of these pairs themselves.

The zugoth were five pairs of scholars who ruled a supreme court (בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל bêth dîn ha-gādôl) of the Jews as nasi (נָשִׂיא, "prince", i.e. president) and av beit din (אָב בֵּית דִּין, "father of Beth Din", i.e. chief justice) respectively. After this period, the positions nasi and av beit din remained, but they were not zugot.

The title of av beit din existed before the period of the zugot. His purpose was to oversee the Sanhedrin, the court of religious law also known as the "beit din". The rank of nasi ("prince") was a new institution that was begun during this period.

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 first Babylonian Amoraim were Abba Arika, respectfully referred to as Rav, and his contemporary and frequent debate partner, Shmuel. Among the earliest Amoraim in Israel were Johanan bar Nappaha and Shimon ben Lakish. Traditionally, the Amoraic period is reckoned as seven or eight generations (depending on where one begins and ends). The last Amoraim are generally considered to be Ravina I and Rav Ashi, and Ravina II, nephew of Ravina I, who codified the Babylonian Talmud around 500 CE. In total, 761 amoraim are mentioned by name in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. 367 of them were active in the land of Israel from around 200-350 CE, while the other 394 lived in Babylonia during 200-500 CE.[2]

In the Talmud itself, the singular amora generally refers to a lecturer's assistant; the lecturer would state his thoughts briefly, and the amora would then repeat them aloud for the public's benefit, adding translation and clarification where needed.

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.

Much of classical rabbinic literature generally holds that the Babylonian Talmud was redacted into more or less its final form around 550 CE.[1] The Talmud states that Ravina and Rav Ashi (two amoraim) were the "end of instruction",[2] which many understand to mean they compiled the Babylonian Talmud.[3] Maimonides wrote that Ravina and Rav Ashi were the last generation of sages in the Talmud, and that it was Rav Ashi who composed the Babylonian Talmud.[4]

However, some statements within classical rabbinic literature, and later analysis thereof, have led many scholars to conclude that the Babylonian Talmud was smoothed over by the Savora'im, although almost nothing was changed.[5] There are statements in the Talmud itself referring to generations later than Ravina and Rav Ashi.[3] Occasionally, multiple versions of the same legalistic discussion are included with minor variations. The text also states that various opinions emanated from various Talmudic academies.[6]

Sherira Gaon (c.987 CE) indicates that the Talmud was not in its final form until many generations after Ravina and Rav Ashi,[3] and that Rav Yose was the final member of the Savora'im.[6] Occasionally, specific Savora'im are mentioned by name in the Talmud itself, such as Rabbi Ahai, who (according to later authority Rashbam) was a Savora.[6]

David Weiss Halivni, a modern scholar, has attempted to determine the authorship of anonymous portions of the Talmud. Halivni terms the editors of the Talmud as Stamma'im, a new term for rabbis that he places after the period of the Tannaim and Amoraim, but before the Geonic period. He concludes that to a large extent, the Stamma'im essentially wrote the Gemara (the discussions in the Talmud about the Mishna). Halivni posits that during the time of Ravina and Rav Ashi, they compiled a Gemara that was much smaller than the Gemara known today, and which likely was similar to the Mishna and to the Tosefta. He sees this proto-Gemara as a compilation of rulings that probably had little record of discussions. Halivni also posits that the Stamma'im did not always fully understand the context and import of the statement of the Tanna or Amora when it was said. The methodology employed in his commentary, Mekorot u' Mesorot, will attempt to give Halivni's analysis of the correct import and context and will demonstrate how the Talmud erred in its understanding of the original context.[7]

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 Geonim officiated, in the last place, as directors of the academies, continuing as such the educational activity of the Amoraim and Saboraim. For while the Amoraim, through their interpretation of the Mishnah, gave rise to the Talmud, and while the Saboraim definitively edited it, the Geonim's task was to interpret it; for them it became the subject of study and instruction, and they gave religio-legal decisions in agreement with its teachings.

During the geonic period the Babylonian schools were the chief centers of Jewish learning; the Geonim, the heads of these schools, were recognized as the highest authorities in Jewish law. Despite the difficulties which hampered the irregular communications of the period, Jews who lived even in most distant countries sent their inquiries concerning religion and law to these officials in Babylonia.

In the latter centuries of the geonic period, from the middle of the tenth to the middle of the eleventh, their supremacy lessened, as the study of the Talmud received care in other lands. The inhabitants of these regions gradually began to submit their questions to the heads of the schools in their own countries. Eventually they virtually ceased sending their questions to Babylonian Geonim.

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.

The Acharonim follow the Rishonim, the "first ones"—the rabbinic scholars between the 11th and the 16th century following the Geonim and preceding the Shulchan Aruch. The publication of the Shulchan Aruch thus marks the transition from the era of Rishonim to that of Acharonim.

The distinction between the Acharonim, Rishonim and Geonim is meaningful historically. According to the widely held view in Orthodox Judaism, the Acharonim generally cannot dispute the rulings of rabbis of previous eras unless they find support from other rabbis in previous eras. Yet the opposite view exists as well: In The Principles of Jewish Law Orthodox Rabbi Menachem Elon wrote:

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

Religion Facts
(see also Talmud)

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 reachef d them, but has not returned. The driving is like the driving of Jehu [grand]son oNimshi, 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

Jewish Law Research Guide     Cleveland State University

Judaism   Encyclopedia Britannica

Halakah    Encyclopedia Britannica

Halacha Overview

Talmud     Wikipedia

Talmud     Revolvy

Tale of the Two Talmuds    My Jewish Learning

Role of the Talmud in Judaism     Religion Facts

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

Judaism, Beliefs of the Jewish People,    Lessons in ethics, text and law from the leader in Internet Jewish learning. > 30 Teachers. Free Weekly Subscription. > 100 Choices. Types: Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced.

Minhag    Wikipedia

Jewish Law, Israel  Government,    Hebrew Web Site:









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