The Talmud (Hebrew for "teaching" or "study"), a vast compendium of Jewish law and lore, is a unique literary document--a sequel to the Hebrew Bible--and the basis of Jewish religious life. It consists of the MISHNAH and lengthy, rambling commentary called Gemara (Aramaic for "learning" or "tradition"). There are two Gemaras--the Palestinian Gemara, a product of the 3d and 4th centuries AD, and the Babylonian Gemara, completed about 499, with some later additions. Hence, there are two Talmuds: the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Talmud Bavli. The latter, the Babylonian Talmud, remains for traditional Jews the final authority on the law. The Mishnah is predominantly in Hebrew, the Gemaras largely in Aramaic. In addition to exhaustive and subtle discussions of civil, criminal, domestic, and ritual law, the Talmuds contain materials called haggadah ("narration")--statements on faith and morals, explanations of Bible verses, parables, and historical and legendary narratives.

Despite difficulties of language and content, the Talmud was for centuries the principal subject of Jewish study. It was provided with innumerable commentaries and annotations, the most important of which was by the 11th-century scholar RASHI. It was also the object of violent attacks by persons who had no knowledge of its contents, from medieval fanatics--24 cartloads of Talmud manuscripts were burned in Paris in 1242--to Nazi propagandists in the 1930s. Modern scholars have come increasingly to recognize its importance as a cultural monument. New Testament scholars in particular have used material from the Talmud and the related literature of MIDRASH for an understanding of Christian origins. (Bernard J. Bamberger)

Click on the link below to access the complete Babylonian Talmud.