Welcome to the “Study Along With the Yeshiva” program. This year we are studying a very exciting chapter dealing with the recitation of the Shma and the prayers associated with it. Our studies will give us a better understanding of how our prayers developed and their significance in the minds of the sages. In the end, we will attain a deeper sense of their meaning and place in Jewish life – all of this in addition to an introduction to the study of Talmud.
Make sure you go through all of the materials. They will assist you in your studies.
I hope you enjoy the course and see it as a gateway to you continuing studies.
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
Before we jump into text study, let’s take a few minutes to put our Talmud studies into perspective. Historically, the Talmud should be seen as a stage in the development of the Oral Torah, known in Hebrew as the Torah shebaal peh. Its origins are as a commentary to the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah the Prince, the religious and political and religious leader of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael at the end of the second century CE. The Mishnah, which in some ways resembles a law code and in other ways resembles a law textbook, is the first codified text of the Oral Torah. After the Mishnah was codified and accepted as the basic text of the Oral Torah, it became the essential study text for those who shaped the Torah shebaal peh. In academies in Eretz Yisrael and in Babylonia, sages studied and debated and shaped the meaning of the Mishnah and associated texts. These discussions became the kernels of what became the arguments or sugyot of the two Talmuds – one which was formed in Eretz Yisrael, known today as the Talmud Yerushalmi (even though it was shaped largely in the Galilee and not in Jerusalem) and the Talmud Bavli which is the more developed and authoritative text. Each of these Talmuds while they share common material is different. Each was shaped by its different venue and by its different textual histories.
This historical introduction is intentionally brief and obviously can be filled in by checking out some of the book in the course bibliography. Our main purpose is text study, so let’s move on to common vocabulary necessary for Talmud study. I want to introduce some necessary terms which will make our Talmudic conversation possible. These words will be general terms – technical terms which we will see in our studies will be introduced as we need them in our discussions during our studies together.
We are already familiar with the term “mishnah” as a general term representing a particular book. We also want to be aware that a mishnah is also the name of a unit of study found in the book known as the Mishnah. Mishnaiot (pl.) are on type of literature from the period in which the Mishnah was produced. We call a sage from that period, a Tanna (pl. Tannaim) and a teaching, other than mishnaiot, from that period: baraita – ברייתא . Teachings from this period are to be considered implicitly more authoritative than later teachings. The period following the Tannaitic period is know as the Amoraic period and a sage from that period, an Amora. Teachings from this period are called maimrot.
The “give and take” or debate style which is characteristic of Talmud study is know by its Aramaic name – “shakla v’tariah”. The basic unit of Talmudic argument is called a “sugya – סוגיא “. There are certain basic terms in this debate style. For instance, there are two basic kinds of questions and two basic kinds of answers in Talmud debate. The first kind of question represent challenged to a previous position. Such a challenge is called a “kushia ” קושיא “. A Kushiyah is usually answered by a “teirutz – תירוץ ” which is a resolution of the challenge. An informational question is known as a “she’aalah – שאלה ” and an answer to such a question is known as a “teshuvah – תשובה “.
The study of Talmud requires patient analysis. There are two good reasons for this. The Talmud often expresses itself elliptically expecting the reader to fill in the gaps in the texts. Centuries later, Rashi stepped into the picture to fill this role. In addition, it is crucial to follow Talmudic arguments step by step making sure that one has figured out the relationship between one statement and what has been said before it. To this end, the texts you will be given both in Hebrew/Aramaic and in English will be set out step by step and labeled according to the role of each statement in the sugya. The English text will also be fleshed out in greater depth with comments found in brackets incorporated into the sugya to make the text more comprehensible. (Warning: Please always be aware that the bracketed material is not a part of the original text.)
For this course, the text of the sources will be available is two forms: 1. The Sugya broken up into its components, labeled and numbered by steps in the argument in its original language; 2. The same as #1 in English. In addition, technical Talmud words will be explained. In addition, guide questions and comments will be available along with discussion points.
A word about dictionaries which are useful for Talmud study is in order. Still to this day the most useful dictionary for rabbinic studies is the Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature. Also useful for content questions is Ezra Tzion Melamed’s Aramaic Hebrew English Dictionary. For Babylonian Talmud technical terms, there is nothing that comes close to Yitchak Frank’s Practical Talmud Dictionary.
Whenever possible, the text of the sources for this course will be available is three forms: 1. A vocalized and punctuated Hebrew text; 2. An unvocalized Hebrew text; 3. An English text. In addition, guide questions and comments will be available along with discussion points.
A word about the dictionaries which are useful for Midrash study is in order. To this day the most useful all around dictionary for rabbinic studies is the Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature.
The following is a list of readings and books which you might find helpful in your studies. While, of course the readings are not required, you will enjoy most of them and find them quite informative.