History of the Talmud I:

The Talmud is Jewish Law.

1. One can refer to the Talmud as the Corpus Juris of Judaism, the sytem of Jewish jurisprudence. Jewish Law is based on the Torah, that section of the sacred scriptures which is known as The Humash, the Five Books of the Torah. The Greek name usually used in English is “Pentateuch.” The Torah, which is written in these books is called, in Jewish legal terminology, Torah Shè-biktav, the Written Torah.

2. Jewish Law is based on these laws of the Torah. Centuries ago leaders of the Jewish community decreed that the Torah should be read in public frequently, and the schedule fixed was the following: Each Sabbath, at the morning prayers, a Sedrah, consisting of five or six chapters is to be read to the congregation. If the majority of those attending were not fluent in the Hebrew language, a translation was to accompany the reading.

The translation is called Targum and the translator is the Turgeman. For more than a thousand years the language spoken by most of the Jewish People was Jewish Aramaic. Therefore, when Targum is mentioned, it refers to the Aramaic translations of the Torah. In fact, the Jewish people were so accustomed to the Aramaic translation, that they referred to the Aramaic language as Leshon Ha-Targum; in Yiddish Targum Loshen. But actually, the translation should be in any language understood by the majority of the community.

On Sabbath afternoon, during the Minhah prayers, a chapter of the Torah reading of the following Sabbath is read and translated. This chapter is read again at the Shaharit Morning Service on Mondays and Thursdays. This frequency of public readings was designed so that all the people should become familiar with the Torah and its contents.

3. There are many commentaries on the Torah, some of which will be described in the course of this clarification. The most important are those interpretations that clarify its legal foundations. The Torah reading was always accompanied by interpretation which was intended to clarify the meaning of the Torah and its laws. Interpretation has always been a part of Torah reading and study. These studies of the laws of the Torah eventually developed into a systematic organization which became the foundation of the Jewish legal system. This foundation of pragmatic Jewish Law is called the Mishnah.

One book of the Mishnah is called Pirké Avot, which is usually translated as “Ethics of the Fathers.” The Pirké Avot opens with the statement Mosheh kibbel Torah mi-Sinai, “Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai.” This means, according to the tradition of Jewish faith, that Moses received the Torah as it is written in the Five Books, the Humash, directly from the Divine Presence. But along with its verbal text he also received the principle of interpretation.

Knowing that all living beings are mortal, Moses transmitted the Torah and its tradition to Joshua, his successor as leader of the People of Israel. Joshua transmitted the Torah to the Elders, they in turn gave it to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave the Torah and its traditions to the Anshei Knesset Ha-Gedolah, the “Men of the Great Assembly,” a parliamentary body which guided the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. Eventually, the Great Assembly set up the judicial system known by the Greek term Sanhedrin, with a series of courts and the Great Sanhedrin, which was the Supreme Court of the Jewish Nation, as the court of final decision on matters of law.

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