History of the Talmud X:

34. The Aramaic Language. Its growth and spread: 600 B.C.E. to 650 C.E.

From Babylonia to Egypt, all the peoples from the borders of Iran to Egypt became speakers of Aramaic during this period. It was the dominant language in the land of Israel at the beginning of the Common Era, although many Jews still spoke Hebrew in certain areas of the land.

35. While the Aramaic language had become the language of all the lands of the Middle East, including the Land of Israel, Hebrew was still the accepted language in the courts and all of Tannaitic literature is written in Hebrew.

36. But following the completion of the Mishnah, Aramaic became the language accepted even in the courts of law. The Mishnah was a written text, it was the constitution of the Jewish nation. Many copies of the Mishnah became available and people could refer to it to learn the laws and to follow them. It also became the fundamental law on whose basis cases would be argued as litigants came to court.

37. Jewish Law did not cease its development when the Mishnah was completed. On the contrary; the Jewish nation was a thriving entity with thousands of communities extending across Asia, Europe and the lands of the Near and Middle East. But now the constitution was complete and in written form and many communities had copies of it. On its basis they could continue to argue and voice their differences of opinion and interpretation.

38. Babylonia and Israel. At the time the Mishnah was edited in its final form by the hand of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi, political events in the Roman Empire had developed which had ominous forebodings for the Jewish People. Christianity in the Roman Empire had grown to the point where the Christians constituted a significant proportion of the population of the empire.

The Christians had already displayed their hostility to the Jews and had also been most effective in turning the Emperor Hadrian from his original friendship to total hostility to Judaism and the Jewish People.

That was back in 135, when the Jewish rebellion had been brutally crushed. Now, 65 years later, the Christian population had increased and their hostility to Judaism had grown as did their numbers. Some Jews saw the growth of Christianity as a threat to the People of Israel. They also felt that it would restrict the measure of autonomy which the Jews enjoyed under Pagan Roman rule.

39. This led some of the leading figures of the Babylonian Jewish community to make a very serious decision. Prominent among these were Rav and Shmuel. two giants of intellect, acknowledged masters of Torah in all of its interpretations. They were also scholars in fields other than Jewish Law. Shmuel, for example, was a master astronomer. In view of what they saw as the growing threat to the Jews in the Roman Empire which was becoming increasingly Christian, they felt that the Jews of Babylonia should conduct the affairs of their communities independent of the Sanhedrin in the land of Israel. Babylonia was in the Persian Empire, beyond the boundaries of Roman control, and there they felt completely free and unconstrained.

40. It is from this date, the completion of the final edition of the Mishnah in the year 200, that two related but distinct systems of Jewish legal tradition begin to develop. One led to the creation of the Babylonian Talmud, the other to that of the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud. In Hebrew the Babylonian is called Talmud Bavli, and the Palestinian one is called Talmud Yerushalmi.

41. What are the differences between the two Talmuds?
While both Talmuds are based on the same foundation; on the Mishnah of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi, their developments diverged.

When we study theTalmud we read two different phases of its development. The basic text is the Mishnah. This is followed by argument and discusssion which is known as the Gemara. The Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud and the Gemara of the Jerusalem Talmud are independent and different from one another. The Gemara is the discusssion of the Torah based on the Mishnah. Since the Mishnah is the same for both, it is the Gemara which is different.

42. First we can examine the language. The Gemera is written primarily in the Aramaic language,although many long passages are in Hebrew. But Aramaic, since it was a language spread over a very wide area, essentially encompassing the entire Middle East, had developed many distinct dialects. Thus, we identify the language of the Gemara of the Babyonian Talmud as Eastern Jewish Aramaic. The language of the Palestinian Gemara is Western Jewish Aramaic.

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