TALMUD SELECTIONS

I have included a few selections from the Talmud on this page as well as several passages discussing general themes in the Talmud. These should give you an idea of the Talmud's style and the range of its content.

Talmud Selections

The following selections have been chosen to convey the flavour of a Talmud passage. For brief notes you can download each passage, using the volume (e.g. Baba Metzia) and page (e.g. 93a) reference from http://www.halakhah.com/. For more detailed commentary please explore the various resources on http://www.dafyomi.co.il.

Unless otherwise indicated all translations are from the Soncino edition of the Talmud, slightly amended to modernise the language.

The Four custodians Baba Metzia 93a- b.

This passage discusses the liability that different types of custodians have when looking after someone else’s property. It begins with a discussion on how many types of custodian there are, and then looks at the extent of the responsibilities of a paid custodian in an unavoidable accident.

MISHNAH. There are four custodians: a gratuitous custodian, a borrower, a paid custodian and a hirer. A gratuitous custodian must swear for everything. A borrower must pay for everything. A paid custodian or a hirer must swear concerning an animal that was injured, captured [in a raid] or that perished; but must pay for loss or theft.

GEMARA. Which Tanna [maintains that there are] four custodians? Rabbi Nahman said in Rabbah b. Abbuha's name: It is Rabbi Meir.

Said Raba to Rabbi Nahman: Does any Tanna dispute that there are four custodians?

He replied: I mean this: Which Tanna holds that a hirer ranks as a paid custodian? Rabbi Meir.

But we know Rabbi Meir to hold the reverse? For it has been taught: How does a hirer pay? Rabbi Meir said, As an unpaid custodian. Rabbi Judah ruled, As a paid one!

Rabbah b. Abbuha learnt it reversed.

Read more...

If so, are there four? Surely there are only three! Rabbi Nahman b. Isaac replied: There are indeed four custodians, but they fall into three classes.

A shepherd was once pasturing his beasts by the banks of the River Papa, when one slipped and fell into the water [and was drowned]. He then came before Rabbah, who exempted him [from liability], with the remark, ‘What could he have done? He guarded [them] as people guard.’ Abaye protested, ‘If so, had he entered the town when people generally enter it [leaving his charges alone], would he still be exempt?’ ‘Yes’, he replied. ‘Then had he slept a little when other people sleep, would he also be exempt?’ ‘Even so,’ was his answer.

He raised an objection: The following are the accidents for which a paid custodian is not responsible: e.g., And the Sabeans fell upon them [i.e. the oxen and asses], and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword! (Job 1, 15) He replied, ‘There the reference is to city watchmen.’

He further raised an objection: To what extent is a paid custodian bound to guard? Even as far as,
Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night? (Genesis 31, 40) There too, he answered, the reference is to the city watchman. Was then our father Jacob a city watchman? he asked. ‘No’. He merely said to Laban, ‘I guarded for you with super-vigilance, as though I were a city watchman.’

He raised another objection: If a shepherd, who was guarding his flock, left it and entered the town, and a wolf came and destroyed a sheep or a lion, and tore it to pieces, we do not say, ‘Had he been there, he could have saved them;’ but estimate his strength: if he could have saved them, he is responsible; if not, he is exempt. Surely it means that he entered the town when other people generally do? No. He entered when people do not generally enter.

If so, why is he not responsible? Where there is negligence in the beginning, though subsequently an accident supervenes, he is liable! It means that he heard the voice of a lion, and so entered. If so, why judge his strength? What could he then have done? He should have met it with shepherds and staves. If so, why particularly a paid custodian? The same applies even to an unpaid one. For you yourself, Master, did say: If an unpaid custodian could have met it with other shepherds and staves, but did not, he is responsible! An unpaid custodian [must obtain their help only when he can procure them] gratuitously; whereas a paid custodian must even [engage them] for payment.

Finding Lost Property Baba Metzia 21a.

This is the beginning of long section of the Talmud discussing what to do when finding lost property. The principle is that the find must be announced unless it is indisputably clear that the owner has abandoned all hope of ever finding it. In such a case the lost property can be kept. The question is, in what circumstances can we be certain that the owner has abandoned hope?

MISHNAH. Some finds belong to the finder; others must be announced. The following articles belong to the finder: if one finds scattered fruit, scattered money, small sheaves in a public thoroughfare, round cakes of pressed figs, a baker's loaves, strings of fishes, pieces of meat, fleeces of wool which have been brought from the country, bundles of flax and stripes of purple, coloured wool; All these belong to the finder, this is the view of Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Judah says: Whatsoever has in it something unusual must be announced, as, for instance, if one finds a round [of figs] containing a a piece of pottery, or a loaf containing money. Rabbi Simeon b. Eleazar says: New merchandise need not be announced.

GEMARA. IF ONE FINDS SCATTERED FRUIT, etc. What quantity [of fruit in a given space] is meant? R. Isaac said: A kab within four cubits. But what kind of a case is meant? If [the fruit appears to have been] dropped accidentally, then even if there is more than a kab [it should] also [belong to the finder]. And if it appears to have been [deliberately] put down, then even if there is a smaller quantity it should not [belong to the finder]?

Read more...

R. ‘Ukba b. Hama answered: We deal here with [the remains of] what has been gathered on the threshing floor: [To collect] a kab [scattered over a space] of four cubits is troublesome, and, as people do not trouble to come back and collect it, [the owner also] abandons it, but if it is [spread over] a smaller space [the owner] does come back and collect it, and he does not abandon it.

R. Jeremiah posed a series of questions:

How is it [if one finds] half a kab [scattered over the space] of two cubits? Is the reason why a kab within four cubits [belongs to the finder] that it is troublesome [to collect], and therefore half a kab within two cubits, which is not troublesome to collect, is not abandoned, or is the reason [in the case of a kab within four cubits] that it is not worth the trouble of collecting [when spread over such a space], and therefore half a kab within two cubits, which is still less worth the trouble of collecting, is abandoned?

How is it [if one finds] two kabs [scattered over the space] of eight cubits? Is the reason why a kab within four cubits [belongs to the finder] that it is troublesome to collect, and therefore two kabs within eight cubits, which are still more troublesome to collect, are even more readily abandoned, or is the reason that it is not worth the trouble [of collecting], and therefore two kabs within eight cubits, which are worth the trouble [of collecting] are not abandoned?

How is it [if one finds] a kab of poppy-seed [scattered over a space] of four cubits? Is the reason why a kab [of fruit] within four cubits [belongs to the finder] that it is not worth the trouble [of collecting], and therefore poppy-seed, which is worth the trouble [of collecting] is not abandoned, or is the reason [in the case of a kab within four cubits] that it is troublesome [to collect], and therefore poppy-seed, which is even more troublesome [to collect], is abandoned?

How is it [if one finds] a kab of dates within four cubits, or a kab of pomegranates within four cubits? Is the reason why a kab [of ordinary fruit] within four cubits [belongs to the finder] that it is not worth the trouble of collecting, and therefore a kab of dates within four cubits, or a kab of pomegranates within four cubits, which also is not worth the trouble [of collecting] is abandoned, or is the reason [in the case of a kab within four cubits] that it is troublesome to collect, and therefore a kab of dates within four cubits or a kab of pomegranates within four cubits, which are not troublesome [to collect], are not abandoned?

The questions remain unanswered.

The Festival of Hannukah. Shabbat 21b-22a

The winter festival of Hannukah, during which lights were kindled, was instituted long after the close of the biblical period. The Talmud discusses the reasons for the festival and some of the characteristics of its observance.

Our Rabbis taught: It is incumbent to place the Hanukkah lamp by the door of one's house on the outside; if one dwells in an upper chamber, he places it at the window nearest the street. But in times of danger it is sufficient to place it on the table. Raba said: Another lamp is required for its light to be used; yet if there is a blazing fire it is unnecessary. But in the case of an important person, even if there is a blazing fire another lamp is required.

Read more...

What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev the days of Hanukkah, which are eight, [begin. On these days] lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil in there, and when the Hasmonean fighters prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one jar of oil marked with the seal of the High Priest, which contained only enough oil for one day's lighting. Yet a miracle was performed and they lit [the lamp] with it for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel [psalms of praise] and thanksgiving.

We learnt elsewhere: If a spark which flies from the anvil goes forth and causes damage, he [the smith] is liable. If a camel laden with flax passes through a street, and the flax overflows into a shop, catches fire at the shopkeeper's lamp, and sets the building alight, the camel owner is liable; but if the shopkeeper placed the light outside, the shopkeeper is liable. R. Judah said: In the case of a Hanukkah lamp he is exempt.

Rabina said in Rab's name: This proves that the Hanukkah lamp should [in the first instance] be placed within ten [handbreadths from the ground]. For should you think, above ten, let him say to him, ‘You ought to have placed it higher than a camel and his rider.’ ‘Yet perhaps if he is put to too much trouble, he may refrain from the [observance of the] precept’.

R. Kahana said, R. Nathan b. Minyomi expounded in R. Tanhum's name: If a Hanukkah lamp is placed above twenty cubits [from the ground] it is unfit, like a Tabernacles hut and a cross-beam over [the entrance of] an alley.

R. Kahana also said, R. Nathan b. Minyomi expounded in R. Tanhum's name: Why is it written, ‘and the pit was empty, there was no water in it’ (Genesis 37,24) ? From the implication of what is said, ‘and the pit was empty’, do I not know that there was no water in it; what then is taught by, ‘there was no water in it’? There was no water, yet there were snakes and scorpions in it.

Rabbah said: The Hanukkah lamp should be placed within the handbreadth nearest the door. And where is it placed?-R. Aha son of Raba said: On the right hand side: R. Samuel of Difti said: On the left hand side. And the law is, on the left, so that the Hanukkah lamp shall be on the left and the mezuzah on the right.

Rab Judah said in R. Assi's name: One must not count money by the Hanukkah light. When I stated this before Samuel, he observed to me, Has the lamp sanctity? R. Joseph demurred: Does blood possess sanctity? For it was taught: ‘He shall pour out [the blood of a slaughtered animal], and cover it [with dust]’ (Leviticus 17,13): i.e. he must cover it with what he pours it out, he must not cover it with his foot; so that commandments may not appear contemptible to him. So here too it is that commandments may not appear contemptible to him.

Causeless Hatred. Gittin 55b-56a

This is part of a long passage attributing the destruction of Jerusalem to baseless hatred between people.

R. Johanan said: What is illustrative of the verse, Happy is the man that feareth always, but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief? (Proverbs 28,14) The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza; the destruction of Tur Malka came through a cock and a hen; the destruction of Bethar came through the shaft of a leather.

The destruction of Jerusalem came through a Kamza and a Bar Kamza in this way. A certain man had a friend Kamza and an enemy Bar Kamza.

Read more...

He once made a party and said to his servant, Go and bring Kamza. The man went and brought Bar Kamza. When the man [who gave the party] found him there he said, "Hey! You tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out!" Said the other: "Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink". He said, "I won't". "Then let me give you half the cost of the party". "No", said the other. "Then let me pay for the whole party". He still said, "No", and he took him by the hand and put him out. Said the other; "Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them, to the Government".

He went and said to the Emperor, "The Jews are rebelling against you". He said, "How can I tell?" He said to him: "Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it" [on the altar]. So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way he made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but they [Romans] do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Said R. Zechariah b. Abkulas to them: People will say that blemished animals are offered on the altar. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but R. Zechariah b. Abkulas said to them, Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death? R. Johanan thereupon remarked: Through the scrupulousness of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.

The Crime of Slander. Arachin 15b-16a

The School of R. Ishmael taught: Whoever speaks slander increases his sins even up to [the degree of] the three [cardinal] sins: idolatry, incest, and the shedding of blood. It is said here: ‘May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things’ (Psalm 12,4), and it is written in connection with idolatry: Oh, this people have sinned a great sin (Exodus 32,31). Concerning incest the Bible said: How then can I do this great wickedness? (Genesis 39,9). And in connection with the shedding of blood it is written: My punishment is more great than I can bear (Genesis 4,13).

Read more...

Perhaps ‘great things’ refers to two [sins of the three]? Which of them would you exclude?

In the West [Palestine] they say: Slander about other people kills three persons: him who tells [the slander], him who accepts it, and him about whom it is told.

R. Hama b. Hanina said: What is the meaning of: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue? (Porverbs 18,21). Has the tongue ‘a hand’? It tells you that just as the hand can kill, so can the tongue. One might say that just as the hand can kill only one near it, thus also the tongue can kill only one near it, therefore the text states: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’. Then one might assume that just as an arrow kills only within forty or fifty cubits, thus also the tongue kills only up to forty or fifty cubits, therefore the text states: ‘They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth’. But since it is written already: ‘They set their mouth against the heavens’, why was it necessary to state also: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’? This is what we are informed: That [the tongue] kills as an arrow. But once it is written: ‘Their tongue is a sharpened arrow’, why was it necessary to state: Death and life are in the hand of the tongue’? It is in accord with Raba; for Raba said: He who wants to live [can find life] through the tongue; he who wants to die [can find death] through the tongue.

What constitutes evil speech? Rabbah said: For example [to say] there is fire in the house of So-and-so. Said Abaye: What did he do? He just gave information? Rather, when he utters that in slanderous fashion: ‘Where else should there be fire if not in the house of So-and-so? There is always meat and fish there’.

Rabbah said: Whatsoever is said in the presence of the person concerned is not considered evil speech. Said Abaye to him: But then it is the more impudence and evil speech! He answered: I hold with R. Jose, for R. Jose said: I have never said a word and looked behind my back.

Rabbah son of R. Huna said: Whatsoever is said before three is not considered slander. Why? Your friend has a friend, and your friend's friend has a friend.

It is Not In Heaven. Baba Metzia 59b

The passage begins with a discussion (not reproduced here) about the ritual purity of a certain type of oven. Rabbi Eliezer declares it ritually clean, the other rabbis disagree. A voice from heaven supports Rabbi Eliezer but the other rabbis reject its intervention.

On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument , but they did not accept them. He said to them: ‘If the law agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’ Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others say, four hundred cubits. ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted. Again he said to them: ‘If the law agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’ Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards — ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they replied.

Read more...

Again he urged: ‘If the law agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall. But R. Joshua rebuked them, saying: ‘When scholars are engaged in a legal dispute, what business have you to interfere?’ Hence they did not fall, in honour of R. Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of R. Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined.

Again he said to them: ‘If the law agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’ Whereupon a heavenly voice cried out: ‘Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the law agrees with him!’ But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’ (Deuteronomy30,12)

What did he mean by this? Said R. Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai. We pay no attention to a heavenly voice, because you long ago wrote in the Torah at Mount Sinai, One must follow after the majority. (Exodus 23,2)

R. Nathan met Elijah and asked him: What did the Holy One, blessed be he, do in that hour? He replied: He laughed, saying, ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’

Antoninus and Rabbi. Sanhedrin 91a

The Talmud records a number of discussions, ostensibly between Rabbi Judah, the author of the Mishnah (known usually as Rabbi) and Antoninus, possibly the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. These passages illustrate the extent of the theological and philosophical debate between the Jews and their Roman occupiers in the third century.

Antoninus said to Rabbi: ‘The body and the soul can both free themselves from judgment. The body can plead: The soul has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day it left me I lie [powerless] like a dumb stone in the grave. Whilst the soul can say: The body has sinned, [the proof being] that from the day I departed from it I fly about in the air like a bird [and commit no sin].’ He replied, ‘I will tell you a parable.

Read more...

To what may this be compared? To a human king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained splendid figs. He appointed two watchmen, one lame and the other blind. [One day] the lame man said to the blind, "I see beautiful figs in the orchard. Come and take me upon thy shoulder, that we may pick and eat them." So the lame climbed on the blind, picked and ate them.

Some time after, the owner of the orchard came and inquired of them, "Where are those beautiful figs?" The lame man replied, "Have I feet to walk with?" The blind man replied, "Have I eyes to see with?" What did he do? He placed the lame upon the blind and judged them together. So will the Holy One, blessed be he, bring the soul, place it in the body, and judge them together, as it is written, He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people (Psalm 50,4) He shall call to the heavens from above- this refers to the soul; and to the earth, that he may judge his people- to the body.’

Antoninus said to Rabbi, ‘Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?’ He replied, ‘Were it reversed, you would ask the same question.’ ‘This is my question,’ he said, ‘why set in the west?’ He answered, ‘In order to salute its Maker, as it is written, And the host of the heavens make obeisance to thee. (Nehemiah 9,6). ‘Then,’ he said, ‘it should go only as far as mid-heaven, pay homage, and then re-ascend?’ — ‘On account of the workers and wayfarers.’

Antoninus also said to Rabbi, ‘When is the soul placed in man; as soon as [its destiny] is decreed, or when [the foetus] is actually formed?’ He replied, ‘From the moment of formation.’ He objected: ‘Can a piece of meat be unsalted for three days without becoming putrid? But it must be from the moment that [God] decrees [its destiny].’ Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is written, And thy decree hath preserved my soul (Job, 10,12).

Antoninus also enquired of Rabbi, ‘From what time does the evil inclination hold sway over man; from the formation of the embryo, or from [its] birth?! — ‘From the formation,’ he replied. ‘If so,’ he objected, ‘it would rebel in its mother's womb and go forth. But it is from when it issues.’ Rabbi said: This thing Antoninus taught me, and Scripture supports him, for it is said, At the door, sin lies in wait (Genesis 4,7).

Some Themes From The Talmud

The passages below come from Everyman’s Talmud by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Cohen, a highly regarded, English, mid-20th Century Talmudic and Biblical scholar.

Written in 1932 the book takes a thematic approach to the Talmud. In his preface the author writes that his intention is to provide a summary of the teachings of the Talmud on Religion, Ethics, Folklore and Jurisprudence. The following is just a very small selection of the topics he covers. You can purchase the book here.

Cosmology

THE interest in metaphysical speculation which characterized the thinkers of Greece and Rome was not shared by the teachers of Israel to any great extent. The theories of Aristotle and Plato about the constitution of the Universe were probably not unknown to some of the Rabbis and were not without influence upon them; but natural science as a subject of study was not cultivated in the schools of Palestine and Babylon.

Read more...

On the contrary, it was strongly discouraged, as may be seen from this warning: "Whoever reflects on four things, it were a mercy if he had never come into the world, viz. what is above, what is beneath, what is before and what is after" (Chag. II, I).The verse of Ben Sira (i.e. Ecclesiasticus) is quoted in the Talmud with approval: "Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, and into the things that are hidden from thee inquire thou not. In what is permitted to thee instruct thyself; thou hast no business with secret things" (iii, 21 f; Chag. 13a). That is typical of the Rabbinic attitude. To the question, Why does the story of Creation begin with the letter beth 1 the answer is given: "In the same manner that the letter beth is closed on all sides and only open in front, similarly you are not permitted to inquire. into what is before or what was behind, but only from the actual time of Creation" (p. Chag. 77c).

Two reasons prompted the antagonism to such lines of inquiry. In the first place, it was a menace to religious faith,2 and even eminent Jewish scholars had suffered from it. There is a striking passage which relates: "Four men ascended into Paradise, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and R. Akiba. R. Akiba said to them, When you arrive at the stones of pure marble do not exclaim, 'Water, water.' Ben Azzai gazed and died; Ben Zoma gazed and became demented; Acher3 cut the plants; R. Akiba departed in peace" (Chag. 14b).

The interpretation of this cryptic passage is uncertain, but the mention of water perhaps offers the clue. The Greeks, and later the Gnostics, taught that water was the original element out of which the Universe was created, and that belief is actually mentioned in the Talmud. It is, therefore, possible that Akiba's words meant that when, in their investigation, they approached "the stones of pure marble," i.e. the Throne of God representing ultimate reality, they must avoid the theory that water supplies the explanation of the origin of the Universe.

Another reason why this kind of research was deprecated is to be looked for in the fact that the Rabbis felt that the problems of this world were more than sufficient to occupy their minds, and the consideration of transcendental theories would divert attention from matters of more practical importance. "Not inquiry but action is the chief thing” (Aboth I, 17) was their guiding principle.

Nevertheless, there were branches of study, called Maaseh Bereshith (The Work of Creation), based on Genesis i, and Maaseh Merkabah (The Work of the Chariot), based on Ezekiel i, which were cultivated by some Rabbis. The tenets were only expounded in private to selected disciples singly. No record exists of the nature of this esoteric doctrine unless parts of it are embodied in the cosmological references in the Talmud and Midrash. These references are fairly numerous, but they have no scientific value. They are not the result of rational inquiry into the phenomena presented by the Universe, but rather an attempt to deduce from the text of Scripture what it teaches on the origin and constitution of the world.

1 I.e. the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and not the first. The shape of the beth is a square open on the left side. Hebrew writing runs from right to left.
2 On the whole, it may be truly said that the Rabbis were not averse to rational inquiry, and advocated that faith should be based on reason. Compare Hillel's saying, " An ignorant person cannot be pious" (Aboth 11, 6).
3 Acher means" another." His real name was Elisha b. Abuyah. He became a sceptic and abandoned Judaism. Thereupon his former colleagues referred to him under that opprobrious title. "Cut the plants" seems to be a metaphorical allusion to his apostacy.

Imitating God

The Imitation of God is, in Rabbinic literature, set forward as the ideal after which man should strive. God is the Pattern after which human life must be delineated. Conspicuous in Him are the qualities which should be prominent in human conduct.

This doctrine is taught in several places: "What means the text, 'Ye shall walk after the Lord your God' (Deut. xiii, 4)? Is it, then, possible for a man to walk after the Shechinah of which it is written, 'The Lord thy God is a devouring fire' (ibid. iv, 24)! But the meaning is to follow the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He: as He clothed the naked (Gen. iii, 2 I), so do you clothe the naked; as He visited the sick (ibid. xviii, I), so do you visit the sick; as He comforted mourners (ibid. xxv, II), so do you comfort those who mourn; as He buried the dead (Deut. xxxiv, 6), so do you bury the dead" (Sot. 14a).

Read more...

"'To walk in all His ways' (Deut. xi, 22)-i.e. the characteristics of the Holy One, blessed be He; as it is said, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth' (Exod. xxxiv, 6); and it is said, 'Whosoever shall be called by (sic) the name of the Lord shall be delivered' (Joel ii, 32). But how is it possible for a man to be called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He? As the All-present is called compassionate and gracious, so be you also compassionate and gracious, and offering free gifts to all. As the Holy One, blessed be He, is called righteous (Ps. cxlv, 17), be you also righteous; as He is called loving (ibid.), be you also loving" (Sifre Deut. § 49; 8sa).

'''This is my God and I will adorn (sic) Him' (Exod. xv, 2). Is it, then, possible to adorn God? Yes, by resembling Him; as He is compassionate and gracious, be also compassionate and gracious" (Mech. ad loc.; 37a). "The King has a· retinue; what is its duty? To imitate the King" (Sifra to xix, 2). "Be like Me; as I repay good for evil, so do you repay good for evil" (Exod. R. XXVI, 2). "A man should always learn from the mind of his Maker. Behold the Holy One, blessed be He, ignored (lofty) mountains and hills and caused His Shechinah to alight on Mount Sinai (which is lowly), and ignored all the fine trees and caused His Shechinah to alight upon a bush" (Sot. sa). Similarly, man should not be haughty and should associate with the humble.

The Rabbis, on the other hand, did not overlook that in the Bible qualities are attributed to God which should not be copied by man, such as jealousy and anger; and they offer a reason why in such matters the doctrine of Imitation does not apply. "'I the Lord thy God am a jealous God' (Exod. xx, 5) –I am the Master of jealousy and jealousy is not master of Me" (Mech. ad loc.; 68a). "With a human king wrath controls him, but the Holy One, blessed be He, controls His wrath; as it is said, 'The Lord avengeth and is full of wrath' 1 (Nahum i, 2)" (Gen. R. XLIX, 8).

The doctrine of the Imitation of God is, accordingly, not only the actual foundation of Talmudic ethics but its motive and inspiration. It created the feeling in man that when his life Was morally right, he gained the approval of his Maker, but more important than that, established his kinship with God. It thereby provided the all-sufficient incitement to righteous conduct.

Education

The principal responsibility that rested upon parents was to train their children for their life as members of the Community of Israel. The ideal aimed at was to forge them into secure links in the chain of continuity so that the religious heritage which had been bequeathed by the preceding generation may be transmitted unimpaired to the generation which would follow. The indispensable requisite for such a consummation was the instilling into them of a knowledge of Torah. The command, .. Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deut. vi, 7), was taken very seriously, and was included in the prayers offered every morning and evening.

Read more...

Many are the utterances in the Talmud which dwell upon the importance of this duty. "He who rears his children in the Torah is among those who enjoy the fruit in this world while the capital remains for him in the World to Come" (Shab. I:27a). " Whoever has a son labouring in the Torah is as though he never dies" (Gen. R. XLIX, 4). "Whoever teaches his son Torah, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had received it from Mount Horeb; as it is said, 'Thou shalt make them known to thy children and thy children's children' (Deut. iv, 9), and it continues, 'The day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb' (ibid. 10)" (Ber. nb).

One reason for the extraordinary high value set upon education was love of learning for its own sake. A current proverb declared: "If you have acquired knowledge, what do you lack? If you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?" (Lev. R. I, 6). But. deeper still was the consciousness that the existence of the community depended upon the diffusion of knowledge. Language could scarcely convey in more forcible terms the importance of education than these aphorisms: '''Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm' (I Chron. xvi, 22)- ‘Mine anointed' are the schoolchildren, 'My prophets' are the scholars." "The world only exists through the breath of schoolchildren." "We may not suspend the instruction of children even for the rebuilding of the Temple." "A city in which there are no schoolchildren will suffer destruction" (Shab. II9b).

Very significant is the legend which formed part of an old homily: "No philosophers have arisen in the world like Balaam the son of Beor and Oenomaos of Gadara. All the heathens assembled to the latter and said to him, 'Tell us how we may successfully contend against the people of Israel.' He answered, 'Go to their Synagogues and Schools, and if you hear there the clamour of children rehearsing their lessons, you cannot prevail against them; for so their patriarch (Isaac) assured them, saying, "The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are ,the hands of Esau " (Gen. xxvii, 22), meaning that when Jacob's voice is heard in the Houses of Assembly, the hands of Esau are powerless' " (Gen. R. LXV, 20). The consequence of this keen desire for the instruction of children was the establishment of schools. The first attempt at creating a school-system was apparently made by Simeon b. Shetach in the earlier half of the first century before the present era; but a comprehensive scheme was carried out by Joshua b. Gamla a few years before the destruction of the Temple. " Remember for good the man named Joshua b. Gamla, because were it not for him the Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. At first a child was taught by his father, and as a result the orphan was left uninstructed. It was thereupon resolved that teachers of children be appointed in Jerusalem; and a father (who resided outside the city) would bring his child there and have him taught, but the orphan was again left without tuition. Then it was resolved to appoint teachers (for higher education) in each district, and boys .of the 'age of sixteen and seventeen were placed under them; but it happened that when the master was angry with a pupil, the latter would rebel and leave. Finally Joshua b. Gamla came and instituted that teachers should be appointed in every province and in every city, and children about the age of six or seven placed in their charge" (B.B. 2Ia).

This is probably the earliest record of the adoption of universal education in any country. In course of time this excellent institution appears to have declined, because we find a Rabbi declaring: "Jerusalem was only destroyed for the reason that people neglected to send their children to school" (Shab. II9b). In making this declaration, he was not so much stating a historical fact as driving home to the parents of his own time the danger of not utilizing the schools for the instruction of their children. Not all parents were so neglectful, and we read. of a certain Rabbi who "never tasted his breakfast until he had taken his child to school" (Kid. 30a).

Peace and Justice

The stability, as well as the happiness, of a community can only be assured when it rests upon a foundation of peace. Talmudic aphorisms on this subject are numerous. Some examples are: "By three things is the world preserved : by truth, by judgment, and by peace; as it is said, 'Judge ye the truth and the judgment of peace in your gates' (Zech. viii, 16)" (Aboth 1, 18). "'Ye shall not cut yourselves' (Deut. xiv, )}-do not form yourselves into sections, but be all of you one band" (Sifre ad loc.,94a).1 "'The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light' (Is. Ix, 19) ~~ when you will all be a single band; as it is said, 'Ye are alive every one of you this day' (Deut. iv. 4). It is the experience of the world that if a man takes a bundle of reeds he is unable to break them while they are tied together; but if they are taken singly, even a child can break them" (Tanchuma Nitzabim § 1).

Read more...

In the absence of peace there can be neither prosperity nor well-being. "'The land shall yield her increase' (Lev. xxvi, 4) - lest you should say, Behold there is food and drink (what more do we want?). But if there is no peace, there is nothing; so the text continues, 'I will give peace in the land' (ibid. 6). It declares that peace is equal in worth to everything" (Sifra ad loc.). "Beloved is peace, since the benedictions only conclude with the hope of peace. Similarly the priestly benediction concludes with 'and give thee peace' (Num. vi, 26), thus teaching that the blessings are of no avail unless accompanied by peace" (Num. R. XI, 7).

That God intended the world to be blessed with peace is illustrated in this manner: "Mankind was first created as a single individual because of the various families which have issued from him, that they should not quarrel one with the other. Since now there is so much strife although he was created one, how much more so if there had been two created!" (Sanh. 38a).

Great praise is bestowed upon the peacemaker. One of the virtues of which man eats the fruit in this world and the capital remains for the World to Come is "establishing peace between a man and his fellow" (Peah. 1,1). Strikingly beautiful is this legend: "A Rabbi was standing in a market-place when Elijah appeared to him. The Rabbi asked him, 'Is there anybody in this market-place who will have a share in the World to Come?' Ellijah answered there was not. In the meanwhile there came two men, and Elijah said, 'These will have a share in the World to Come.' The Rabbi asked them, 'What is your occupation? ' They answered, 'We are merrymakers; when we see men troubled in mind we cheer them, and when we see two men quarrelling we make peace between them'" (Taan. 22a).

1 There is a pIay of words here: .. to cut" is gud, and" band" is agudah.

Health and Diet

Together with cleanliness is combined moderation of diet as a pre-requisite for a healthy constitution. "R. Gamaliel said, For three things I admire the Persians: they are temperate with their food, modest in the privy, and modest in their marital relations" (Ber 8b). The general rule is prescribed: "Eat a third (of the capacity of the stomach), drink a third, and leave a third empty" (Git. 70a). Among the mass of the people the most frugal diet seems to have been usual, whether on grounds of poverty or prudence. The Talmud mentions as the evening meal of "the poor man," on returning home from his work, "bread with salt" (Ber. 2b); but even for those who could afford a more elaborate meal it is stated: "Bread with salt in the morning and a jug of water will banish all illnesses" (B.K. 92b);

Read more...

"Who eats the minimum quantity from which Challah1 has to be offered is healthy and blessed; who eats more is a glutton, and who eats less suffers from intestinal trouble" (Erub. 83b). "Who wished to be spared disorder of the bowels should accustom himself to dip (his bread in vinegar or wine). Withdraw your hand from the meal from which you are deriving enjoyment2 and do not delay answering nature’s call" (Git. 70a). "Up to forty, eating is beneficial; after that age drinking is beneficial" (Shab. I52a).

The right time to take food is when the need for it is felt. " While you are hungry eat, while you are thirsty drink (Ber. 62b). As a rule the mass of people partook of two meals daily, an exception being made in honour of the Sabbath, when an additional meal was to be provided. The evening meal was taken at home after the day's toil was over; but the morning meal was eaten by the labourer while at work. The Talmud gives a time-table for different classes of persons: "The first hour3 is breakfast-time for gladiators, the second hour for robbers, the third hour for property-owners,4 the fourth hour for workmen, and the fifth for people generally. Another opinion is: the fourth hour is the time for people in general, the fifth for workmen and the sixth for the disciples of the Sages. To breakfast later than that is like throwing a stone into a wine-skin;5 that is if he has not tasted anything previously in the morning, but if he had done so it does not matter" (Shab. 10a). R. Akiba advised his son: "Rise up early and eat, in summer on account of the heat and in winter on account of the cold. The proverb says, 'Sixty runners ran but did not overtake the man who breakfasted early'" (B.K. 92b).

A meal should be taken sitting, because "to eat or drink standing shatters the body of a man" (Git. 7oa). When a person is travelling, the quantity of food consumed should be reduced. "One who is on a journey should not eat more than the amount that is customary in years of famine, because of disorder of the bowels" (Taan.10b).

Moderation in all things is the wise rule to adopt. "Do not sit too much because it is bad for piles; do not stand too much because it is bad for the heart; do not walk too much because it is bad for the eyes; but spend a third of the time sitting, a third standing, and a third walking" (Keth. 111a). "In eight things excess is harmful and moderation beneficial: travel, sexual intercourse, wealth, work, wine, sleep, hot water (for drinking and washing), and blood-letting" (Git. 70a).

The need for rest through sleep is recognized. "Night was created for sleep" (Erub. 65a),. declared a Rabbi. "Sleeping at dawn is like a steel edge to iron" (Ber. 62b), said another meaning thereby that it is health-giving and invigorating. On the other hand, "Morning sleep puts a man out of the world" (Aboth III, 14), and" a man is forbidden to sleep during the daytime more than the sleep of a horse. How much is that? Sixty breaths" (Suk. 26b). Another statement is: "Food induces sleep" (Joma 1,4). The Rabbis believed that it was impossible for a human being to live without sleep for three consecutive days. This is implied in the law "If a man says I will not sleep for three days,' he is castigated and must sleep forthwith" (p. Ned. 37b), because he has made a vain oath which is impossible of fulfilment except with fatal consequences: It is interesting to note that "a sleeping potion" is mentioned in the Talmud by means of which an abdominal operation was performed (B.M. 83b).

The fact is appreciated that the state of the mind has an effect upon the state of the body, and a happy and contented frame of mind should be cultivated. It is said, for example, that a sigh breaks half the body of a man," and according to another opinion "it breaks the whole body" (Ber. S8b). "The evil eye (i.e. envy), the evil inclination, and hatred of his fellow-creatures put a man out of the world" (Aboth II, 16). "Three things weaken the strength of a man : fear, travel, and sin" (Git. 70a).

1 The quantity alluded to is seven quarters of a log of flour. The log was a liquid measure equal to the contents of six eggs.
2 i.e. do not eat more than you should just because you like the food.
3 The day was reckoned as commencing at six a.m. The first hour would consequently be 7 a.m.
4 Meaning the class which does not depend on manual labour for a livelihood.
5 i.e. useless; the body does not derive benefit from the food since its vitality had been lowered too much to ensure proper digestion.

Repentance

Inasmuch as God created man with the evil impulse, by reason of which he is prone to sin, justice demanded that an antidote should likewise be provided for his salvation. If wickedness is a disease to which the human being is susceptible, it was necessary for him to have a medium of healing. Such is to be found in repentance.

Read more...

Quite logically, therefore, the Rabbis declared that repentance was one of the things which were designed by God even before the world itself was formed. "Seven things were created before the Universe came into being. They are: Torah, Repentance, Paradise, Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah" (Pes. 54a). The world, having been created as the abode of man, had to be equipped for his reception. In the Torah was the scheme of right living which he was to follow. But allowance had also to be made for his lapses from the paths of perfection, and this was done by the other things enumerated.

First place is assigned to repentance, because without it mankind could not endure and would be overwhelmed by a flood of wickedness. Not only has it the power of stemming the tide of evil; it is capable of neutralizing it and making life wholesome after it has been tainted by wrongdoing. "Great is repentance, for it brings healing to the world. Great is repentance, for it reaches to the Throne of Glory. Great is repentance, for it makes the Redemption (by the Messiah) to come near. Great is repentance, for it lengthens the years of a·man's life" (Joma 86a et seq.). "The place which the penitent occupy the perfectly righteous are unable to occupy" (Ber. 34b). "There is nothing greater than repentance" (Deut. R. II, 24). "Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life of the World to Come" (Aboth IV, 22).

Since, as the Bible declares, God delights not in the death of the wicked but that he tum from his evil way and live (Ezek. xxxiii,11), it follows that He is anxious for man to repent and facilitates his endeavour to do so. "Not like the attribute of the Holy One, blessed be He, is the attribute of man. When a human being is conquered he grieves; but when He is conquered1 He rejoices. The words of Ezekiel, 'They had the hands of a man under their wings' (i, 8), refer to the hand of God which is extended beneath the wings of the Chayyoth to receive penitents from the power of judgment" (Pes. 119a). "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, My sons, open for Me an aperture of repentance as narrow as the eye of a needle, and I will open for you gates through which wagons and coaches can pass" (Cant. R. V, 2). "The gates of prayer are sometimes open and sometimes closed, but the gates of repentance are ever open. As the sea is always accessible, so is the hand of the Holy One, blessed be He, always open to receive penitents" (Deut. R. II, 12).

1 By having his anger overcome by means of repentance and turned to mercy.

Charity

All man's possessions are but a loan from the Creator of the Universe, to Whom belong the earth and the fullness thereof, and by his charity he merely secures a more equitable distribution of God's gifts to mankind. No better definition of the Rabbinic idea of Tzedakah could be suggested than this utterance: " Give unto Him of what is His, seeing that you and what you have are His; this is found expressed by David who said, ' For all things come of Thee, and of thine own have we given Thee' (I Chron. xxix, 14)" (Aboth III, 8). It also explains the Talmudic law: "Even the beggar who is maintained by charity must himself practise charity" (Git. 7b). Nobody is exempt from the duty.

Read more...

An act of charity, accordingly, not only helps the needy but confers spiritual benefit upon the giver. "More than the householder does for the beggar, the beggar does for the householder" (Lev. R. XXXIV, 8). An interesting account has been preserved of a conversation between R. Akiba and the Roman Governor of Palestine, Tineius Rufus, on this subject. "Tineius Rufus asked, 'If your God loves the poor why does He not provide for them?' Akiba answered, 'So that we may be delivered through them from the penalty of Gehinnom.'1 The Roman said, 'On the contrary, it should make you liable for Gehinnom. I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a human king who was angry with his slave, imprisoned him and ordered that he was not to be provided with food or drink; and then a person goes and feeds him and gives him to drink. When the king hears of it, will he not be angry with him? You are called servants, as it is said, "Unto Me the children of Israel are servants" (Lev. xxv, 55).' Akiba replied, 'I will give you a parable: To what is the matter like? To a human king who was angry with his son, imprisoned him and ordered that he was not to be provided with food or drink; and then a person goes and feeds and gives him to drink. When the king hears of it, will he not reward him? We are called children, as it is said, "Ye are children of the Lord your God" (Deut. xiv, I). Behold, it was He Who declared, "Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?" (Is. lviii, 7)''' (B.B. l0a).

Akiba's remark about charity being a medium of expiation is found elsewhere in the Talmud: "Who prolongs his stay at table prolongs his life; perhaps a poor man will come and he will give him some food. So long as the Temple was in existence, the altar used to atone for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him" (Ber. 55a), by having the poor as his guests.

How great is the merit derived from almsgiving is the moral of this story. "It was said of R. Tarphon that he was exceedingly rich but did not give to the poor. Once R . Akiba met him and asked, 'Would you like me to buy a town or two for you?' He agreed and forthwith handed him four thousand golden denarii. Akiba took them and distributed them among the poor. After a while Tarphon met him and asked, 'Where are the towns you bought for me?' Akiba took him by the hand and led him to the House of Study; he then brought a copy of the Psalms, placed it before the two of them, and they went on reading until they reached the verse, 'He hath dispersed, he hath given to the needy; his righteousness endureth for ever' (Ps. cxii, 9). Akiba exclaimed, 'This is the city I bought for you.' Tarphon stood up, kissed him, and said, 'My master and guide, my master in wisdom and guide in right conduct!' He handed him an additional sum of money to disperse in charity" (Kallah).

1 i.e. charity is a means of atonement for sin.

to top >
website by Digitalplot