The Editing of the Talmud

How the sages' debates across many generations became the monumental works known as the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds


Excerpted with permission from

The Jewish Religion: A Companion
, Oxford University Press

Around the year 400 CEthe teachings, debates and discussions that took place among the Palestinian Amoraim (rabbis of the period of the Gemara) were drawn on to form the Palestinian Talmud, the Yerushalmi.

There has been much discussion on the question of who the editors of the Yerushalmi were. There is evidence, stylistic and historical, that some sections of the Yerushalmi were edited earlier, and in a different center, from others. The style of the Yerushalmi is, in any event, terse, even “choppy,” so that some scholars have suggested that the work never received any final redaction at all and is an incomplete, unfinished work.

A similar process is to be observed in the Babylonian Talmud, the Bavli, compiled some time around the year 500 CE(the date is very approximate). The style of the Bavli is, however, much more elaborate than that of the Yerushalmi. Apart from five tractates, the style of the Bavli is uniform, suggesting that the same editors were responsible for the whole work, with the exception of these tractates. Yet even these five tractates differ only slightly from the rest in style and vocabulary, so the impression is gained of a coordinated editorial activity, though one carried out in at least two different Babylonian centers.

editing the talmudAlthough Palestinian Amoraim are frequently mentioned in the Bavli and Babylonian Amoraim (rabbis of the period of the Gemara) in the Yerushalmi (naturally so, since some of the sages of each country visited the other from time to time, carrying the teachings with them), the weight of scholarly opinion is that the editors of the Bavli did not have before them the actual text of the Yerushalmi, nor did the Palestinian editors have anything like a proto-Bavli. If the editors of either had had access to an actual text of the other, it is inconceivable that they would not have mentioned this. Here the argument from silence is very convincing.

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Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.

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