Sea of Talmud II

How amoraic study sessions became the Gemaras.

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Had the process stopped there, the structure of the Talmuds would have been much simpler, but the process described here continued over generations, even centuries. This led to the gradual development of what are called sugyot, talmudic discus­sions, or essays, as it were, on specific topics. As discussions were passed down, generation after generation, from one circle of scholars to another, they were augmented with comments and glosses.

This process continued in both Babylonia and Palestine into the fifth century. At this point, the development of the Palestinian Talmud was virtually arrested by the anti‑Semitic legislation and the difficult economic and social situation faced by the Jews of Palestine underthe sway of the Byzantine Empire.

In Babylonia, however, the developing Talmud underwent an additional process. It was at this time that the anonymous discussions, the s’tam, which weave together and interrelate all the earlier material, were intertwined in the text. In this way a more prolix and more easily understandable Talmud was achieved.

This, indeed, was one of the several factors leading to the greater popularity and authority of the Babylonian Talmud in subsequent centuries. The redactors who inserted these anonymous links and glosses also added some of the more extensive digressions, and provided the formulary introductions which allow us to identify Mishnah, baraita, and the statements of individual amoraim.

In essence, up through the early fifth century, the vast majority of the statements preserved in the Talmuds have attributions, i.e., the statement is cited in the name of a particular rabbi. Thereafter, the bulk of the material is anonymous, serving to fill in gaps and make the whole a unified, sensible creation. There is only a limited amount of anonymous material in the Palestinian Talmud because its amo­raim ceased to be active in the fifth century.

In Babylonia, however, where the activity of creating the Talmud was able to continue, the anonymous redactors did their work and then were followed by the savoraim, "interpreters", who added the final touches, including the occasional halakhic rulings ("the law is according to …") and certain philological explanations. Their work continued up to the seventh century.

While we know that some of the amoraim kept written notes, the formal activity of the amoraim, like that of their tannaitic predecessors, was conducted orally. There is little information about the writing down of the two Talmuds‑-so little, in fact, that it is impossible to speculate confidently about the process. The best we can say is only that written manuscripts of the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds are first mentioned after the Islamic conquest (634 C.E.), and that the dissemination of manuscriptscontinued through the Middle Ages until the inven­tion of printing.

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.