What is the Talmud's relationship to the Torah?


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Don't know much about it except that the Talmud apparently continued to evolve well into the Common Era.
Hey Netti.

I'm sure BB will get around to this thread and give a very different answer, for some parts of this, than I will give.

The talmud can be broken down into the mishna and the gemara. The mishna is fairly straightforward, not a lot of actual discussion going on, not so many different perspectives presented. That was compiled in 200 CE by Yehuda HaNasi. The conversations, as I mention in the other thread, go back a few hundred years. The gemara is written around the mishna. There are actually two gemaras, there's the jerusalem talmud and the babylonian talmud. The babylonian talmud is generally more relied upon. It makes more sense, was finished later, but the jerusalem talmud spends more time on agricultural laws which is also important. The babylonian talmud was finished being compiled around 500,600 CE. There's some disagreement about when it was completed, though it never really was completed because of the nature of Jewish scholarship. People kept writing more, some of which ended up in publications of the Talmud itself, some of which carried on to other texts which carried on to other texts and so on. The gemara varies a lot from the mishna. The way it's framed, it's a discussion of the mishna. But the discussion doesn't really stay on topic. It'll make references to alternative sources -- there were other compilations besides the mishna that were similar but contained varied rulings in some cases -- look at the biblical roots of the mishna, tell stories about the Jewish sages and about biblical figures, pass on adages, legal rulings and ethical teachings. And eventually it finds its way back to the mishna and keeps going.

The Talmud, as I see it, is an attempt to take the practices of the people at that time and religious innovations and connect them back to the Torah while presenting a system for continuing to do so in the future, one which could change and adapt over time by applying the same methodologies as are applied in the Talmud. You asked in the other thread about the roots of the Talmud in the Torah. Much of the talmud has its roots in the Torah in that it operates according to a system of exegesis to show how things connect back to the text. The 613 mitzvot or commandments of the talmud are biblical in origin. It does, however, say a lot of things that go beyond what's in the written Torah by expanding upon it. It would be impossible to understand rabbinic Judaism from the Torah alone.

The tradition is that there's a written and oral Torah that were passed down on sinai, though opinions on what the oral Torah is vary. One idea is that the oral Torah is the methodology for application. In pirkei avot, a mishna without a gemara, at the very beginning of it a lineage is drawn out going from Moses all the way down to the rabbis.

For me, the Torah is like a skeleton. All Jewish writings root themselves in the Torah and connect back to it. I think BB has remarked, in response to my objection to finite revelation, that to him the revelation of Torah is not really finite because it continues to this day.

-- Dauer
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Hi Dauer, thank you for that clarification. I had some quick questions for you.

Would be accurate to say that back in Jesus' day

1) The oral Torah was referred to as "the tradition of the elders" and that it involved interpretations of the law of Moses.

2) The Pharisees were proponents of oral Torah

3) The Sadducees tended to have a stringent lifestyle that reflected their commitment to a literal interpretation of text combined with a rejection of oral Torah .
Hi Netti.

1. I don't think we can accurately say how the oral Torah was regarded at that time because it has been identified differently by different communities. My personal sense is that it may have been identified with those practices and traditions which were not explicitly mentioned in the Torah as well as extra-biblical traditions, teachings and stories which were later recorded in the works of midrash and the Talmud alongside other writings that had a different origin. However I also think there may have been an element of oral Torah as a particular methodology like you suggest. The beginning of pirkei avot or ethics (edited to add [of the fathers] xD ) states: "Moses revealed the Torah from Sinai and conveyed it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly..." which is the lineage that I had mentioned before. This is generally taken as a passing along of interpretive authority.

2. Yes.

3. Not exactly. At least according to the Talmud, the Sadducees were stringent in their focus on cultic ritual but paid less attention to ethical motivations and the spirit of the law. So for example, the rabbinic move from emphasis on daily and special offerings to emphasis on daily prayer and acts of lovingkindness and righteousness is based in the prophetic tradition and its talk of "empty qorbanot" and offering the "bull of your lips" and the many passages that speak of G!d's desire being that people are good to each other, not that they maintain the sacrificial system, that spiritual practice is for the benefit of the people and without ethical behavior it is empty. Later, around the year 1200, Maimonides would suggest that the sacrificial system was introduced because it's what the people knew as a form of spiritual practice, that had prayer been introduced at that time it would be like a prophet coming in his time and saying that sitting in contemplation of G!d is enough. What I get from that is that the form practice takes should fit the individual and the community and is not something absolute which can't change over time. That in turn is in line with an idea presented in the Talmud that all of the mitzvot are chukim. A chok is a type of mitzvah that doesn't have a specific reason for its practice attached to it. There are different categories of mitzvot. Some are more ethical, some are remembrances of a historical or ahistorical event. The chukim are a particular category. I read that as saying that the form the mitzvot take are arbitrary. From the perspective of the text I would see it as saying that G!d could have chosen a different system of practice and given the diversity of religion in the world I'd personally say G!d chose many different systems of spiritual practice.

There are other differences too. Supposedly, iirc, the sadducees rejected the idea of the resurrection of the dead which the pharisees held. But again, it's really hard imo to say all that much about the sadducees because of the pharisaic bias against them. We don't have any surviving sadducean writings nor that I know of the writings of groups who took after the sadducees.
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Thanks for this detail, Dauer, muchly appreciated.

You might also be able to tell me: where does the Essene Kaballah fit into the scheme of things?

I don't know a lot about the Essenes, but Kabbalah designates something that developed during a much later period. There was a form of mysticism that existed at that time within the Jewish community called merkavah mysticism and there is a type of literature called heikhalot literature which, it is unclear whether it is detailing particular spiritual experiences or not.

-- Dauer
Hey Netti.

I wanted to say a little more for further clarification. I do know a little about the Essenes but you probably know more than I. I know they were very concerned with laws of ritual purity and that they lived in their own community separate from everyone else. I'm pretty sure they were very apocalyptic. That's all I know. lol.

As to the merkava mysticism that I mentioned, I don't know if it was common outside of rabbinic Judaism or not. It's based heavily around Ezekiel's vision of the chariot but it's not clear if he was a practitioner of a form of mysticism that preceded him or if his vision inspired merkava mysticism. Although the traditions of merkava mysticism are no longer practiced today, some ideas from merkava mysticism were incorporated within the later kabbalistic tradition.

-- Dauer