Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VIIPart VIII | Part IX | Part X



An Introduction to the Talmud

by Dr. Harris Brody

Part I

Recently a Jewish lady in a nursing home rolled her wheelchair out of the Bible study. A nurse pushed her back in. At the end of the Bible study I greeted her. She greeted me with, "I am Jewish." I told her, "So am I, praise the Lord!" To her, as with most Jewish people, being Jewish includes rejecting Yeshua as Messiah and Savior and accepting the Rabbis' teachings of the Talmud as authoritative. One Jewish student at Temple University said that the Tenach (the Old Testament) is only an index to the Talmud. "The Talmud," he said, "is the Word of God, not the Bible, at least not in the same way."

What Is the Talmud?

Just what is the Talmud? Basically it is a very old collection of the sayings of rabbis of all ages and in all parts of the world. It is a commentary on the Tenach (Jewish Bible). Among other things, it contains much devotional and inspirational material. The Talmud is the civil and canonical law of the Jewish people. It contains references not only to the religious life but also to philosophy, medicine, history, jurisprudence and practical duty. More particularly it prescribes dietary and ceremonial regulations. Most Jews today have never seen a Talmud and know little or nothing of its contents. However, what they hear and learn from their rabbis and from tradition, they accept without question. Most do not even realize that the rabbis quarrel among themselves in the Talmud and many questions discussed by them remain unanswered.

One needs to always remember that the Talmud is only a commentary; not the inspired Word of God. A knowledge of it can be a great asset in ministry to my brethren in the flesh. By studying the Talmud one can better understand Jewish people.

The Talmud contains much that is beautiful and admirable; it is of high ethical standards. There is much that refers to the Messiah. Based on its teachings either the Messiah has already come or else He will never come. Note these quotes concerning the Messiah:

  • "All the prophets prophesied not but of the days of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 99a).
  • "All the prophets prophesied concerning, or up to, the days of the Messiah; but beyond that eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee"(Berakoth [or Berachoth] 34b).

We will deal with this subject later in our study.

A Jew who truly believes in the Talmud must conclude that Yeshua is Messiah. Otherwise, the Talmud and God are unreliable.

The Talmud's Beginnings

The Talmud had its roots in the Babylonian captivity (588 BC). God had permitted the Jews to go into exile because of their sin, especially the sin of idolatry. This captivity had a purifying effect on the Jews. They saw first hand the vileness of the heathen cults in Babylon and they longed again to worship God in holiness at Jerusalem. They realized that they had suffered because they had forsaken the Law of God (Torah - five books of Moses) and gone after other gods. They resolved not to do it again. Ezekiel's message and the elders of Judah, who sat under the prophet's teaching, made an impact on the Jewish community (Ezekiel 8:1;14:1; 20:1).

Some believe this was the beginning of the synagogue. In any event, it became the religious center for an exiled and homeless nation. Copies of the Scriptures were also preserved in the synagogue. In this religious center, it awakened many for the study of the Scriptures. This demand created a need for more qualified men to become teachers. These teachers were called "scribes." Their two-fold task was to copy the Scriptures that were scarce and then to teach them and explain them. This was especially so since Hebrew was becoming a dormant language. Sacred and meticulous care was exercised in copying the Scriptures. The debt we owe them is inferred in Romans 3:2. The apostle Paul proclaims "...unto them were committed the oracles of God."

According to Ezra 7:6, Ezra himself was "a ready scribe in the Law of Moses." He helped restore the Law as a guide of living. In one place the Talmud says, "When the Law had been forgotten by Israel, Ezra came up from Babylon and re-established it." In Nehemiah 8:1-10:39 we find a great revival taking place under the leadership of Ezra. Ezra, as a scribe, had a particular ministry in explaining and teaching the Scriptures. "So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:8). Ezra caused the people to understand the Scriptures by explaining to them the "sense" of it. It is from this simple statement in Nehemiah that we have the beginnings of the Talmud.

The understanding of the Law of God, the Torah, was vital for their existence as a nation. The Jew had learned in the Babylonian captivity that he had to remain distinct from the heathen in both religious and secular life. Every aspect of his life was to be a constant reminder that he must remain distinct and holy. Beginning with Ezra, and all who followed, every word of the sages was memorized. This oral teaching was passed down and became the basis of the Talmud. The very explanation of the text became accepted as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves.

The Burdens Of The Oral Law

The word Talmud means "study" or "learning." It consists of two parts. The older is called the Mishnah, which is a compilation of oral laws, and the Gemara, the second part, is the recording of the discussions. Basically the Talmud is referred to as the Oral Torah; whereas the Torah, or the Written Torah, is the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

The Jews believe that, according to tradition, not only the Written Torah was given to Moses at Mount Sinai but also the Oral Torah. Ancient tradition says, from Exodus 20:1, that God had communicated to Moses the Bible, the Mishnah, Talmud and the Haggadah (legends, folklore, parables, etc.) (Berakoth 5a). It is said Moses received all the law, oral and written, with all its interpretations and applications. He handed it down to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the men of the great assembly (Avot 1:1). A question among the rabbis was why Moses did not write down all the teachings entrusted to him. The answer was that the Gentiles should take from them the Written Law, but the unwritten traditions would remain open to separate Israel from the Gentiles.


Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VIIPart VIII | Part IX | Part X


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