|SIDEBAR - "Talmud"
The Talmud (Oral Torah or "Oral Law") consists of two sections.
1. The Mishnah (Repetition) - Code of Jewish law edited by Rabbi Judah HaNasi about 200 CE.
The Hebrew verb 'shanah' literally means 'to repeat' [what one was taught] and is used to mean 'to learn'. The term 'Mishnah' basically means the entire body of Jewish religious law that was passed down and developed before 200 CE, when it was finally written down by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi (Judah the Prince). He is usually simply referred to as 'Rabbi'.
Prior to the time of Rabbi, all Jewish Law was transmitted orally; It was expressly forbidden to write and publish the Oral Law, as any writing would be incomplete and subject to misinterpretation and abuse. However, after great debate, this restriction was lifted when it became apparent that it was the only way to insure that the law could be preserved. To prevent the material from being lost, Rabbi took up the redaction of the Mishnah. He did not do this at his own discretion, but rather examined the tradition all the way back to the Great Assembly. Some tractates preceded him; these he merely supplemented.
During this time period (around 200 CE) the Mishnah, as such, was never published. Instead the main study of Jewish law was conducted in memorized form, except for private letters and notes.
The Mishnah consists of six sections (sedarim). Each of the six
orders contains between 7 and 12 tractates, called 'masekhot' (or books). Each masekhot is
divided into smaller units called 'mishnayot' (or verses). The Mishnah, which can be
printed by itself, is laid out much like the Bible, with chapters and verses. For
example, the first verse of the tractate Yoma is referred to as Yoma 1:1.
The term 'gemara' means addition; The gemara is an addition to the Mishnah. Interestingly, although there is only one Mishnah, there are two gemaras, each developed by many rabbis over a few centuries. One gemara was developed in Israel, and is called the Yerushalmi (The Jerusalem Talmud); the other was developed in Babylonia, and is called the Bavli (The Babylonian Talmud, which is the one used the most). You will never find the gemara printed by itself. It is always printed along with the Mishnah.
Thus: Mishnah + Gemara = Talmud
Keep in mind that the gemaras do not stick closely to the text, but offer a huge amount of additional material which is only loosely connected to the Mishnah. They supplement the Mishnah with haggadic (story) materials and biblical expositions, and are a source for history and legend.
Each tractate (or book) of the Talmud starts out with a single verse (mishnah) from the Mishnah (which is printed in all capital letters in the English version to distinguish it from the Gemara) of the same tractate. It is then followed by the gemara (which can go on for many pages) for that mishnah, followed by the second mishnah and its gemara, and so forth. Each of the pages in the Talmud is numbered as follows: 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, and so on.
So, for example, the beginning section of tractate Yoma in the Talmud would look like this:
Why is it important?
Information in the written form is, by definition, secondary and limited in scope. That's why the Oral Torah is 50 times the size of the Written Torah! (In actuality, the Oral Torah is infinite. It contains the totality of Torah, which -- as the word of the infinite God -- is by its very definition infinite.) It is used to clarify and explain how to perform the various commandments in the Torah.