Commentaries on the Talmud

The Talmud is a difficult book, and many commentators have worked to explain and illuminate it.

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The author of this article includes in this summary those commentaries that appear on a page of Talmud.  There are many other commentaries on the discourse in the Talmud: Some of these--such as the Rif (mentioned below in the section on Rashi), Rambam's (Maimonides') commentary to the Mishnah, and the commentary of the Ramban (Nachmanides, 1194-1270), called "Milchamot Hashem"--appear at the back of a volume of Talmud. Others such as the Shitah Mekubetzet (see below under "additional commentaries") appear in separate book form.Excerpted with permission from A Practical Guide to Torah Learning (Jason Aronson, Inc.).  © 1995

The Babylonian Talmud, from its very first printing, has had a number of commentaries and notes included on each page. Although there are minor variations among editions published in different countries and at different times, the Romm Vilna edition has become the standard… That edition includes the following:

Rashi

On the inside margin of the page is the commentary of Rashi (R. Shlomo Yitzhaki, France (1040-1105). Rashi, the most famous of the commentators to the Talmud, explains and translates the talmudic dialogue while, for the most part, refraining from subjecting the text to analysis or comparison to parallel texts in other tractates.

the talmudThe commentary can be seen as a phraseological exposition designed to enable the student to understand the discussion. Rashi provides a wealth of historical and practical information that gives the student the means to understand the references to places and things with which most readers would be unfamiliar. In addition, he often translates obscure terminology into Old French…

Rashi edited his commentary extensively; the commentary that appears in our texts is, according to tradition, the third version. His commentary has become so popular that no edition of the Talmud can be considered complete without its inclusion. According to tradition, Rashi wrote a commentary to the entire Talmud, but did not manage to complete the editing process before he passed away.

The commentary that appears in his name to tractate Nedarim is not considered to be his. The commentary to tractate Makkot (from 19b) was completed by his student and son‑in‑law, R. Yehudah ben Natan (Rivan) and the commentary to tractate Bava Batra (from 29a) was written in his style by his grandson, R. Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam). The commentary of Rashi that is usually printed alongside the Rif (an 11th century work summarizing the halakhic material in the Talmud, by R. Yitzhak Alfassi) is not considered to be accurate and may be based on earlier versions. Some editions of the Talmud have the headwords of Rashi's commentary set in bold, square Hebrew script.

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Rabbi Dovid Landesman is the author of books on talmudic subjects, and translated numerous other works on various Jewish topics.