The Editing of the Talmud

How the sages' debates across many generations became the monumental works known as the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds

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This is not to deny that earlier strata are to be found in the Bavli in the form of units complete in themselves. Such strata can be detected in the work, but the whole seems to have been refashioned to provide a complete literary unit. The debate on this and similar matters still goes on among modern talmudic scholars.

Another problem is why it was decided to put all the material together at the particular time when this was done. What was the reason for "the close of the Talmud" as this was referred to in the Middle Ages, suggesting that at a certain date in the history of Jewish learning, a halt was called to a continuing process which now had to be finalized?

Sherira Gaon--and he is followed by all subsequent scholars--gives as the reason the persecutions to which Jews were subjected, which could have resulted in them forgetting the Talmud, or rather the actual debates and so forth, unless these were compiled and recast in a complete, accessible form.

The Yerushalmi in all current editions consists of the Mishnah and the Gemara of the Yerushalmi, and the Bavli of the Mishnah and the Gemara of the Bavli. But properly speaking, the Talmud Yerushalmi consists of the Gemara alone and the Talmud Bavli of the Gemara alone. (The Mishnah, of course, is a work of its own, compiled long before the Gemara.)

Nevertheless, the whole is now referred to as the Talmud. Since the Mishnah is now part of the complete Talmud, and there are six orders of the Mishnah, the Talmud is often referred to as Shas (an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of Shishah Sedarim, "Six Orders"). Thus a scholar with profound knowledge of the Talmud is spoken of as a "baki ["expert"] in Shas".

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.