Why Do Jews Study Talmud?

On the various motivations and interests which brought Jews into a cross-generational conversation called Talmud.

Print this page Print this page

This must not be understood too literally. The point is not that God dictated the entire Talmud to later rabbis in the same way some believed the Written Torah had been dictated to Moses, but rather that in the Talmud the Jew could find a clear expression of God's will. The Talmud provided the means of determining how God wants all Jews to live, in all places, at all times. Even if the details of the law had to be altered to suit newly arisen conditions, the proper way to perform such adaptation could itself be learned from the Talmud and its commentaries. Thus this basic text uncovered the fullness of God's rev­elation to the people of the Covenant. The Talmud revealed God speak­ing to Israel, and so the Talmud became Israel's way to God. To study Talmud was to converse with the Creator of the Universe.

For this reason, even before the Talmud was complete, ancient rabbis had evolved such a complicated etiquette for Torah study that study became a religious ritual in its own right, indeed, in the opinion of many, the most sacred ritual that Jewish life had to offer. In its most ambitious expression, rabbinic thinking came to see this activity as not only a way to more toward God—it was also a way to be like God, for God too studies Torah, taught Rav Judah, three hours a day (Avodah Zarah 3b). In the end, therefore, the act of Talmud study was holy beyond the holiness to be found in the words of the text. Jews studied Talmud because the act brought them closer to the divine.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Robert Goldenberg is a professor of history at the State University of New York at Stonybrook.