How the Talmud works and why the Talmud won


  • Jacob Neusner University of South Florida and Bard College


Talmud, Mishnah, Philosophy, Jewish, Philosophy, Greek, Judaism and philosophy -- Greek philosophy


A single document, the Talmud of Babylonia – that is to say, the Misha, a philosophical law code that reached closure at ca 100 C.E., as read by the Gemara, a commentary to thirty-seven of the sixty-three tractates of that code, compiled in Babylonia, reaching closure by ca 600 C.E. – from ancient times to the present day has served as the medium of instruction for all literate Jews, teaching, by example alone, the craft of clear thinking, compelling argument, correct rhetoric. That craft originated in Athens with Plato’s Socrates for the medium of thought, and with Aristotle for the method of thought, and predominated in the intellectual life of Western civilization thereafter.  When we correlate the modes of thought and analysis of the Talmud with the ones of classical philosophy that pertain, we see how the Talmud works, by which I mean, how its framers made connections and drew conclusions, for the Mishnah and Gemara respectively. And when we can explain how the Talmud works, I claim, we may also understand why it exercised the remarkable power that it did for the entire history of Judaism from its closure in the 7th century into our own time. These two questions – how it works, why it won – define the task of this presentation.



How to Cite

Neusner, J. (1996). How the Talmud works and why the Talmud won. Nordisk judaistik/Scandinavian Jewish Studies, 17(1-2), 118–138.