“First of all, what is the Talmud?” asks Rabbi David Eidensohn, and then answers his own question.
“Although the Talmud is printed in book form, it was not designed as a book. Rather, the Talmud is the Oral Law. What is the Oral Law? G-d at Sinai gave the Ten Commandments and the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, to Israel. This was written down, and is today the Torah Scrolls read in the synagogue. In addition, G-d gave Moses an Oral Law. The Oral Law was a code to interpreting the Written Law. True to its name, it was not written down, although scholars could make notes. For about 1500 years the Talmud was memorized, that is, the arguments of the sages were memorized, and a scholar was required to know much of it by heart. But this standard could only be maintained when the Jews lived in Israel. After the Destruction of the Second Temple, the Jews could not longer maintain such a level, and the rabbis had to compile written editions of the Talmud.
“Our point is, that a book must be written for an audience, but the Talmud is not written for an audience. It is simply a collection of oral discussions of the rabbis. The audience for these oral statements were other rabbis. Talmudists are known to be ferocious debaters, and therefore, the level of ferocity in the verbal exchanges is very high. The Talmud wanted this and taught, “When the father and son study Torah, they seem to hate each other from the vicious debating. But when they cease learning together, we see that they love each other.” This applied to all learners. In debate they must fight for the truth. They must argue with every fiber. But this was never personal. This led to a very high level of truth, because an opponent would tear you apart if you made a mistake. The rules were, you had no pity on anyone, not even a parent or a child. This led to the parent or child becoming better scholars, so everyone was satisfied.
“Because the high level of intellectual debate created a climate of savage invective, we find rabbis saying incredible things to defend themselves in debate. They take oaths, they utter incredible imprecations, because nothing must stand in the way of accurately recording the teachings of the Torah. Every rabbi felt like a chain in the Law from Sinai, and any mistake, any laxity, could break the chain and ruin it. Thus, people spoke as they did. A Medieval gentile who entered an ancient Spanish Yeshiva described it as a den of bull fights. Yeshiva students don’t just read when they study, they argue, and the room is a roar of debate.
“When I discuss Torah with my children or grandchildren, if I don’t get war, I am sad.
“If you want the Jewish attitude towards gentiles and pagans, read the Jewish Torah literature, beginning with the bible or the Five Books of Moses and going through the Talmud,. If you do, and are careful in your reading, you will notice something extremely interesting. The Jews lived more or less at peace with the gentiles during the entire Biblical Era. The Jewish Era in the Bible begins 3700 years ago with the Jewish year 2000, with Abraham’s becoming a Jew. Abraham was greatly honored and respected by all of the Egyptian and Canaanite Kings. So was his son Isaac, and so was his grandson Jacob. Other than a few problems with having their wives taken and then returned, the basic atmosphere was quite positive. One bad episode was when Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped, but it is obvious from the story in the bible that this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Even when the sons of Jacob destroyed the village of the rapist, the pagan kings despite their feelings did not harm the Jews.”
The Rabbi wrote: “The Talmud is the Oral Law. What is the Oral Law? G-d at Sinai gave the Ten Commandments and the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, to Israel…In addition, G-d gave Moses an Oral Law. The Oral Law was a code to interpreting the Written Law.”
What I find hard to fathom is that although the Talmud is considered divine revelation – originally in oral form – of written revelation (Written Torah), it arouses “a very high level of ferocity in the verbal exchanges.” This can only mean that the sages (chochomim) who are supposed to be guardians of God’s revelation (given to Moses at Sinai) are not sure what it is but will defend ferociously what they interpret it to be. Things must really get hot considering that the fierce debates are not only on the Mishna (the commentary on the Written Torah) but on the commentary (Gemara) on the Mishna. I haven’t, though, come to blindly and blithely attack the Talmud but to defend it – on one point at least. Here is someone, very perplexed, who asks on Yahoo answers:
I recently read some shocking pieces of informations about how should jews treat gentiles..these quotations are taken from talmud and torah:
The Jews are called human beings, but the non-Jews are not humans. They are beasts.” (Talmud: Baba Mezia 114b).
Here is the best answer rated by Yahoo readers: “Its always hilarious to see the lengths that anti-Semites will go to in order to try and attack Judaism! “heh- you claim your so called quotes come from the Talmud and Torah (don’t forget the Torah was written 3500 years ago, the Talmud closed to further commentary 1600 years ago)- lets see: Baba Mezia – yes, that is the Talmud, but the quote is mad up and cannot be found anywhere on the tractate!”
Yes, that is correct, Baba Mezia 114b, in my Soncino edition, does not even mention the word “beast.” So, why do you see hundreds of cuttings and pastings of such beastly things on so many blogs parasiting one another’s ignorance? Because they’re not interested in truth. Let’s see what Baba Mezia 114b does say about non-Jews (Gentiles):
Beginning of Baba Metzia 114b (Soncino Edition, my italics)
[He asked him further:] Whence do we know that a naked man must not separate [terumah]? —
From the verse, That He see no unclean thing in thee.1 Said he [Rabbah] to him: Art thou not a priest:2 why then dost thou stand in a cemetery?3 — He replied: Has the Master not studied the laws of purity?4 For it has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: The graves of Gentiles do not defile, for it is written, And ye my flock, the flock of my pastures, are men;5 only ye are designated ‘men’.6
(1) Deut]XXIII, 15; man must not appear before God in an unclean state, which includes a state of nudity. When one separated terumah, he had to utter a benediction, and this is regarded as appearing before God.
(2) According to legend, Elijah and Phinehas (Aaron’s grandson) were identical.
(3) A priest must not defile himself through the dead. Standing in or near a grave effects such defilement.
(4) This is also the name of the sixth order of the Talmud, treating of these laws. From Rabbah’s answer,
that he has had no time to study the six orders, it appears that he was referring to the actual order, though he proceeds to quote a Baraitha and not a Mishnah from that order.
(5) Ezek. XXXIV, 31.
(6) Cf. Num. XIX, 14: This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent; all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
So all that is being said here is not that Gentiles are beasts but that they are not men – not sons of Adam, I infer. For all we know “not men” could mean plants or rocks but not necessarily beings belonging to the “animal” kingdom. Neanderthals? Hmmm.
Rabbi Eidensohn comments on “the idea that non-Jews are not human. This idea does not exist in the Talmud or anywhere else, for one simple reason. A non-Jew has a soul, and when G-d created the world there were no Jews. G-d said, “Let us make ADAM in our image and our form” and He meant gentiles. Thus, Jews are not the only ones called “Adam” or person. Furthermore, every Jewish child begins studying the bible in Leviticus, where it says, “A man (Adam) who brings an offering to G-d.” The first offering discussed is a burnt offering, and gentiles bring it, even pagans. Therefore, they are “Adam” or people. The person who translated that gentiles are not ADAM as not being human made a mistake. Adam is not a word that defines people relative to animals. It defines people relative to G-d and holiness. We must know the context besides the exact translation.”
Leviticus is spot: all people are (of) Adam. If this is so, tractate Eruvin 21b loses me; to wit:
(Soncino Edition with notes)
Eruvin (Eiruvin, Erubin) 21b (my italics)
R. Hisda asked one of the young Rabbis who was reciting aggadoth in his presence in a certain order: ‘Did you hear what [was the purport of the expression,] ‘New and old’? 9 — ‘The former’ 10 the other replied: ‘are the minor, and the latter10 are the major commandments’. ‘Was then the Torah,’ the former asked: ‘given on two different occasions? 11 But the latter 12 [are those derived] from the words of the Torah while the former are those derived from the words of the Scribes.’
Raba made the following exposition: What is the purport of the Scriptural text: And, furthermore my son, be admonished: Of making many books etc.? 13 My son, be more careful 14 in [the observance of] the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah, for in the laws of the Torah there are positive and negative precepts;15 but, as to the laws of the Scribes, whoever transgresses any of the enactments of the Scribes incurs the penalty of death.
(9) Cant. VII, 14.
(10) Lit., ‘these’.
(11) Lit., ‘twice, twice’, first the major (old) and then the minor (new) commandments?
(12) Lit., ‘those’, the ‘old’.
(13) Eccl. XII, 12.
(14) הִזָּהֵר[hizaheir], the identical word used for ‘be admonished’.
§(15) And the penalties vary.
In Eruvin 21b, the scribes (Talmud) contrasts the Torah with the Talmud, where it is clearly stated that the Talmud requires more care than the Torah. Now, we saw above that the Talmud tells us that Gentiles are not “men,” (of Adam). What Eruvin 21b is telling us, in no uncertain terms, is that the Jew stands on two legs, the Torah and the Talmud; a thin leg – the Torah, a fat leg – the Talmud. I now ask whether Rabbi Eidensohn’s argument that Gentiles are also descendents of Adam has a leg to stand on? It seems not.
Don’t expect any ferocious debate on that one from onepusillanimousJew.