Talmud Words and Phrases – My Jewish Learning

Posted By on December 30, 2019

The Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah, a thirdcentury compendium of Jewish law. Its mostly composed of the quoted traditions of hundreds of rabbis from the first to fifth centuries, organized into topical discussions that frequently proceed associatively, rather than systematically. Its written in Aramaic, but quotes many Hebrew text and the two languages are intertwined throughout. When it quotes the Bible, it often does so partially, assuming the reader can complete a biblical verse from memory. In short, the Talmud is text written by insiders, for insiders. Breaking in means getting straight on the Talmuds basic vocabulary. These are common words associated with the Talmud that you should know:

Amora Pronounced ah-MORE-ah (plural Amoraim) this word refers to rabbis in both the Land of Israel and Babylonia in the third through fifthcenturies who are quoted in the Gemara.

Bavli Pronounced BAHV-lee, this refers to the version of the Talmud produced in Babylonia (in English, the Babylonian Talmud). It is one of two Talmuds (the other is the Yerushalmi), and it is the more complete, the more studied, and the more sacred of the two. When people refer simply to The Talmud they usually mean the Bavli. The Bavli is the foundational text of Judaism.

Beraita Pronounced BRY-tah, this refers to a teaching by a Tanna (first-third century rabbi) that is not in the Mishnah. Many though not all beraitas are collected in the Tosefta.

Halacha Pronounced hah-lah-KHAH, from the Hebrew word for walking or path, is the rabbinic interpretation of Jewish law.

Havruta Pronounced khav-ROO-tah, this word refers to a partner with whom one studies Talmud.

Gemara Pronounced ge-MAH-rah, this is the bulk of the text of the Talmud and it is the sum of all the various commentaries on the Mishnah. Sometimes the word Talmud refers to the Gemara alone, though it usually refers to the combination of the Mishnah and the Gemara.

Massechet Pronounced mah-SEH-khet, this word means tractate. The Babylonian Talmud is composed of 63 massechets.

Mishnah/mishnah Pronounced MISH-nah, the Mishnah is a third-century compilation of rabbinic law. It is the core of the Talmud, which is a collection of commentaries on the Mishnah. The world mishnah (small m) refers to a single teaching in the Mishnah.

Rashi Rashi, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, was one of the greatest expositors and commentators on the Talmud. He lived in 11th-century France and also wrote a classic commentary on the Bible.

Shas Pronounced SHAHS, this is actually an acronym for the Hebrew term shisha sidrei, meaning six orders referring to the six orders of the Mishnah. The term is used, however, as a shorthand for Talmud.

Siyyum Pronounced see-YOOM, this is a celebration that one makes when one has completed a certain defined set of study, often one massechet, or tractate, of the Talmud.

Sugya Pronounced SOOG-ya, this refers to a set of arguments in the Talmud that together discuss a particular issue or mishnah. A sugya is a kind of sustained argument on a subject. These are the building blocks of the Talmud (almost like unmarked chapters).

Tanna Pronounced TAH-nah (plural Tannaim), the Tannaim were teachers who flourished in the Land of Israel in the first two centuries CE and whose views appear in the Mishnah.

Tosafot A set of commentaries to the Talmud that add to Rashis commentary, primarily composed by his grandchildren.

Tosefta Pronounced toe-SEF-tah, this refers to a collection of Tannaitic teachings (from firstthirdcentury rabbis) that follows the same structure as the Mishnah. The teachings that appear in the Tosefta are called beraitas.

Yerushalmi Pronounced yeh-roo-SHAHL-mee, this refers to the version of the Talmud produced in the Land of Israel, and it is less complete, less studied, and less authoritative in Jewish tradition, though still holy.

Want to learn Talmud with us? Daf Yomi is a program of reading the entire Talmud one day at a time, and My Jewish Learning is offering a daf yomi email for the first tractate of the next cycle, starting on January 5, 2020. Sign up for it here!

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