Why Was the Talmud Called Gemara? – Talmud – Chabad.org

Posted By on January 20, 2020

Talmud (study) is the name for the vastcollection of texts that covers the full gamut of Jewish law and tradition,compiled and edited between the third and fifth centuries.

Thereare two parts of the Talmud: the Mishnah, a collection of terse teachingswritten in Hebrew, redacted by Rabbi Judah the Prince; and a second part thatincludes elaborations on the Mishnah, citing many teachings, traditions andexplanations of the rabbis (read the full historyof the Talmud here). This commentary onthe Mishnah is labeled Gemara in classic editions of the Talmud, but thisdoes not seem to have always been the case.

Furthermore,in many instances, the word talmud itselfwas removed from the text of the Talmud and replaced with gemara.Apparently, this was to avoid Christian censors, who hated the Talmud, whichthey perceived as a threat to their traditions.

Whywas the word gemara used, and whatdoes it mean?

TheTalmud tells us that the word gemararefers to oral traditionsand studyRabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105), explains that it connotesthe teachings provided by later sages to elucidate and clarify the words ofearlier sages.Elsewhere, he explains that it refers to the principles and underlyingreasoning of the Mishnah and halachah,and how to resolve seeming contradictions in the Mishnah.

Thereseems to be only one clear instance in the Babylonian Talmud (and none in theJerusalem Talmud) where the term gemarais used to refer to the body of the Talmud in general as it is used today.

Atthe conclusion of an incident in which a group of rabbis were discussing thelaws of an eruv placed under a tree,the Talmud states:

Rav Nachman said tothem: Correct, and so said Shmuel.

[The rabbis] said tohim, Did you analyze the Mishnah so thoroughly?!

The Talmud explains: Whywere they so amazed [that he studied thoroughly]? They too subjected theMishnah to rigorous scrutiny. Rather, this is what they said to him: Did youestablish it in the gemara?

[To which] Rav Nachmanreplied, Yes, [I did].

Althoughthe term gemara seems to be used herein the conventional sense, it needs to be stressed that the Talmud had not yetbeen written at the time of this exchange. Rather, as Rabbi Sherira Gaon (c.906-1006) explains in his famous epistle, during the generations of theTalmudic sages, when a teaching had become unclear due to the diminishingcapacity of the students, they would establish the exact wording in carefullykept official oral records, which was called the gemara and later recorded as the Talmud. Thus, the gemara was the official interpretationof the Mishnah accepted and sanctioned by the Talmudic academies of the time.However, the teachings and learning was all done orally. It was only later thatit was all written down, as was done with the Mishnah years earlier.

Thisfurther supports the understanding that gemaraoriginally referred to oral traditions and the act of repeating andlearning them, not a written body of text.

Someexplain that the word gemara isrelated to the Hebrew word gemar,which means finished or conclusion, since it is the conclusion of thewriting of the Oral Torah.

Ona deeper level, some explain that the term gemarais rooted in the phrase gumra deasha,a fiery coal.For when one learns Torah purely in order to serve Gd, he ignites withinhimself a fiery passion.

RabbiChaim Lowe (brother of the famed Maharal of Prague) explains that Talmud studyis a form of spiritual protection. This is alluded to by the word gemara, which is an acronym for the fourhosts of angels, each one headed by the archangels, whosing Gds praise and surround the person to save him from harm:

Gabriel Michael Raphael Uriel

Maythe merit of our Torah learning protect us all!

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Why Was the Talmud Called Gemara? - Talmud - Chabad.org

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