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The Talmud.—Rabbinical Account of the Oral Law.— Compilation of the Mishna :—of the Jerusalem Gemara:—of the Babylonian Gemara.—Remark on Want of Evidence in favour of the Oral Laze.—Alleged Necessity of an Oral Law.—Reason why it was not committed to writing.—Praises of the Talmud.—The thirteen Ways of reasoning employed by the Rabbies in expounding the Law.
THIS work is not designed to include an account of all the Jewish writers who have flourished in modern ages, and whose works have been held in high esteem by their nation down to the present day. They are so numerous, that a catalogue of their names, with a brief specification of the times when they lived and the treatises they wrote, would exceed the limits of this volume.' But among the productions of Jewish pens, it is necessary to devote a few pages to the Talmud; which is regarded by the rabbies and their followers with a veneration exceeding what they shew even for the scriptures themselves.^
The word Talmud signifies learning, wisdom, doctrine. The work distinguished by this title consists of two parts,—the Mishna, which denotes a repeated or second law; and the Gemara, by which some understand a supplement or completion, and others a commentary or discussion. *
Vid. Biblioth. Mag. Rabb. Bartoloc. et Irnbonat. 5 torn. Wolf.
oth. Ueb. 4 vol.
Pseif. Thcol. Jud. F,x. i. Th. M.
The Jews acknowledge two laws, which they believe to have been delivered to Moses on mount Sinai; of which one was immediately committed to writing in the text of the Pentateuch, and the other is said to have been handed down from generation to generation, for many ages, by oral tradition. Of the origin and transmission of this Oral Law, they have favoured the world with the following account.
All the precepts of the law given to Moses were accompanied with an interpretation. God first dictated the text, and then gave him an explication of every thing comprehended in it. The text was commanded to be put into writing; and the explication to be committed to memory, and to be communicated to that generation, and afterwards transmitted to posterity, only by word of mouth. Hence the former is called the written law, and the latter the oral law.—When Moses came down from the mount, he delivered both these laws to the people. As soon as he was returned to his tent, he was attended by Aaron; who sat at his feet, and to whom he recited the text, and taught the interpretation, which he had received from God in the mount. Then Aaron rising and seating himself on the right hand of Moses; Eleazar and Ithamar entered, and Moses repeated to them all that he had communicated to their father: after which they arose, and seated themselves, one on the left hand of Moses and the other on the right hand of Aaron. Then went in the seventy elders, and Moses taught them in the same manner as he had taught Aaron and his sous. Afterwards entered the congregation at large, or all of them who were desirous of knowing the divine will; and to them also Moses recited the text and the interpretation, in the same manner as before. These two laws, as delivered by Moses, had now been heard, by Aaron four times, by his sons three times, by the seventy elders twice, and by the rest of the people once. After this, Moses withdrawing, Aaron repeated the whole that he had heard from Moses, and withdrew: then Eleazar and Ithamar did the same; and on their withdrawing, the same was done by the seventy elders: so that each of them having heard both these laws repeated four times, they all had them firmly fixed in their memories.*
* Buxtorf. Lex. Chald. Talrn..et Rabin Col. 1146, 1147. 2474. 452. Wolf. Bib. Heb. vol. ii. p. 658—663.
The word Talmud is sometimes applied exclusively to the Gemara, and sometimes, though more seldom, exclusively to the Mishna; but this is only by a common figure of speech, which gives to a part the name of the whole.
Toward the end of the fortieth year after the departure from Egypt, Moses assembled the people, announced the time of his death to be near, directed those who had forgotten any tradition he had delivered to come to him that he might repeat it to them anew, and invited them to apply to him for a solution of all questions in which they found any difficulty. The last month of his life was employed in giving these repetitions and explications to the
* Maimon. in Pocock. Porta Mosis, p. 5—7. Oxon. 1C65.
people, and especially to Joshua his successor; who was the second receiver of the oral law, and was charged with the transmission of it to the next generation. According to these explications, Joshua and the elders of his time gave sentence. Whatever they had received from Moses, was admitted without any controversy or disagreement: but if there was any branch respecting which nothing had'been delivered by Moses, the decision proper to be made in such a case was discovered by fair inference from the original precepts, by the help of some of the thirteen rules given to Moses on mount Sinai, which are so many ways of argumentation to elicit the true sense of the law. In some cases of this kind, there was but one opinion, and the decision was received with universal consent: whenever there was a difference of sentiment, the opinion of the majority prevailed. Towards these explications of the law, and the deductions drawn from it by the thirteen rules, no assistance was contributed by the spirit of prophecy; but Joshua and Phineas proceeded merely in a way of disquisition and argumentation as Rabina and Rabbi Ashe did afterwards.*
A prophet might suspend any law, or authorize a violation of any precept, except those against idolatry,. for a limited time. Thus, after the erection of the temple at Jerusalem, where alone sacrifices were thenceforth to be offered, Elijah, in order to confound the priests of Baal, offered a sacrifice upon mount Carmel; and God testified his acceptance of it by consuming it with fire from heaven.' If a prophet of undoubted credentials should command all persons, both men and women, to light fires on the sabbath day, for the purpose of preparing instruments to arm themselves for war, and on the same day to kill the inhabitants of any place, to seize their wealth, and use their women according to their pleasure; it would behove all who have received the law, of Moses, to rise up against that place without delay, at the prophet's command, and speedily and diligently to execute all that he should direct, without scruple or hesitation; believing that all these actions done on the sabbath day would be rewarded by God as acts of obedience to the prophet, obedience to whom has been enjoined by the Lord in an affirmative precept given by Moses: "Unto him shall ye hearken." Deut. xviii. Is, But a prophet had no power to abrogate, extend, or diminish any precepts of the written law, or any received traditional explication of them. Thus, if he should say, in opposition to the written law, (Lev. xix. 23—25.) that the fruit of newly planted trees might lawfully be eaten the third year, or might not lawfully be eaten the fourth year: or, if he should contradict any traditional explication, even though the letter of the text be in his favour; as for example, if he should say, that the denunciation of the law, (Deut. xxv. 12.) "Thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not "pity her," is not to be understood of a pecuniary fine, according to the traditional interpretation, but
* Ibid. p. 9-11.