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29 The Hebrew alphabet contains 22 letters, each of which represents a consonant, with the exception of two silent
letters. In addition, there are ten vowels that are represented by symbols placed below, above, and to the side of the
letters. Most verbs in Hebrew consist of three letter roots, from which all verb tenses as well as related nouns and
adjectives are derived. Without vocalization, a given set of letters may have a number of different meanings.
Familiarity with the language and context often assist in determining meaning. See EHUD BEN-YEHUDA & DAVID
WEINSTEIN, BEN-YEHUDA'S POCKET ENGLISH-HEBREW HEBREW-ENGLISH DICTIONARY ii-v, xi-xii (1961).

           Although closely related to Hebrew and similar in structure, the Aramaic of the Talmud is abbreviated and
colloquial, and creates an additional language barrier. See ARYEH CARMELL, AIDING TALMUD STUDY 48 (5th ed.
1986) [hereinafter A. CARMELL]; see also MARCUS JASTROW, DICTIONARY OF THE TARGUMIM, TALMUD BABLI,
YERUSHALMI AND MIDRASHIC LITERATURE v-xiii (1985) (describing difficulties of translating terms from the
Gemara).

           The lack of punctuation further impedes understanding, since it is often difficult to determine who the
speaker is, where a sentence ends, whether a statement is being made or a question asked, whether a point has been
concluded, and so forth.
30 This is not to suggest that the Talmud was written in a sloppy or unprofessional manner. Indeed, the opposite is
true. Because the Sages were obliged to memorize huge bodies of material, of necessity they developed shorthand
techniques for expressing laws, concepts, and ideas. Since the Rabbis had intimate knowledge and understanding of
the law, they had no difficulty comprehending the truncated expressions they used. With the passage of 1,500 years,
however, what may have originally been clear and straightforward to them has become cryptic and terse to us. See
STEINSALTZ, ESSENTIAL, supra note 15, at 33–36. In addition, there may have been a concern that redaction of this
material would rigidify its meaning and would thus be antithetical to the oral tradition. That is, even though the
Sages deemed it essential to reduce the Talmud to writing, they did so in a truncated manner calculated to permit the
ongoing development of the Oral Law. See A. COHEN TALMUD, supra note 16, at xxxi.

           All this helps to explain why translations of the Talmud into English are of limited assistance to the
beginning student. Indeed, Hebrew-speaking Israelis attempting to read the Talmud for the first time are almost as
stymied as English speakers dependent on the translation. It was this inaccessibility that led Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
to undertake translation of the text into modern Hebrew with vowels and punctuation. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz,
Giving the Talmud to the Jews: An Israe1i Rabbi Makes the Sacred Pages Accessible to Everyone, TIME, Jan. 18,
1988, at 64.
31 See S. HA-NAGID, INTRODUCTION TO THE TALMUD, reprinted in A. CARMELL, supra note 29, at 68–76;
32 ADIN STEINSALTZ, THE STRIFE OF THE SPIRIT 80–81 (1988).
33 Leon Wieseltier, Unlocking the Rabbis’ Secrets, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 17, 1989, § 7, at 3.
34 In most instances, the Gemara discussion will begin with a direct reference to the Mishnah that precedes it and on
which it is based. Thereafter, the discourse will often follow a path of relatively free association. That discussion,
however, generally relates to the Mishnah in some way, either directly or indirectly.

           Sometimes the associations are quite free indeed. Thus, the mere mention of a certain Sage's view on one
issue might prompt a discussion of his opinions of completely unrelated matters. For example, the Babylonian
Talmud contains a debate concerning the propriety of muzzling oxen––a practice generally prohibited by the Torah,
see Deuteronomy 25:4. Rabbi Papa's views on this subject are followed by his opinion concerning whether one may
knead dough with milk. BABYLONIAN TALMUD, supra note 3, Baba Mezia 91a. Often the purpose of such
juxtapositions is to facilitate memorization.
35 See generally STEINSALTZ, ESSENTIAL, supra note 15, at 64–73 (describing process of Talmudic exegesis over
centuries in various diaspora communities).
36 See id. at 73 ("The standard method of study consists of utilizing the great classic exegetic works, the
commentaries on them, and the exegesis on the commentaries themselves (known as the 'arms bearers' by later
generations)."); see also Warburg, A Bibliographic Guide to Mishpat Ivri: Books and Articles in English, 1 NAT'L
JEWISH L. REV. 61 (1986) (providing bibliography of Jewish law material in English).

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