Page 8 - COMPARATIVE AMERICAN AND TALMUDIC CRIMINAL LAW
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Gemara. The Mishnah, which was reduced to writing in approximately 200 C.E., is a
codification of basic Jewish law derived from Biblical text and the law which had been
transmitted orally during the preceding centuries.16 The far lengthier Gemara, often referred to
in and of itself as the Talmud, is a series of commentaries and debates of the Sages in the
Babylonian and Palestinian academies of learning over the next three centuries.17 Taking as their
springboard the casuistic hornbook law of the Mishnah, the Gemara scholars argued, searched,
extrapolated, and attempted to reach conclusions on legal issues of every conceivable kind.18
But it is the debates themselves, rather than the rules propounded, that are the glory of the
Talmud. In the far ranging discussions of the Sages, no question is too hypothetical,19 no subject
is deemed irrelevant20 or taboo.21 Profound conceptualization22 and logic23 are found alongside
mysticism and stories,24 and free, though not random, association of legal subjects and concepts
is the norm. All this and more is reflected in the editing of the Talmud, which is a synopsis of
these debates.

         A typical page of the Talmud contains both the text of the Talmud and commentaries
thereon. In its center are the Mishnah and Gemara. Surrounding this text, in a smaller script that
is a variant of Hebrew known as Rashi script, there are two commentaries, one by Rashi (an
acronym for Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac), the famed eleventh century rabbi, philologist and
commentator on the Bible and Talmud, who lived in France, and the second by the Tosafists,
who were descendants and pupils of Rashi, including his sons-in-law, grandchildren, and great-
grandchildren, and who lived during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in France and Germany.
The commentaries of the Tosafists, which are referred to as the Tosafot (additions), were
compiled by a Tosafist of a later generation. The Rashi commentaries are always found on the
inside of the folio page near the binding, while the Tosafot are always found on the outside.

      Rashi gives what are called pshat interpretations. Although the root meaning of pshat is
"plain," "simple," or "literal," the Rashi commentaries are brilliant, concise, didactic line-by-line
explanations of almost the entire Talmud, which tend to derive their meanings from the language
and context of the particular passage of Mishnah or Gemara.25 The scholarly discussions of the
Tosafists, on the other hand, focus on particular issues, and often resolve ostensible
contradictions between the text being commented upon and material elsewhere in the Talmud.
Thus, while the commentaries of the Tosafists are likely to be in greater depth, they do not
provide the broad sweep and background of Rashi's coverage.

         In the margins of the folio pages, surrounding these two primary commentaries, are
various cross-references. Three of these are major and appear with frequency throughout the
Talmud: (a) to the Bible; (b) to other parts of the Talmud treating the topic of the referenced
Talmudic passage; and (c) to the major post-Talmudic codes of Jewish law.26 In addition, the
margins may contain notes by other authorities.

      Thus, it is said that Talmud students read down the page using both index fingers, one on
the text of the Talmud itself, and the other, on an accompanying commentary, and that they
move from the "inside," that is, the text of the Talmud, to the "outside," that is, the
commentaries.

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