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Talmud for students, explains:

         [The Talmud] is not a book, it is a literature without a parallel in the literatures of
         the world. Furthermore, this vast edifice accommodates not only the religious,
         civil, criminal, and ethical laws which are usually embraced by the term Halacha;
         it embodies also legendary lore, moral maxims, and a rich material of historical
         and ethnographical value, together with witty sayings, personal reminiscences,
         and some references to science as it existed in those days.

 According to Adin Steinsaltz, a famous contemporary translator of the Talmud:

         Talmudic discussion . . . constructs various hypothetical situations, from the
         analysis of which the inherent abstract principle comes to the fore. Since these
         situations do not necessarily stem from real life, these cases may deal with
         unrealistic or nearly impossible problems; . . . however, the main function of the
         Talmud is to serve not as a compendium of practical law but as a vehicle of
         theoretical explication. . . . Even though there was a need to rule in practice
         among different options within the halachah, [Jewish law] on the theoretical
         plane (which constitutes the bulk of the Talmud) the halachah is best understood
         by comparison to a complex equation with a number of possible solutions. From
         this follows the talmudic saying, "Both of these are the words of the living God,
         and the halachah follows so-and-so. . . ." Each solution is deserving of full
         clarification in its own right. The fact that a given approach is not accepted for
         purposes of halachic decision-making does not deny its truth value or its
         importance in principle.32

In a review of Adin Steinsaltz’s English translation of the Talmud, Leon Wieseltier captured the
essence of the Talmud in the following terms:

         The texts of the Talmud take no prisoners. They appear to be formless.
         They are sublimely, maddeningly concise. They think silently. They reverberate
         endlessly, and seem to have all of the Talmud in mind all of the time. They
         digress to a degree that puts modernism to shame. They seem the very enemy of
         style, the very enemy of system. And yet, as the generations of glossators saw,
         they are never what they seem. They are, in fact, masterpieces of style, of a
         precise, chiseled, classical language rarely equaled for the intensity of its beauty.
         And they are the unsystematic records of some of the earliest monuments of
         systematic thought.33

Yet the Talmud is not disorganized. The Gemara is arranged according to the six divisions or
"orders" of the Mishnah. Since, however, these orders were broad and general classifications,
and since the debates usually used the Mishnaic laws as starting points and then often proceeded
into other areas by way of structural association, the discussions are generally not confined to
strict categories of subject matter.34 Many dialogues meander (for lack of a better word), albeit
purposefully, from one subject to another without losing sight of the issue originally presented,
or of the permutations along the way. Thus, although the discussion at the end of a Gemara may

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