troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Literature: The Talmud
A collection of rabbinical discussions of Jewish customs and theology. It is divided into the Mishnah (written about 200 CE), which is the first written collection of Jewish laws; and the Gemara (about 500 CE), which is a discussion of the Mishnah and Jewish works, including what Christians know as the Old Testament. Intellectual study and discussion of the Talmud has an important role among the customs and history of many Jews. If you have a story in which one of the characters is a rabbi, you can be fairly sure that they know a lot about the Talmud. And if you wish to debate them or hear them expound, you will get what you ask for.

The Mishnah is written in Hebrew, while the Gemara is a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The Talmud is about 2,800 pages long and is composed of six "orders", each of which is further comprised of several "tractates". The orders are:

  • Zeraim (Seeds), relating to laws regarding growing things, like tithes and harvesting, or blessings in general.
  • Moed (Appointed Times), relating to various holidays like Sabbath, Rosh Hashana, Purim, Passover, etc. Chanukah is almost completely unmentioned in the Talmud, getting only a few pages' worth of material in Tractate Megillah, which deals with Purim.
  • Nashim (Women), relating to things like marriage and divorce as well as laws about vows.
  • Nezikin (Damages), relating to monetary laws and court procedures. This is the most popular order to learn in Orthodox yeshivas, as it provides a wealth of depth and logic.
  • Kodshim (Holy Things), which deals mainly with the laws of Temple sacrifices.
  • Taharos/Tohorot (Purities), which deals with the incredibly obscure laws of purity and impurity.

Nezikin, Moed, and Nashim, being the most practical of the three, are the most commonly studied; Kodshim is virtually useless, as there is no temple in Jerusalem right now, and much of Zeraim is considered to apply only to Eretz Yisrael and as such non-Israeli rabbis don't have much use for it (Israeli rabbis, on the other hand, do have some use, particularly since religious Jews started taking up farming as part of the Religious Zionist movement...although not that much use, since modern mechanized farming reduces the number of people needed to run a farm). As for Tohorot...

Although there is only one Mishnah, there are technically two Gemaras: The Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) and Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud). Almost universally, whenever anyone talks about the Talmud, they are referring to the Talmud Bavli. Most of the Jewish scholars of the time were in Babylonia, and the vast majority of commentaries and places of study revolve around the Babylonian Talmud.

The Talmud is not simply a list of laws. It has an entirely unique style, being culled from notes and conversations spanning decades, and is an attempt at codifying the Oral Torah. There are plenty of arguments (most unresolved), much back-and-forth (you will probably need charts to keep track of some of it), many detours and anecdotes, a smattering of mysticism and a whole lot of stories that make practically no immediate sense, and to which commentators have devoted volumes to deciphering the deeper meaning. To give a secular comparison, the written Torah is like written statute law, while the Talmud is more like a collection of case law and law review articles; the comparison to The Common Law is apt, as the Oral Torah operates much like the American legal system in that precedent is usually followed unless there is a reason in the Torah to arrive at a different conclusion.

Oh, and did we mention that there are no vowels or punctuation in the classic text? (In fairness, that's a lot easier with Semitic languages; to this day, Arabs get by on just the long vowels and very sparse punctuation). New versions, like those printed by ArtScroll, provide them along with translations, though that's sometimes considered cheating by serious studiers.

While much of the text can be dry, every so often one will find unusually entertaining pieces where Talmudic rabbis creatively insult one another or tell wild stories. Even the basic text is practically built on irony and sarcasm, with some of the challenge being figuring out what's meant seriously ("b'nichusa") and what's being sarcastic ("bitmiya").

There are literally entire libraries dedicated to commenting on the Talmud, commenting on other commentators, etc. Some places of study can literally spend an entire semester studying a single page of Talmud. For those who want a broader perspective, the "Daf Yomi" movement is built to spend an hour a day studying two pages (an "amud" is what we call a page, while a "daf" means both sides of a page, i.e. two pages). Under this program, the entire Talmud is finished once every seven and a half years.

The existence of an "oral" Torah was a hotly contested issue before the Roman conquest of Judah; the Sadducees (an extinct political/religious entity tied to the priesthood and Hasamonean kings of Judah) vigorously denied any oral law. Their opponents, the Pharisees (the ancestors of modern-day rabbinical Judaism) accepted the oral law. Today, there are still groups of Jews (Karaites, and the dwindling Samaritan community) that reject the validity of the Talmud.

The Talmud was a frequent target of anti-semitic pogroms in the European Middle Ages, due to its denial of Jesus' divinity and a possible claim that he was an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier.

Tropes in the Talmud include:

  • Anachronic Order: Although Berachos is usually shown as the first tractate, every single tractate cross-references others. Often you will see tractate A assuming you are familiar with tractate B and vice versa. Even within single tractates (e.g. Makkot), sometimes the first part of a chapter will discuss minutiae of a law, while the law itself is not actually given until later on. Some say this is why the first page of each tractate is page 2 (bet) rather than page 1 (alef). They say that the Talmud really has no beginning or end, so you need to keep that in mind before going in. Others simply say that page 1 is the cover page.
  • Darker and Edgier: The Jerusalem Talmud as compared to the Babylonian Talmud. Comparable stories are often more intense and explicit. Technically the Jerusalem Talmud predates the Babylonian Talmud, making the latter Lighter and Softer, but most people start studying with the Babylonian, and many never come to the Jerusalem.
  • Doorstopper: Some editions can fill an entire bookcase. No, not a bookshelf. An entire case.
  • Eldritch Location: The Rabbis enter the realm of Pardes and encounter a palace made of marble so pure that it looks like water. Those who did not understand what they saw went mad.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: God desires this in Tractate Sanhedrin. Narrowly averted when He catches sight of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah - the three righteous men from the Book of Daniel.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Rabbi Akiva, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, and Elisha ben Avuyah travel to the mystical realm of Pardes. Ben Azzai dies, Ben Zoma goes insane, and Elisha ben Avuyah does a Face-Heel Turn. Only Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Known as "measure against measure", this crops up all over the place. A famous example is in Avot 2:7:
    (Hillel) also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it, "Because you drowned someone you were drowned, and in the end those who drowned you will be drowned."
  • It Makes Sense in Context: A claim often made by scholars about some of the parts modern readers would find more outlandish, Squick-inducing, or outright morally abhorrent. Problem is, there is a LOT of context.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Averted and inverted; none of the Talmud editions have much good to say about him, and some specifically say (in Gittin 57) that he's being punished in Hell for being an apostate.
  • Jews Love to Argue: The Talmud is the Trope Maker. A page of the Talmud is like a layer cake of Jewish arguments, with the original Torah verse at the center, the original criticisms written around it, and centuries of further criticisms going around that in a crazed spiral.
  • The Judge : Much advice for arbitrating civil disputes between Jews is contained within.
  • Loophole Abuse: Defied. Some Talmudic arguments get into laws relating to cases which could never actually happen, in order to deduce the exact criteria and details of a particular ruling. However, as Technology Marches On, some of these rulings may actually become relevant later - the Talmud contains laws concerning situations which could be compared to in vitro fertilization and even artificial intelligence.
  • Old Master: Enforced: When Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah is appointed as leader of all the Rabbis of Israel, he explains that he doesn't want the job because all of the other Rabbis will mock him for his young age. God steps in and makes him look like a seventy year old man.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Because the Talmud includes rabbis from several generations, there are several rabbis who share names (like the various Rabbi Yose's and Rabbi Yehuda's) while others (like Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Elazar) differ only by one letter. Often they are described as "Rabbi X son of Y"; sometimes they are given adjectives, like "Rabbi Yochanan the Shoemaker".
  • Revenge: A man invited his friend Kamtza to a feast, but his servant accidentally invited Bar Kamtza, a mortal enemy. Bar Kamtza thought that the other man wanted to make peace, and so came to the party, where he was ordered away. Trying to save himself from humiliation, he offered to pay, first for his own portion, then for two, and eventually for the entire party, but the host refused to listen and kicked Bar Kamtza out. Bar Kamtza therefore hatched a plot which ended in the enemy king coming to Jerusalem, the Temple being destroyed, and the Jews being sent into exile.
  • Revenge SVP: See the parable of Kamtza.
  • Science Marches On: The Talmud gets anatomical descriptions of animals grossly wrong, including, for instance, getting the number of a cow’s stomachs wrong, as well as things like saying that only pigs have split hooves without being ruminant. A few more examples:
  • The Storyteller: there are several parables contained inside.
  • Trickster Archetype: Yehudit. In b. Yemavot 65b, she doesn't wish to have any more children after a difficult birth, but knows that her husband, Rabbi Hiyya, is not thrilled with the idea. So she disguises herself and comes before Hiyya seeking legal advice. She asks if women are commanded in procreation. Hiyya answers that they are not, and so having received legal approval from her husband of all people, she drinks a sterilizing drug. Rabbi Hiyya is not amused.
  • Watering Down: It claims that in ancient Israel and Babylonia, wine was made so strong that it was actually undrinkable unless mixed with water in a ratio of about 2 parts water to 1 part wine. This is backed by historical evidence from other Mediterranean civilizations: the Greeks and Romans both reported that their wine was meant to be mixed with water, with the Greeks in particular regarding it a sign of barbarism or alcoholism that someone would drink wine that wasn't watered down.
  • When You Snatch the Pebble: this book has often been used as a collection of pebbles to be snatched as in The Chosen. That is after all how young scholars are trained.
  • Wiki Walk: Due to the rather unusual set-up, these happen quite frequently. For example, Tractate Shabbos includes a discussion that starts with asking whether it is permissible to perform a circumcision on the Sabbath, and ends up discussing what to do if a baby is born with no anus.
  • World of Snark: To the point where being able to tell the snark from the sincerity is considered a sign of mastery.


The Book of MormonSacred LiteraturePrincipia Discordia
Book of DanielNon-English Literature    
The Tale of StyrbjornClassic LiteratureTam Lin

alternative title(s): The Talmud; Talmud
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
20184
33