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Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz is a teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author who has been hailed by Time Magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."
He has devoted his life to making the Talmud accessible to all Jews. After a 45-year effort, Rabbi Steinsaltz completed a monumental elucidation of the entire Talmud in modern Hebrew, now used all over the world. Rabbi Steinsaltz then partnered with Koren Publishers Jerusalem to launch the Koren Talmud Bavli, a groundbreaking new edition of the Talmud which includes modern English translation, color illustrations and previously-censored passages.
Rabbi Steinsaltz has written 60 books and hundreds of articles, has established the Makor Chaim network of schools in Israel and the former Soviet Union, and holds several honorary degrees. He was born and lives in Jerusalem.
I'm a non-Jewish person who is completely new to - but very interested in - Judaism and Jewish thought. Having read around the subject of the Talmud, I realised I didn't know my Mishnah from my Midrash and I sought a book which would tell me exactly what the Talmud was, its history and an overview of its contents. Essential Talmud does that very well, putting the Talmud into context and charting its development and its importance to the Jewish people and their identity. Fortunately for me the book stayed within its scope - I wasn't bogged down by minutiae. On completion of the book, I knew what the various stages of the Talmud were, how they came about and who the main authors were from the Mishnah to the Tosafot. I also knew just how huge the Talmud was and how it was divided and sub-divided. The only negative thing I felt about the book was that it was maybe too 'detached' - it did not transmit or recreate the atmosphere of sagely debate for me or really bring the Talmud 'to life'. More importantly, it would have really benefitted from some sample pages illustrating what the various sections of the page were. Navigating around the beautifully written Talmud's pages seems like a pleasure in itself so it was a missed opportunity not to show what it actually looked like. Overall it was a very enjoyable starting point for a self-confessed novice, teaching me what I wanted to know, though not leaving me quite as enthusiastic to read my first tractate as I thought it might.
Rabbi Steinsaltz, one of the most respected Talmudists of his generation, has devoted significant effort to introducing the Talmud to a wider audience and encouraging people to actually read it rather than merely read about it. Starting to read the Talmud without some idea of what it is and what it is about would be a very frustrating project, however, and this book is intended to help bridge that gap. "The Essential Talmud" is divided into three sections, covering history, content and method. The historical section gives a very traditional account of the origins of the Talmud in the oral Torah, and its compilation and editing in Palestine and Babylon. By "traditional" I mean that this is essentially the account that the Talmud gives of itself or that can be filled in from other rabbinic literature. Whether or not this history is completely accurate, it is a significant part of the Talmud's self-presentation and of its authority, and throws important light on both the Talmud's content (largely the teachings of prior masters) and its methods (the obsessive quest to identify the authors of and reconcile the various teachings). In short, it is very difficult to understand the Talmud if you do not understand where the Talmud believes it came from, and Rabbi Steinsaltz's chapters on history are very helpful in that regard. He then goes beyond the Talmud itself to offer a brief history of Talmudic exegesis, and some very interesting information on the printing and persecution of the Talmud. The second section of the book covers the structure and content of the Talmud. Here Rabbi Steinsaltz offers a very concise summary of the topics touched on by the various tractates of the Talmud.Read more ›
Adin Steinsaltz is second to none in the field of Talmudic studies. A translator and editor of the magnificent Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud, he heads the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications, one of the primary institutes for the discipline. Author of more than 60 books, Rabbi Steinsaltz's writings are what first introduced me to the interesting and complex world of the Talmud in an accessible and engaging manner.
The Talmud is not part of the shared Judeo-Christian tradition; this is a development of rabbinic Judaism after the divergence of the paths. Steinsalz states that if the Bible constitutes the cornerstone of Judaism, the Talmud is its central pillar. The Talmud arose from the writings of teachers and the wise in Palestine and in Babylonia from the aftermath of the destruction of the second Temple up until the early Middle Ages. Steinsaltz traces this history in the first part of the text, from the periods of oral tradition, to the tannaim (the period of Hillel and Shammai), the compilation of the Misnah, the amoraim (interpretations), and the final redaction and printing. Steinsaltz also looks at the various times of the banning and burning of the Talmud. He points out that without the Talmud, the Jewish communities might well have ceased to exist, which is one of the reasons why persecutors sought to limit or destroy the books.
In his second section, Steinsaltz looks at the structure and content of the Talmud. While the Talmud consists of the Mishnah (a book of halakhah, the laws, written in Hebrew), and the Gemarah (the commentary on the law), in fact there is much more to Talmud than this.Read more ›
This book does its job very well. It does not aim to explain every last detail of the Talmud, or to impart the same feeling that one has while studying Talmud, it is meant as an introduction to the Talmud, its history and structure. It fills those roles very well. Don't buy this book if you want to know exact details, it is not meant for that. It could potentially be interesting for the seasoned Talmudist, but it would probably say nothing that he didn't already know
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