|Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair|
Back last November, I decided that I really needed some intellectual self-discipline to prevent me sleeping all afternoon. Since I do read Talmud occasionally, I decided that The Thing To Do was to write some commentaries on it. This did work for about a month or do; in fact, it failed to work only when I got lazy and decided to sleep instead.
So, I'll not only resume writing those commentaries, and this blog, I'll post those commentaries to this blog, too.
I'll start with a few disclaimers. I have no semikhah (ordination), and nothing that I write should be presumed to be original, authoritative, or even correct. My Hebrew and Aramaic are poor, so anyone who claims that I've mistranslated or mistransliterated a word is probably correct.
The Talmud is divided into six orders, comprising broad groupings of subjects, some with little obvious relationship to each other. Traditionally, each order was sub-divided into ten tractates.
The fourth order of the Talmud is called Nezikin -- "Damages", and deals various aspects of temporal law, including what we would call "civil" and "criminal" law, and the composition and procedures of the various courts. In ancient times, this order was headed by a very long tractate also called Nezikin. The great length of this tractate – thirty chapters and more than 400 folio1 pages in standard printed editions – caused it to be divided into three “Gates”. The middle ten chapters are known, logically enough, as Bava Metzia -- the "Middle Gate". It deals with much that we would consider normal business dealings for the pre-industrial small farmer or merchant – lost objects, loans of money and objects, and the like.
The Talmud is divided into two kinds of material: Mishnah and Gemara. Mishnayot (the plural of mishnah) are terse, legalistic statements in Hebrew, composed roughly 200 BCE to 200 CE. They were organized and edited, first by Rabbi Akiva, then by his student Rabbi Meir, and finally by the great Rabbi Yehudah haNasi ("Judah the Prince"), invariably referred to in the Talmud itself simply as "Rabbi".
The final definition of the mishnayot did not, of course, end discussion of them. That discussion continued, analyzing their exact wording and applicability, including such "meta-topics" as "Who might have composed this mishnah?", and often discursing into"“By the way, that reminds of the time..." stories. These discussions are gemara; those portions of it that are normative are called halakhot (laws, literally "paths"), whilst the non-normative portions (everything from elevated moral discourses to personal anecdotes) are called aggadot.
There are actually two gemarot, and thus two Talmuds. The Babylonian Talmud (also BT or Talmud Bavli) records the Babylonian gemara as edited by Rav Ashi and Ravina; the Jerusalem Talmud (also JT or Talmud Yerushalmi), the Palestinian gemara as edited by the students of Rabbi Yohanan bar Nappaha. The Babylonian gemara is later, more extensive, and more carefully edited than the Palestinian one; thus, the Babylonian Talmud is considered more authoritative. A reference to “the Talmud” unqualified is to the Babylonia Talmud. Both Talmuds, however, contain and refer to the same mishnayot.
Bava Metzia 1:1 (i.e., the first mishnah of its first chapter) is:
Two are holding on to a garment. This one says, "I found it", and this one says, "I found it". This one says, "All of it is mine" and this one says, "All of it is mine". This one shall swear that he does not have in it less than half of it2, and this one shall swear that he does not have in it less that half of it, and they shall divide it.
This one says, "All of it is mine", and this one says, "Half of it is mine". The one who says, "All of it is mine" shall swear that he does not have in it less than three-quarters, and the one who says, "Half of it is mine" shall swear that he does not have in it less than a quarter. This one takes three-quarters, and this one takes a quarter.
Two were riding on an animal, or one was riding and one was driving3. This one says, "All of it is mine", and this one says, "All of it is mine". This one shall swear that he does not have less in it than half of it, and this one shall swear that he does not have in it less than half of it, and they divide it4.
Whenever they admit, or if they have witnesses, they divide without an oath.
1The Talmud is traditionally numbered on the basis of the folio (dual-sided) pages in a tractate. Each page is numbered, and the two sides are designated aleph ("a") and bet ("b"). The first page of each tractate is numbered "2".
2Has no less than a half-interest in it.
3Is walking along side of it or in back of it with a switch.
4The gemara states at 8a that where a physical division of an object, such as a live animal, would destroy its value, the court orders it sold, and the disputants divide the proceeds.
John "Akatsukami" Braue Thursday, January 08, 2004