Page 12 - Judaic Logic
P. 12


is the one we just mentioned, and the parallel Yerushalmi (or Jerusalem ), which was
closed in Israel some 130 years earlier, in the 4th century, and carries relatively less

The Mishnah is divided into six so-called Sedarim (Orders - sing. Seder) , to which there
corresponds sixty-three Gemara commentaries called Masekhtot (Tractates - sing. Masekhet),
found in one or both of the Talmuds. The names of the Orders and corresponding numbers of
Tractates are as follows: Zeraim (Seeds), 11; Moed (Appointed Time), 12; Nashim (Women), 7;
Nezikin (Damages), 10; Kodashim (Consecrated Objects), 11; Taharot (Purities), 12.

Jewish law, or the Halakhah (meaning, the Path, or the ‘Way to go’), as it stands
today, is (as we shall see) the outcome of a long historical process of debate and practice,
in which the above mentioned documents, mainly the Torah and the Talmud, have played
the leading roles. Jewish law, note, concerns not only interactions between individuals (be
they civil, commercial or criminal) and societal issues (communal or national structures
and processes), but also the personal behavior of individuals (privately or in relation to
God) and collective religious obligations (which may be carried out by selected
individuals, such as the priests or Levites).
Many people, not well-acquainted with normative Judaism , believe that Jewish
law was derived purely and exclusively from the Torah (or, more broadly, perhaps, the
Tanakh). In this view, the Torah (or Tanakh) was the totality of God’s message to the
Jewish people in particular, and Humanity in general; so that only what was explicitly
written in it, or strictly deductively inferable from that, qualifies as Divine Will. However,
in fact, it would be technically impossible to derive in that way all of existing Jewish law
from the Torah (or Tanakh) alone; more data would be required - and more was actually
Orthodox Jews believe that, at the same time as the Written Torah (Torah
Shebekhtav) was given, an Oral Torah (Torah Shebealpeh) was inaugurated, by Moses,
which served to clarify and amplify the written law, by consideration of more specific
cases. The existence already in Sinai of an unwritten component to the Law is suggested
within the written Torah itself (see, for instance, Exodus, ch. 18). The Tradition
(Hamasoret, in Hebrew) was, orthodox Jews believe, faithfully transmitted across the
centuries, through popular practice and verbal repetition, until it was largely committed to
writing in the Nakh, the Talmud and other Rabbinical texts. Existing Jewish law, then,
claims logical descent from, not only the Written Torah, but also the Oral Torah .

Also known as the Palestinian Talmud. 'Palestine' refers to the land of Israel, which at the
time was under Roman occupation. Although Jews were then the large majority of the inhabitants,
the country was named after the Philistines, a non-Arab people who had by then disappeared.
Nowadays, most editions of the Talmud include a mass of later commentaries and
The expression haShas is an acronym for the 'shishah sedarim' (six orders), and thence a
name for the oral law.
I am not here alluding to the Zadokim (Sadducees), or Karaim (Karaites) or even to certain
like-minded modern Conservatives and Reformists, who more or less believed that Jewish Law
should have been derived exclusively from the Torah.
Oral transmission may be thought at first less reliable than the written word, but if one
thinks about it, there is no real reason to regard documents as any more reliable. Sooner or later,
an act of faith is necessary, that the document or the spoken report was indeed of Divine origin.
This is the faith of Judaism, as we have said, and we shall take it as our starting point. (Of course, it
is to some extent easier to date documents than oral traditions, and thus to some extent verify
claims concerning their authorship; but there are often difficulties and disagreements, which leave
us with doubts, anyway.)
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