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Another Foggy Moment
Sunday, November 16, 2003, #225
Complete text at


                         BABYLONIAN TALMUD

 Last week I stumbled across an interesting link to a full translation 
 of the Babylonian Talmud. It's a transcription of the highly-regarded 
 Sochino translation and has a lot of related material on the same 
 website to lend perspective.

 The Babylonian Talmud is a huge and very controversial Jewish religious 
 work that is said to have begun back in the days after the fall of the 
 First Temple in Jerusalem when the Assyrians invaded Judea and hauled 
 many Jews off to slavery in Babylon. Popes have ordered it burned. Kings
 have ordered death for anyone possessing it. Jew-baiters have often used 
 passages from it to justify their hate. Jewish sects like the Pharaisees 
 considered it superior in significance to the Bible itself. Many modern 
 Rabbis, heirs to the Pharaisees traditions, consider it to be at least 
 on a par with, if not of greater import, than the written Torah most 
 Christians refer to as the Old Testament.

 As with many extra-Biblical works, the basic premise is: God may have 
 written/inspired the Bible but it is man who interprets it. Needless to 
 say, there are many ways to interpret it. And if you imagine yourself 
 to be under Divine Guidence while doing so, you would be inclined to 
 believe you possess the One, True Interpretation. Many Christian and 
 Jewish sects/heresies/cults owe their existence to their 'inspired' 
 interpretations of the Bible. With over 60 copyrighted versions of the 
 Bible in existence, there are even many mainstream interpretations to 
 choose from, ranging from subtle to crude. Throw in the obvious fact
 that both times the Jerusalem Temples were destroyed, virtually the
 entire written Torah went with them. It had to be rewritten from
 memory by guys like Ezrah. 

 The Talmud is Judaism's "Oral Torah" and was supposedly passed for 
 centuries literally by word-of-mouth. After the Romans trashed 
 Jerusalem and the Second Temple, not long after Christ's resurrection, 
 the Temple priests were replaced in prominance by the Rabbis of the 
 Diaspora. It was they who committed this oral record to paper for 
 the first time. 

 It is an amazing document made up of many seperate books and plumbs 
 the heights and the depths, incorporating within itself everything 
 from the most exquisitely profound religious insights to the most 
 disgusting and obscene worldly perversions. It has it all, in a way 
 even the Bible doesn't. 

 References, both coded and explicit, can be found to Christ and 
 Christians. References that reflect the torment and persecution 
 Jews suffered for centuries at the hands of Christians. Reasonably 
 enough, it ranges from outright condemnation to bitterly sarcastic 
 black-humor. Victims aren't inclined to sympathize with their 
 tormentors. It is these passages that Jew-Baiters have embraced
 to justify their hatred and led to many Christian efforts, over
 the millenia, to have the Talmud destroyed. Obviously failed

 Under the guise of exploring the meaning of the written Torah,
 justifications for the most disgusting of pervsions are also 
 indulged in in great detail with arguments so self-serving that
 no morally astute person would dream of embracing them. The sort
 of stuff no Rabbi in their right mind would expose a congregation
 to. There are comparable Christian documents. But unlike Christians,
 Jews haven't censored out the embarassing parts of their written
 traditions. It is a legitimate part of the record of their religious
 exploration and one that shares common ground with religous
 explorers of every persuation throughout human history. Sometimes 
 such exploration leads in contrary directions. To pretend otherwise 
 is dishonest and deprives following generations of valuable clues 
 as to what to look for and expect in such a pursuit. Besides, the
 Talmud was not for 'general consumption'. It was to be studied only
 by those who were considered mature and adept enough to deal with
 its subject matter. People who would know what parts to skip.

 On the other hand, much of it has the only record of the thoughts
 and prayers of many of Judaism's earliest Torah Giants. The most 
 ancient roots of their vast and rich spiritual treasury.

 Transcribing the Talmud must have been an arduous and enormous job
 for whomever did it. Making it available on-line makes it available
 to a far wider audience than it's ever before had. And a much more
 diverse audience as well. No doubt it will be mis-used at least as 
 much as properly used. An equal certainty is that those who are
 inclined to deliberately misinterpret it, will freely do so. Never
 the less, risk involved was a worthwhile one. Previously the 
 size and cost of it limited it to far smaller audience. That it is 
 both a Jewish and human treasure is beyond question. Christianity's
 'oral record' is dispersed and divided. It has nothing comparable
 to the Talmud.