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Sacred-Texts  Judaism 

The Babylonian Talmud

Translated by Michael L. Rodkinson

Book 1: Tract Sabbath

Book 2: Tracts Erubin, Shekalim, Rosh Hashana

Book 3: Tracts Pesachim, Yomah and Hagiga

Book 4: Tracts Betzh, Succah, Moed Katan, Taanith, Megilla and Ebel Rabbathi or Semahoth

Book 5: Tracts Aboth, Derech Eretz-Rabba, Derech Eretz-Zuta, and Baba Kama (First Gate)

Book 6: Tract Baba Kama (First Gate), Part II and Tract Baba Metzia (Middle Gate)

Book 7: Tract Baba Bathra (Last Gate)

Book 8: Tract Sanhedrin: Section Jurisprudence (Damages)

Book 9: Tracts Maccoth, Shebuoth, Eduyoth, Abuda Zara, and Horioth

Book 10: History of the Talmud

This is the first extensive English translation of the Talmud to be posted on the Internet. The Talmud is a vast collection of Jewish laws and traditions. Despite the dry subject matter the Talmud makes interesting reading because it is infused with vigorous intellectual debate, humor and deep wisdom. If you put in the hard work required to read the Talmud, your mind will get a world-class workout. The process of studying the Talmud has been compared with the practice of Zen Buddhist Koan meditation, and for good reason.

Rodkinsons' ten-book edition, the only extensive one currently in the public domain, contains complete translations of the 'Festivals' and 'Jurisprudence' sections of the Talmud. Rodkinson only finished about a third of the Talmud. All ten volumes are available here in their entirety.

  Book 1: Tract Sabbath
This book contains Tract Sabbath, which discusses what can and cannot be done on the Jewish Holy day. This tract has a wealth of information on everyday Jewish life in late Classical times, including, for some reason, a great number of medical recipies. Because almost everything is done differently on the Sabbath, this contains an incredible level of ethnographic detail about a wide range of household activities including livestock, clothing, meals, horticulture, hunting, and other more obscure topics, such as fire-fighting and feminine hygene.

Rodkinson makes the point in an appendix that many of the Talmundic regulations which seem to be arbitrary were developed as a response to political persecution. He also includes a prayer which is offered upon the conclusion of studying any tract.

  Book 2: Tracts Erubin, Shekalim, Rosh Hashana
This book contains tracts from section Moed (Festivals). Tract Erubin deals with regulations concerning travel on the Sabbath, and the proper construction of 'Erub', propitiatory offerings for transgressions of these rules, usually, but not always, constructed of food. Tract Shekalim deals with tithes. Tract Rosh Hashana discusses the Jewish New Year, a floating holiday tied to lunar observations.

  Book 3: Tracts Pesachim, Yomah and Hagiga
This book also contains tracts from section Moed (Festivals), primarily discussions of the rituals to be performed on important holy days: principally Passover and the Day of Atonement. The short third tract, Hagiga, discusses the Holocaust ceremony, (meaning a burnt-offering), which today has come into use as a term for the Nazi genocide. Among other points of interest is description of the ritual of the scapegoat in Chapter VI. of Tract Yomah; and Chapter II. of Tract Hagiga has a notable digression on a variety of subjects, including the cryptic Chariot of God, and the names and characteristics of the seven heavens.

  Book 4: Tracts Betzh, Succah, Moed Katan, Taanith, Megilla and Ebel Rabbathi or Semahoth
This rounds out the Festivals portion of Rodkinson's Talmud translation. Tract Betzah details regulations about cooking, fishing, hunting and other activities on feast days. Tract Succah discusses the Festival of the Tabernacles, particularly the construction and use of the Succah, or booth. Moed Katan is about miscellaneous laws about some minor festivals, for instance activites which are permissible during intercalendary periods. Taanith has discussions about the beginning of the rains, including a sequence of folktales about rainmaking Rabbis. Megilla is about Purim, particularly about the public reading of the book of Esther during that festival. Ebel Rabbath is about mourning and other funerary activities.

  Book 5: Tracts Aboth, Derech Eretz-Rabba, Derech Eretz-Zuta, and Baba Kama (First Gate)
This book starts out with three tracts on ethics, including the lucid and moving Pirqe Aboth (Sayings of the Fathers), also translated by Taylor (see below). This edition of Aboth comes with extensive commentary. The Baba Kama is the first section of a three-part opening arc of the Jurisprudence section. To the modern reader it is of interest because of the unintentional and (sometimes pungent) atmospheric details of everyday life in first century Israel. Many of the Baba Kama cases start when 'an ox gores' someone or something; the modern equivalent would probably be automobile moving violations. The debates are notable because they are based equally on scripture and appeals to an emerging standard of common-sense justice and human rights.

  Book 6: Tract Baba Kama (First Gate), Part II and Tract Baba Metzia (Middle Gate)
This book contains the conclusion of Baba Kama, the First Gate, and Baba Metzia, the Middle Gate. The second half of Baba Kama continues with cases involving stolen items. Baba Metzia continues with civil law, particularly cases involving damages: among the topics are found and loaned articles, real estate, loans, titles, what constitutes usury and fraud, and labor law. Many of the cases in Baba Metzia are extremely convoluted, more so than usual. There are a few scattered legends about the life and death of the principal authors of the Talmud, and some notable passages, mostly in Chapter IV.

  Book 7: Tract Baba Bathra (Last Gate)
This, the third part of the 'Gate' sequence of tracts, deals with issues of civil law regarding property, including real estate, moveable possessions, and inheritance. Also, notably, this tract includes what has to be one of the first attempts to discuss where transgender people fit into the legal framework.

  Book 8: Tract Sanhedrin: Section Jurisprudence (Damages)
The subject matter of Tract Sanhedrin is principally about crime and punishment. One of the most notable discussions in this book is the debate about the 'stubborn and rebellious son' (Chapter VIII). The rabbis openly express scepticism that a son who disrespects his father in a particular way should be put to death. Out of this quibble over an obscure 'worst case scenario' we see the emergence of a key principle of jurisprudence: the execution of divine law must be tempered by human mercy. This book also wanders far and wide, dispensing wisdom on such topics as the location of the lost tribes, what the windows on Noah's ark were made of, and when the Messiah is due to arrive.

  Book 9: Tracts Maccoth, Shebuoth, Eduyoth, Abuda Zara, and Horioth
This is the final book of the Rodkinson translation of the Talmud; it contains the remaining portions of the Jurisprudence section. Tract Maccoth deals with corporal punishment. Tract Shebuoth discusses oaths: what constitutes an oath, false oaths, and so on. Tract Eduyoth is a grab-bag of Mishna without commentary which give various cases related to other Talmud tracts. Tract Abuda Zara elaborates the Biblical commandment not to worship idols; it is of historical interest because of the tangential information about what the idolators (i.e. ancient Pagans) did or did not do. Tract Horioth is another short tract which discusses a number of very technical issues, including the hierarchy of dogs, cats and mice.

  Book 10: History of the Talmud
This is the introduction to Rodkinsons' translation. A history of the Talmud, starting with its five hundred years of composition from the first to fifth centuries C.E., and its bitter persecution from antiquity, through the Reformation up to the 19th Century. Includes biographies of the dozens of authors who wrote the Talmud, and a detailed bibliography through 1900.