Oldest known copy of a Talmud manuscript (b. Chullin; CUL T–S MISC. 26.53.17), ca. 600 CE
We are often accused of elevating Talmud to the same level as the Torah Shebikhtav (Written Torah). While it is true that Judaism traditionally speaks in terms of the unity and cogency of "the one whole Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu," inclusion of the entire corpus of the Talmud is not what is meant. The Torah Shebe'al Peh (Oral Torah) is indeed presented in the Talmud, but it is not the whole of the Talmud. Those elements are found woven into the same textual fabric as elements of midrash, agaddah, a record of rulings based upon them, and a vast body of commentary.
The Mishnah records teachings as pronounced by 54 Sages, presumably all members of the Sanhedrin Gedolah, collectively known as Tanna'im. The Gemara is commentary on the Mishnah by the Amora'im, the generation of Sages which were permitted to issue no new halakha (legal content), rather - only commentary on or rulings based upon existing (Tanna'itic) halakha and aggadah (non-legal content); thus, it preserves the history of interpretation in the early centuries of the Common Era, allowing us to join in the ancient conversation.
Barry Scott Wimpfheimer, The Talmud: A Biography
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018), p. 36
As midrash was a freestyle conversation surrounding Bible, talmud [sp. gemara] was a freestyle conversation surrounding the Mishnah.
The Necessity for the Oral Torah
Orthodox and Conservative Judaisms assert that the Written Torah cannot be properly understood or observed without the Oral Torah. In many instances, the Torah refers to details not included in the written text, thus alluding to an oral tradition. D'varim 12:21, for instance, assumes the existence of an Oral instruction regarding shechita (ritual slaughter), such as is found in masekhet (tractate) Chullin.
Likewise, regarding the observance of Shabbat we have an entire masekhet (tractate) of the Talmud expounding the topic introduced in the Torah and Prophets.
We likewise have very little instruction from the Torah shebikhtav alone on which passages of Torah to include in the mezuzah or tefillin, though archaeology reveals both were in use at least as far back as the Dead Sea Scrolls and each has a tractate to itself in the Masekhtot Ketanot of the Talmud. Neither do we find any detailed instruction there on how to host a Pesach seder; this we encounter in masekhet (tractate) Pesachim, e.g. the four cups of wine being prescribed at m. Pesachim 10:7.
It is suggested that Shemot 24:12 indicates the giving of the Torah Sh'leimah (whole Torah, consisting of both Written and Oral) was on the first set of luchot (tablets) given to Moshe Rabbeinu on Sinai.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan interprets the verse from Hosea as Hashem saying: "If I would have written the majority of my Torah, [Israel] would be counted the same as strangers."1
Transmission of the Oral Torah
M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), p. 19
The linguistic trustworthiness of the Mishnaic tradition... is established by the old rule, older than the age of Hillel, that a tradition - which, of course, was handed down by word of mouth - must be repeated in the exact words of the master from whom it had been learnt: הייב ארם לומר בלשון רבי. This rule was strictly observed through the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods ('Ed. i.3, with the commentaries; Ber. 47a; Bek 5a).
The Legitimacy of the Oral Torah
Jacob Neusner, The Oral Torah
(San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 174
The oral Torah - the books written by the sages of late antiquity in the Land of Israel and in Babylonia from ca. 200 to ca. 600 C.E. - lays down three claims.
- [The Torah] First, the books at hand fall into the classification of torah, God's revelation, and are part of the Torah.
- [The Dual Torah] Second, in addition to Scripture, these books, by their nature, indicate that there is another form of the Torah. Hence the Torah is in two media, Scripture and some other.
- [The Oral Toah] Third, that other medium for the Torah is oral, meaning transmission not in writing but in the form of oral communication of memorized sayings.
Yerushalmi Hagigah 1:7.V
R. Zeira in the name of R. Yochanan: 'If a law comes to hand and you do not know its nature, do not discard it for another one, for lo, many laws were stated to Moses at Sinai, and all of them have been embedded in the Mishnah.'
Testimony from Early External Sources
That Josephus is viewed by a majority of Jewish voices, both in his own time and now, as a traitor to Israel/Judaism due to his allegiance to Titus of [Greco-]Rome justifies categorizing this as a foreign/outside source.
Early Christian texts record Jesus commanding his followers to "take care to do everything" presented in Oral Torah, though this respect for Jewish halakha would be short-lived, lasting only a few generations.
Peshitta (Khabouris Codexa)3
(ב) ואמר להון על כורסיא דמושא יתבו ספרא ופרישא: (ג) כל מדם הכיל דנאמרון לכון דתטרון טרו ועבדו איך עבדיהון....
(2) And he [Jesus] said to them, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the seat of Moshe. (3)Therefore, take care to do everything that they say to you that you should keep and do....'
It is shown in Talmud (b. Meg. 21a) that when the Written Torah is read and studied, the practice was to stand. The "seat of Moshe" in the above text (Matthew), then, would signify the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu, i.e. that given to the seventy elder, and from them to the Prophets, and eventually to the Great Synagogue, and ultimately to the Sanhedrin. The passage below from Luke testifies that Jesus understood and practiced this.
לוקא ד':ט''ז, כ'-כ''א
(ט''ז) ואתא לנצרת איכא דאתרבי ועל איכנא דמעד הוא לכנושתא ביומא דשבתא וקם למקרא:... (כ') וכרך ספרא ויהבה למשמשנא ואזל יתב כלהון דין דבכנושתא עיניהון חירן הוי בה: (כ''א) ושרי למאמר לותהון דיומנא אשתלם כתבא הנא באדניכון:
Luke 4:16, 20-21
(16) And he [Jesus] came to Nazareth where he had been raised, and he entered into the assembly as he was accustomed on the Sabbath day and stood up to read.... (20) And he rolled up the scroll and gave it to the shammash and went and sat down. (21) And he began speaking to them, saying, 'The scripture in your ears is fulfilled today.'
Additional evidence for support of the Oral Torah among Jesus and his followers comes in the preponderance of quotations, paraphrases, and allusions to the contents of the Oral Torah we find echoing through their teachings. Jesus' teachings number 204, with 187 of these agreeing with passages from the Talmud. Paul affirms Talmudic teachings no fewer than 15 times in his 13 letters. Similar citations are found in the letters of disciples Luke, John, and Peter.
Islam has its own version of oral law - shar'ia - which may have been directly influenced by the Talmud via Jewish converts to Islam. Some of its mandates are echoes of Talmudic principles.
Harry Freedman, The Talmud: A Biography4
(Bloomsbury Continuum, 2014)
Amongst the many Jewish converts whose stories entered Islamic hagiography, two in particular stood out. K’ab al-Ahbar, a Yemenite Jew, is thought to have been one of Caliph Umar’s closest advisers. Amongst the sayings attributed to him is that all human history is alluded to in the Jewish Torah; a Talmudic idea first expressed by the intriguingly named Ben Bag-Bag (Mishnah Avot 5:22; below).
Another convert, or possibly the son of one, Wahb ibn Munabbih, wrote, or contributed to, a work known as Kisas al-Anbiya, the Tales of the Prophets which recounts Jewish biblical legends, recast in an Islamic guise. Kisas al-Anbiya is considered to be the source for the Islamic belief that Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Ishmael, rather than Isaac as the Hebrew Bible has it. The Qu’ran does not say which son was nearly sacrificed.
- Aryeh Kaplan, The Handbook of Jewish Thought (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Moznaim Publishing, 1990), vol. 1.
- The writings of Flavius Josephus survive in Greek, not his native Hebrew, thus here we have a 1st-century Greek-language source testifying to the Oral Torah.
- Matthew and Luke are better known in Greek, but the oldest manuscript recording these texts survives in Aramaic. The Peshitta, the Bible in Aramaic, is the Bible of the Church of the East. The oldest known copy is Khabouris Codexa, a manuscript internally dated to 164 CE which President Eisenhower and the US Library of Congress placed into the guardianship of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan (its present location) in the 1950s.
- This text comes from a book excerpt posted on the Jewish Chronicle website:
https://www.thejc.com/judaism/books/the-talmud-and-islam-1.52630 (accessed 16 Feb 2022).