Modern Talmud Study I
The modern study of rabbinic texts has occupied many scholars since the beginning of Wissenschaft des Judentums (“The Scientific Study of Judaism”) in the 19th century. I am intentionally calling it “modern” Talmud study instead of “academic” or “critical”, because the former sounds like it is only for those in academia, and the latter suggests that it is out to criticize the Talmud. While in practice both of these may be true some, or maybe even most of the time, I have chosen the more neutral description. Where does one start in describing modern Talmud study? There are a number of important articles and books which are great resources for one who is interested in the subject. They are mostly bibliographic and/or general in nature, pointing one towards more specific and specialized studies. In writing these series of posts I have followed the direction and framework of some of them, seeing no reason to reinvent the wheel. It should also be pointed out that most of my comments will be directed towards the Babylonian Talmud, and to a lesser extent the Mishnah and the Jerusalem Talmud. This is not to say that other disciplines of rabbinic literature, e.g. Midrash, are not important, just that I don’t feel competent enough, nor have the time, to write about them (Anyone who is interested in writing a post on a related field is invited to be in contact with me). In addition it is not my intention to survey all of modern Talmud scholarship and its history, just to attempt to give a basic overview of the field, nor is it my intention to discuss books about “how to study Talmud”. We are not going to be cited many texts, just discuss scholarly approaches and issues. So let’s get started.
For many years the predominant introductory book to Talmud study was Herman Strack’s Introduction to Talmud and Midrash. Originally written in German, it was for decades the most popular introductory book in the field. Over a decade ago Strack’s introduction was updated by G黱ter Stemberger, published under the same title of Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. In this book Stemberger reviews the important questions, methodologies, studies, etc., in the field of the modern study of rabbinic literature. His discussion is not limited to the Babylonian Talmud, rather as its title suggests, it also covers the Mishnah, Midrash, both Talmuds, Minor Tractates, etc. Two more specified, but older sources, are articles written respectively by David Goodblatt and Baruch Bokser. Goodblatt wrote about the Babylonian Talmud, while Bokser wrote about the Jerusalem Talmud. Both of their studies are part introductions, part bibliographical reviews. They were originally published in ANRW II, 19:2, and later reprinted in The Study of Ancient Judaism: The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds, ed. Jacob Neusner, 1981. Some of the framework and categorization in which we will write is indebted to Goodblatt. A number of years later Bokser published a chapter, “Talmudic Studies”, published in The State of Jewish Studies. In this chapter Bokser reviews much of the recent scholarship, and gives his opinion regarding new directions in the study of Talmud. Two additional resources are the two volumes of The Literature of the Sages (the first volume has entries on the Mishnah and Talmud). While important works, at least the first volumes tends to present the approach of a very limited number of scholars in the field. Also, the most recent volume of The Cambridge History of Judaism contains some important entries. Lastly is the
The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Although I have yet to see it, from its table of contents it looks like it should be an important contribution to the field.