Certainly the Bible is a book – indeed, a collection of books – very varied, in which, as well as men and women, not even God has a single face. Around this text so varied has worked for millennia, and continues to do so, the Jewish tradition. And this because when in the 1st century AD, with the Diaspora , Judaism lost its connotations of a people’s doctrine with a land and a nation to become the identity of a people dispersed among the other peoples, the sons of Israel began to inhabit their books in a certain sense. The Bible, first of all. Deprived of the earth, they have made of the sacred text their territory: it is not by chance that the tradition of the rabbis defines itself as “a hedge around the Torah”, that is the Bible. A hedge to defend this text, delimit it, interpret it.
Talmud is the Hebrew name of the great collection of comments and consultations to the ethical, juridical and ritual norms of the Jewish people: it is the book that tells of this hedge; indeed, more than a book, it is an immense collection of discussions. Talmud is a word that derives from the Hebrew root lamad, which means both “teaching” and “learning”. It is not a unitary book, far from it. It works more or less like this: a teacher (or rabbi, because this means the word) interprets a biblical passage or even just a word of the text and affirms: “I think this means”. Here comes another teacher who argues “no, look, I think it means this other thing”. A disciple sticks his nose and says shyly – but not too much – his own. It goes on like this, in a discussion without either head or tail, and most often in the end there is no solution, everyone remains of their own opinion. It is up to the reader, or the rabbi who came centuries later, to decide what he thinks is right.
This is the Talmud: the story of countless discussions, of hair split in four, in eight and then left there. There are stories, anecdotes, pages of ancient lived life, because the Talmud dates back to the 6th-7th century. Since then this great book has imbued the life of Judaism and inspires countless other texts and discussions. In rabbinical schools, in fact, we continue to discuss and put these discussions in writing.
The study in Judaism
But Judaism is not, of course, just a set of discussions, because from these spontaneously born ideas came thoughts about the world. After all, it is an empirical scientific method of looking at things, with an attitude that is always ready to change, to evaluate new elements. The Talmud is an open text, which opens the mind, and is a composite text, formed on the basis of a previous work, the Mishnah , the collection of ethical-juridical norms first transmitted orally and then written, dating back to 3 ° -5 Century. It is in fact the commentary on this first code, and has in turn given rise to an infinite number of comments, commentaries, supercommentaries.
Where was the Talmud studied ? In the school, which was both a place of worship and learning. School and synagogue mostly correspond. The study is fundamental in Judaism: the achievement of the age of majority for the Jews, which is called bar mitzwah (literally “son of the precept”), is in fact for the boy of thirteen a kind of examination, in which he must demonstrate to know how to read the Bible in Hebrew and understand its meaning.