Home>Historical Jewish Sources – The Talmud

Historical Jewish Sources
Talmud:  Documents that comment and expand upon the MishnahThe Talmud


 Torah – Or “TaNaKh”, an acronym denoting these three sections:
    –  Torah (Teaching)
–  Nevi’im (Prophets) –  Former (Deuteronomic Code); Latter (Literary)
– Ketuvim (Writings) Canonical Collection From Post-Prophetic Age
 Talmud – Documents that Comment and Expand Upon Mishnah
– Mishnah 1st-2nd Century Rabbinic Study Book of Laws/Values
– Gamara (Agadah – Tales and Morals ; Halacha – Code of Jewish Law)
          – Babylonian (“Bavli”) Gemara (200-600)
– Palestinian (“Yerushalmi”) Gemara (200-500)

 Midrash Exegetical Interpretation of the Torah’s Text
– Halakhah – Interpreting Law and Religious Practice
– Aggadah – Biblical Narrative ; Ethics, Theology, Homily (200-1000)
 Targums – Translations of the Bible into Jewish Aramaic
 Dead Sea Scrolls – Collection of Materials Found in Judean Desert
 Josephus – One of World’s All-Time Greatest Non-Biblical Historians
 Apocalyptic Genre – “Turn of Era” Lit. Exploring Eschatological Salvation
 Liturgical Texts – Routine Prayers Said Spontaneously
 Reference Works – Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Concordances

Nathaniel Lardner – On the Jewish Testimonies Regarding the Destruction of Jerusalem (1730) “It will certainly be worth the while to take a testimony from these writers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the temple there. I shall therefore transcribe and translate almost word for word a long passage out of the Babylonian Talmud, in the title Gittin, chapter Hannisah:

“’This is the tradition. Rabbi Elieser said: Go. And see how the blessed and holy God helped Bar-kamtza, and he destroyed his house, and burnt up his temple, and made Jerusalem ‘ desolate.'”

Overview: About Talmud

Although the Torah is wonderfully rich in its narratives, poetry, and laws, it is inadequate as a law code. For example, Deuteronomy decrees that if a man divorces his wife and she remarries and the second marriage ends in divorce or death of the husband, the first husband is forbidden to remarry her (24:1-4), but nowhere does the Torah clearly define how the divorce is to be effected or what is to be written in a bill of divorcement.

Nevertheless, Jews sought to determine from the Torah all of the details of a complete legal system. As tradition describes it, from the time of the very giving of the written Torah, Moses already had received a companion Torah she’b’al peh (oral Torah), which he proceeded to teach to the people of Israel during their travels in the desert. It is clear that from the very beginning, Jews needed additional authoritative law, or halakhah (“going,” or “path”), to govern regular life. These halakhot (plural) were passed on through the generations, and during the period of the Second Temple (fifth century BCE-first century C.E.), halakhot, both those developed through custom and those derived from interpretation of the Torah, were collected and transmitted. Following the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the earliest rabbis gathered and transmitted the laws learned from earlier sages.

During the first two centuries, the rabbis apparently worked out how, as an educated leadership, they were to transmit and develop new law through agreed upon rules of interpretation. Much of our understanding of this period comes from later texts which were not intended as histories and which probably should not be relied upon for history. Nevertheless, it is clear that by the close of the second century, the rabbis had agreed on enough of the basics that their various opinions could be compiled and compared to each other. At this point, around the year 200 C.E., Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, used his unique position as a leader of the Jewish people who actually got along with the Romans to publish the first major Jewish work following the Bible, a study book of rabbinic law called the Mishnah (literally, teaching or repeating).

The Mishnah defined the basic contours for later discussion of Jewish law. The name, which means “repeating,” reflects that the book was designed for oral transmission and memorization, as a rabbi would repeat each tradition for his student. But the orality of the Mishnah is not just a matter of its form; the content is composed almost entirely of the statements of different rabbis, juxtaposed against and in conversation with the varying opinions of other rabbis. From the Mishnah onward, all of the literature of the Torah she’b’al peh is more than just “oral Torah”; in fact, a more descriptive translation of the term might be “conversational Torah,” because it is the conversation and the interaction of different ideas that defines the essence of what eventually became known as the Talmud (study).

During the three or four centuries following the Mishnah’s publication, the rabbinic sages whose work was eventually compiled in the documents which we call Talmud, analyzed each halakhah in the Mishnah. They compared the various statements of a rabbi to determine how his different positions could be seen as parts of a consistent legal theory. They harmonized the opinions in the Mishnah to other early opinions that were not included in the Mishnah. They tried to show the relationship between the various opinions in the Mishnah to their presumed derivations from Scripture.

Everywhere and throughout the Talmud, the rabbis worked with several basic assumptions. Given a controversy between two early sages, the goal was not to determine according to whom was the practical law; the goals was to make sense of each opinion. This underlying assumption that opinions are not simply fickle choices but the rational decisions of sages confronting differing ways of describing legal reality, is the hallmark of the Talmudic process. The rabbis expressed this concept succinctly: “both these and those are the words of the living God” or, as it may also be translated, “both these and those are the living words of God.” (source: myjewishlearning.com)

“These times were over long ago”
Rabbi Judah, the main compiler of the Talmud
(Regarding Daniel’s prophecy – Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 98b and 97a)

“Through Kamtzah and Bar Kamtzah was Jerusalem destroyed”

Through Kamtzah and Bar Kamtzah was Jerusalem destroyed; and thus it happened.

A certain man made a feast; he was a friend of Kamtzah, but Bar Kamtzah he hated. He sent a messenger to Kamtzah with an invitation to his banquet, but this messenger making a mistake, delivered the invitation to his master’s enemy, Bar Kamtzah.

Bar Kamtzah accepted the invitation, and was on hand at the appointed time, but when the host saw his enemy enter his house, he ordered him to leave at once.

“Nay,” said Bar Kamtzah, “now that I am here, do not so insult me as to send me forth. I will pay thee for all that I may eat and drink.”

“I want not thy money,” returned the other, “neither do I desire thy presence; get thee gone at once.”

But Bar Kamtzah persisted.

“I will pay the entire expense of thy feast,” he said; “do not let me be degraded in the eyes of thy guests.”

The host was determined, and Bar Kamtzah withdrew from the banquet-room in anger.

“Many Rabbis were present,” said he in his heart, “and not one of them interfered in my behalf, therefore this insult which they saw put upon me must have pleased them.”

So Bar Kamtzah spoke treacherously of the Jews unto the king, saying, “The Jews have rebelled against thee.”

“How can I know this?” inquired the king.

“Send a sacrifice to their Temple and it will be rejected,” replied Bar Kamtzah.

The ruler then sent a well-conditioned calf to be sacrificed for him in the Temple, but through the machinations of Bar Kamtzah the messenger inflicted a blemish upon it, and, of course, not being fit for the sacrifice (Lev. 22:21) it was not accepted.

Through this cause was Cćsar sent to capture Jerusalem, and for two years he besieged the city. Four wealthy citizens of Jerusalem had stored up enough food to last the inhabitants a much longer time than this, but the people being anxious to fight with the Romans, destroyed the storehouses and brought dire famine upon the city.

A certain noble lady, Miriam, the daughter of Baythus, sent her servant to purchase some flour for household use. The servant found that all the flour had been sold, but there was still some meal which he might have purchased. Hurrying home, however, to learn his mistress’s wishes in regard to this, he discovered on his return that this too had been sold, and he could obtain nothing save some coarse barley meal. Not wishing to purchase this without orders he returned home again, but when he returned to the storehouse to secure the barley meal, that was gone also. Then his mistress started out herself to purchase food, but she could find nothing. Suffering from the pangs of hunger she picked from the street the skin of a fig and ate it; this sickened her and she died. But previous to her death she cast all her gold and silver into the street, saying, “What use is this wealth to me when I can obtain no food for it?’ Thus were the words of Ezekiel fulfilled:

“Their silver shall they cast into the streets.”

After the destruction of the storehouses, Rabbi Jochanan in walking through the city saw the populace boiling straw in water and drinking of the same for sustenance. “Ah, woe is me for this calamity!” he exclaimed; “how can such a people strive against a mighty host?” He applied to Ben Batiach, his nephew, one of the chiefs of the city, for permission to leave Jerusalem. But Ben Batiach replied, “It may not be; no living body may leave the city.” “Take me out then as a corpse,” entreated Jochanan. Ben Batiach assented to this, and Jochanan was placed in a coffin and carried through the gates of the city; Rabbi Eleazer, Rabbi Joshua, and Ben Batiach acting as pall-bearers. The coffin was placed in a cave, and after they had all returned to their homes Jochanan arose from the coffin and made his way to the enemy’s camp. He obtained from the commander permission to establish an academy in Jabna with Rabbon Gamliel as the principal.

Titus soon captured the city, killed many of the people, and sent the others into exile. He entered the Temple, even in the Most Holy, and cut down the veil which separated it from the less sacred precincts. He seized the holy vessels, and sent them to Rome.

From this history of Kamtzah and Bar Kamtzah we should learn to be careful of offending our neighbours, when in so slight a cause such great results may originate. Our Rabbis have said that he who causes his neighbour to blush through an insult, should be compared to the one who sheds blood.” (Selections, by H. Polano)

Babylonian Talmud

What is his [the Messiah’s] name? The Rabbis said: His name is “the leper scholar,” as it is written, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Sanhedrin 98b)

“If I had been in the generation (which fixed the fast for the destruction of the first temple), I would not have fixed it but on the tenth (of Ab); for, adds he, the greatest part of the temple was burnt on that day; but the Rabbins rather regarded the beginning of the punishment.” (T. Bab, Taanith, fol. 29. 1.)

“what is the meaning of these words, “the day of vengeance is in my heart?” Says R. Jochanan, to my heart I have revealed it, to the members I have not revealed it: says R. Simeon ben Lakish, to my heart I have revealed it, “to the ministering angels I have not revealed it”.” (T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 1.)

“Rav Nahman said to Rav Yitzhak: What is  meant by, “The Holy One in your midst, and I will not come into the city” [Hosea 11:9]?  Because the Holy One is in your midst, I will not come into the city?  He replied to him:  Thus said Rabbi Yohannan:  The Holy One blessed be He has said, “I will not come into the supernal Jerusalem until I come into the lower Jerusalem.”  And is there [in fact] a supernal Jerusalem?  Yes, as it is written, “Jerusalem, built as a city which is bound firmly together” [Ps 122:3] (b. Ta’an. 5a; b. B. Bat. 75b)

Jerusalem Talmud

Amidah for Tishab’Av
“Have mercy, O Lord our God, with Your great mercy and Your faithful kindness, upon us and upon Your people Israel and upon Jerusalem Your city and upon Zion the resting place of Your glory, and upon the city, that is mourning and ruined and destroyed and desolate, given over to the hands of strangers, trampled with arrogant hands; and it was inherited by legions, and profaned by idolators, and to Israel Your people you have given it as a portion, and to the seed of Jeshurun you have it as an inheritance, for with fire you have burned it, and with fire you shall in the future build up, as said “For I shall be to it, sayeth the Lord, as a wall of fire around it, and I shall be for glory within it” (y. Ber., 4.3 [8a.]).

Soncino Talmud
“Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple.. the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself (Predict thy own destruction) ? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars” (Soncino Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, vol. III Toma, p. 186)

‘R. Eliezer [c. 80-120 AD] said, The days of the Messiah will be forty years. …[quoted from Everyman’s Talmud, by Abraham Cohen, pub. by E.P. Dutton & Co., 1949. Page 356].


“The Mishnah is the Written-Down Oral Law. The Gemarra is the major discussion of the Mishnah. Mishnah + Gemarra = Talmud.   The Babylonian Talmud was probably finished in the mid eighth century of the Common Era. It shows primarily the thoughts and beliefs of certain Jewish leaders and creators-of-legal material in Babylonia from around 200 CE to 500 CE. “ (JewishGates.org)

Isaiah 53:

“There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness. This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel. All of these come and rest upon Him. And had He not thus lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisements for the transgression of the law; as it is written, “Surely our sicknesses he has carried.” (Zohar II, 212a)




The Temple had been destroyed; Rabban Gamaliel and many of his colleagues were dead; the family of the Nasi extirpated, excepting only his son R. Simeon, who succeeded to his father as Nasi and established a college at Usha; and new persecutions, awful in their extent, were directed against those who were engaged in the compilation of the Talmud. The sages, the chief men of Israel, were slaughtered without pity by Trajan and his successors through the entire period of fifty-two years from the destruction of the Temple to the fall of Bethel. Some of these founders of the Talmud who forfeited their lives for its sake are known to us only by their names: R. Ishmael, Simeon b. Azai, Papus b. Jehudah, Yishbab the Scribe, Huzpeth the Dragoman (interpreter), Jehudah the Baker, Hananiah b. Tradion and Aqiba; the last, the main pillar of the Talmud, and who contributed much to its diffusion and completion, died with joy at being enabled to sacrifice his life for it.

One of the causes of the great revolt against the Romans at this time was the prohibition by the Roman government of the study of the Torah, wherein alone the Jews found comfort, since only in their houses of learning could they enjoy complete peace and freedom. But as the death penalty had been decreed against all who occupied themselves with religious study and observed its precepts, and as this prohibition deprived them of their only source of consolation, they rebelled, led by Bar Kochba. R. Aqiba was the first to become his adherent, who journeyed from town to town, inciting the Israelites to rebel, and bringing them the message that a saviour of Israel had arisen in Bar Kochba, the Messiah. It is not surprising, therefore, that Hadrian, when he had ascended to the throne, was not content barely with the massacre of the sages of the Talmud, but was intent also on the destruction of the Talmud itself. Unable to find a pretext for killing all the sages who kept it tip, he decreed that if any of the old rabbis Should qualify a young rabbi for Israel, both should be put to death, and the place in which such took place should be destroyed, believing that with the death of the elder generation the Talmud would be forgotten and Israel would blend with the nations and its memory be obliterated; because he very well knew that as long as the Talmud existed there was little hope for the assimilation of the Jews with other nations. This decree, however, was not executed, and his murderous plan was further frustrated by R. Jehudah b. Baba, who, forewarned of the decree and comprehending its consequences, betook himself to a place between two great mountains between Usha and Shprehem and licensed six of the older men of R. Aqiba’s disciples to be rabbis (i.e., teachers of the Talmud): R. Meir, R. Jehudah b. Elai, R. Jose b. Halaphta, R. Simeon b. Jochai, R. Eleazar b. Shemua, and R. Nehemiah. Having done this, and feeling sure that as long as these men lived the Talmud would be kept alive, he thus addressed them: “Fly, my sons, and hide from the wrath of the enemy. I alone will remain, and will offer my body to satiate their vengeance.” And in fact the Romans pierced his body with three hundred iron lances, so that it resembled a sieve; but the newly consecrated rabbis were saved, and with them the Talmud. (See Sanhedrin, p. 30.)

Thus the efforts of Hadrian met with no success, so that at last he said to himself: “Great is the sheep that stands among seventy wolves.” He saw the Talmud still existing, bringing to naught his plan for converting the Jews, uniting Israel into one people, and establishing it still more firmly as a national and a religious whole. For the six rabbis named above very soon became the soul of Talmudic study; some of them were with R. Simeon, the Nasi, in Shprehem, and others founded colleges of their own. Through them the Talmud regained its former power and influence, and one of them, R. Ilai, became the chief teacher of R. Jehudah the Nasi, the compiler of the Mishna.

The translation of the Bible (written law) into Greek also contributed very much to the popularization of the Talmud. As long as the Torah was in the sacred language only (for the Aramaic version of the time of Ezra had been concealed or destroyed as early as the time of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, the son of Simeon who had been slain, or probably even during the life of the latter), 1 all Jewish sects and foreign scholars interpreted it in their own way. But a wise Greek, a convert of Judaism, Aquila the Proselyte, who received the doctrines of the Talmud from the disciples of R. Johanan b. Zakkai and also from R. Aqiba, translated the Bible into Greek. This version was not acceptable to the Jewish believers in Jesus (Messianists)–who must already at that period have constituted a large sect–because their construction of many passages in the Messianic spirit was flatly disregarded by the new translation; nor to the Romans, because all expressions seeming to imply the materiality of the Deity were translated in a figurative sense–as for example, “the hand of the Lord”; “the glory of the Lord,” which the statue-worshipping Romans could not endure with equanimity, and further because by this translation the nature and doctrines of the Talmud became known to many nations, who found no evil in it. In our opinion the version of Aquila was the sole cause of the despatch of censors from Rome to revise the Talmud, and these censors avowed that its teaching was true. Be it as it may, in studying the history of the Talmud during the first three centuries the reader is easily convinced of the great courage and patience of the sages of the Talmud, For no year of that period passed without trouble from its external as well as from its internal foes, as R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, the Nasi of Jamnia, himself testifies. For even after the death of Hadrian it enjoyed but a short respite, for Antoninus Pius renewed the decree of Hadrian, and only with much trouble and at great risk of his life did the Nasi succeed in inducing R. Simeon b. Jochai and R. Josi to go with him to Rome to petition the Cćsar to repeal the decree, which, according to the tradition of the Talmud, they effected only through the intervention of “Ben Temalion” (a demon, according to some; a man, according to others). And yet, in spite of this, during this very period, the Talmud became so popular that every town wherein Jews had their habitation possessed also a house of learning for the study of the Talmud; so that everywhere it bloomed and flourished, and bore the fruit of the Mishna, as we shall see in the next chapter.” (Translated by MICHAEL L. RODKINSON Book 10 (Vols. I and II) [1918])


The Burnt House was found buried under a thick layer of destruction. Throughout the house, scattered in disarray among the collapsed walls, ceilings and the second story, were fragments of stone tables and many ceramic, stone and metal vessels, evidence of pillaging by the Roman soldiers. Leaning against a corner of one of the rooms was an iron spear, which apparently had belonged to one of the Jewish fighters who lived here. At the entrance to the side room, the arm bones of a young woman were found, the fingers clutching at the stone threshold. The many iron nails found in the ruins are all that was left of the wooden roof, the shelves and furnishings which were completely burnt. Numerous coins minted during the rebellion against the Romans (66-70 CE) attest to the date of the destruction of this house. In one of the rooms a round stone weight, 10 cm. in diameter, was found. On it, in square Aramaic script was the Hebrew inscription (of) Bar Kathros, indicating that it belonged to the son of a man named Kathros. The “House of Kathros” is known as that of a priestly family, which had abused its position in the Temple. A ditty preserved in talmudic literature speaks of the corruption of these priests:

Woe is me because of the House of Boethus,
woe is me because of their slaves.
Woe is me because of the House of Hanan,
woe is me because of their incantations.
Woe is me because of the House of Kathros,
woe is me because of their pens.
Woe is me because of the House of Ishmael, son of Phiabi,
woe is me because of their fists.
For they are the High Priests, and their sons are treasurers, and their sons-in law are trustees, and their servants beat the people with staves.  
(Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 57, 1 Tosefta, Minhot 13, 21)  

What do YOU think ?