What is the Talmud?

The layout of the Talmud, one of the most important Jewish texts, has remained virtually unchanged since its earliest days in print. What part did Daniel Bomberg — a Christian printer in Venice — play in its publication, what’s behind the concept of “daf yomi” (reading a page of Talmud a day) and why has the Talmud’s graphic design not changed for generations?  After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. How often does the Siyum HaShas take place?
    • Every year
    • Every 14 years
    • On Rosh Hashanah
    • Every 7.5 years
  2. How many pages are there in the Talmud?
    • 7122
    • 724
    • 247
    • 2711
  3. Which of the following facts about the Talmud is false?
    • It’s written in a dead language
    • There is no punctuation
    • It is the visual version of the written law
    • It’s written in partial sentences
  4. How many mitzvot (commandments) are in the Torah?
    • 10
    • 613
    • 316
    • 1000
  5. What is the oral Torah referred to as in Hebrew?
    • The Mishna
    • The Gemara
    • The Talmud
    • Midrash
  6. What is the Gemara?
    • The written Torah
    • Commentary on the Mishna
    • The oral Torah
    • Commentary on the written Torah
  7. Who were two of the most famous commentators on the Talmud?
  1. Why do you think the Talmud is so popular?
  2. The Talmud explicitly sets out an important principle when it comes to halakhic decision making in Berakhot 9a when it states: “Rabbi Shimon is a great enough authority to rely upon in cases of emergency/pressing need.” We find that there are some instances when the minority opinion may be relied on instead of the majority view. Why do you think it was important to include both the accepted majority opinions as well as the rejected minority opinions in the Gemara? What does this teach us about the philosophy of Jewish learning?
  3. One of the greatest Torah scholars in modern times, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz z”l once wrote: “if the bible is the cornerstone of Judaism, then the Talmud is the central pillar, soaring up from the foundations and supporting the entire spiritual and intellectual edifice. In many ways the Talmud is the most important book in Jewish culture, the backbone of creativity and of national life.” Do you agree or disagree with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s assertion about the importance of the Talmud in Jewish life? Why or why not?
  4. The Talmud was publicly burned multiple times throughout Jewish history, mostly in Medieval Christian Europe. In perhaps the most infamous case, the Talmud was “put on trial” in Paris in the 13th century. After the theological debate, the Talmud, along with several other Jewish texts, was burned…and this was all before the invention of the printing press. If Christians read and believe in the “Old Testament” (Tanakh), then why do you think Christian leadership at the time had an issue with the Talmud? What difference did they see between the “Old Testament” and Talmud?
  1. In the video, the Talmud is described as “a page-by-page snapshot of nearly 2000 years of collaborative discussion.” The Talmud does this with words, so create your own piece of art that demonstrates this in a visual way. You can use art supplies or images from the internet.
  2. Read this article about the South Korean passion and interest in Talmud study. After reading the article, answer the following questions in small groups:
    • Why are so many Koreans interested in the Talmud?
    • What is so effective about chavruta-based learning?
    • Many Koreans believe that the reason that there are so many Jewish Nobel Prize laureates is because of the Jewish approach to education. How would you describe this approach? How do you think it impacts Jewish culture?
  3. One of the main principles of chavruta learning is Makhloket or debate. Hold a debate with your students on a subject that is important and relevant to them (it can be political, cultural, philosophical or Jewish!). After the debate, crown a winner and then ask your students to brainstorm the benefits of debate and listening to a diversity of viewpoints as a way of learning.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on the Talmud!
  1. The Talmud’s layout captures some of Judaism’s most important values: scholarship, debate, history, memory and community. Rank these five Jewish values in order of importance in your own life.
  2. People often refer to “Daf Yomi” as the world’s biggest book club. Do you think you could ever commit to doing something every day for 7.5 years? What would determine if you would do it or not?
  3. Jewish educator Dr. Noam Weissman has said:

“Jewish institutions often have a religious “Atkins” approach to Jewish learning, in which the Talmud is the sole focus of the learning experience. Talmud is the protein. However, there is a need for a healthy diet of Jewish education which includes Talmud, Midrash, Jewish thought, Tanakh, Jewish history and Israel education. Even still, at the end of the day, Talmud is the protein of Jewish education and everybody needs their protein.” 

Why do you think the Talmud study might be the “protein” of Jewish learning?

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