Talmudical Judaism

Doctrines Fundamental to Talmudical or Rabbinic Judaism is the belief that the Oral Torah, that is to say, the collective wisdom of the sages (or rabbis), bears authority equal to that of the Written Torah (the "Five Books of Moses": see Ancient Judaism). Both were believed to have their origin at Sinai, but while the latter was revealed only in written form, the sayings of the rabbis were not written down before c.200 C.E. when the first systematic collection, the Mishnah, was edited. This is a kind of lawcode, quite independent of the Written Torah, though related to it and the rest of Hebrew scripture by frequent cross-references. It consists of 63 tractates arranged thematically in six divisions covering agriculture, festivals and fasts, women, civil law, holy things and ritual purity. Two tractates break with this arrangement, the very first, Berakhot ("Blessings") on prayer, which has nothing directly to do with agriculture and functions as a kind of devotional preface, and Aboth ("sayings of the fathers") which is a unique collection of popular sayings, probably inserted later into its present position in the Mishnah. The Tosefta, composed c.300 CE, is a supplement to the Mishnah, dependent on it in style and arrangement, but considerably larger.
The rest of the Oral Torah is contained in the vast corpus of rabbinic literature composed between 300 and c.600CE. It has two strands, halakhic and haggadic. Halakhah is law and the halakhic literature provides guidance on how to settle questions of Jewish law and practice, while haggadah refers to stories and legends which illuminate Jewish theological beliefs. Central to halakhah are the two Talmuds, "Yerushalmi" (i.e. the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud, composed c.400 C.E.) and "Bavli" (the Babylonian Talmud, composed c.600 C.E.), which are to this day, especially Bavli, at the core of all varieties of Jewish religious education. They are in the form of vast, discursive commentaries on the Mishnah, using both everyday Aramaic and Hebrew ("the sacred language").
Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible from this formative period are known collectively as Midrash, a literary genre controlled by carefully worked out systems of hermeneutical rules. They are characterized by attention to the minutest detail of the Hebrew text and a passionate concern to find a way of giving every text a contemporary meaning in the life and experience of the community. Much of the midrashic literature, such as the commentaries on Genesis known as Genesis Rabbah, is haggadic, but the earliest commentaries on Exodus (Mekhilta), Leviticus (Sifra) and Deuteronomy (Sifre) are halakhic. With midrash, we must also note such influential commentaries on the synagogue lectionary as Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (c.500 C.E.) and Pesikta Rabbati (c.600 C.E.) as well as the various Targumim, popular and much used Aramaic translations (or in many cases paraphrases) of the Hebrew Bible from the same period.
Jewish scripture (that is, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings), finally canonized by the end of the first century CE, and alongside it the great corpus of "Oral Torah" in the written forms just described, provided the basis for virtually all subsequent developments in the history of Judaism. Popular and enormously influential mediaeval commentaries on the Bible, especially those by Rashi (1040-1105), Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) and David Kimhi (1160-1235), and on the Talmud especially those of Rashi and Maimonides (1135-1204), the greatest of Jewish philosophers, work entirely within the Talmudic tradition. The same is true of three other types of literature: the codes of Jewish law, of which the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the Shulhan Arukh of Joseph Caro (1488-1575) are the most important, the "Responsa literature"; collections of answers to enquiries about problems of Jewish law addressed to celebrated rabbinic authorities from the seventh century down to the present day; and the Siddur or "Daily Prayerbook" compiled in its earliest form in the ninth century.
A consensus was reached on virtually every detail of established Jewish practice, such as circumcision, marriage and divorce, the burial of the dead, the food laws, the sabbath, the synagogue and public worship. Minority views were preserved in the Talmud as well, however, and could be referred to in situations which demanded new halakhic decisions. Jewish ethical teachings, such as the "Golden Rule" ("Love your neighbour as yourself"), and concern for social justice, the preservation of life and animal welfare, are likewise enunciated in the rabbinic literature. The same is true of belief in one God, Israel's unique role in the world, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, Judgement Day and other doctrines, enshrined in the daily prayer known as the Amidah (or "Eighteen Blessings") and in the "Thirteen Principles" of Maimonides, still printed in orthodox editions of the Siddur.

History The destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE marked the end of Judaism as a national religion with a central authority and the beginning of a period of reconstruction and consolidation during which rabbinic Judaism emerged, under the leadership of the "rabbis", lay teachers from among the Pharisees, instead of the priestly aristocracy that had dominated the Sanhedrin. By that time synagogues had been established in every Jewish community, and huge numbers of Jews lived outside Palestine, especially in Babylonia and Egypt, where they had inevitably assumed a degree of independence already from the Temple establishment in Jerusalem. Illustrations of this are to be found in the vast corpus of Jewish literature written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic during the last two centuries of the Second Temple Period. Most of this literature, including an important translation of the Bible into Greek known as the Septuagint (3rd-2nd centuries BCE), the works of Philo of Alexandria (c.25 BCE-40 CE), and numerous apocryphal and pseudepigraphical compositions accepted as canonical by some varieties of Christianity, had little influence on Talmudical Judaism.
With the permission of the Romans a new Pharisaic academy was set up at Yavneh (Jamnia) on the coast south of modern Tel Aviv. Under its first presidents, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabban Gamaliel II, the rabbis of Yavneh established a new and more democratic type of Sanhedrin, adapted the Temple festivals and rituals for use in synagogues, and fixed the canon of scripture, excluding all the later Jewish literature just referred to. The success of this great work of reconstruction in defeated Judaea was due mainly to the outstanding intellectual and spiritual qualities of sages like Rabbi Ishmael, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Meir and finally "Rabbi" himself, that is, Yehudah ha-Nasi ("Judah the Prince"), who was responsible for collecting and editing their sayings in the Mishnah c.200CE. Other academies were formed at Caesarea, Tiberias, Sepphoris and elsewhere in Palestine, where the Palestinian Talmud (Yerushalmi) was produced c.400CE.
Under Christian rule after 325, when Constantine the Great, a convert to Christianity, made his religion the official religion of the Roman Empire, Judaism soon became a fragile minority religion in Palestine, and the main centre of Jewish scholarship shifted to the academies of Sura, Nehardea and Pumbedita in modern Iraq, where the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) reached its present form c.500CE. From the seventh century the Babylonian academies thrived under Islamic rule, sharing in the philosophical, linguistic and scientific scholarship of the Muslim world. The greatest of their presidents (Geonim) was the Egyptian-born Saadiya ha-Gaon (882-942), remembered for his prolific writings on Hebrew philology, rabbinic theology and liturgy, and as the one who successfully withstood the challenge of the Karaites, a dissident group who rejected rabbinic and talmudical authority.

Symbols In addition to the menorah, shofar and other Temple images familiar from earlier periods (see Ancient Judaism), symbols derived from synagogue worship become increasingly popular, for example, a stylized representation of the two tablets of the law inscribed in Hebrew with the first words of each of the Ten Commandments, and the palm-branch (lulav) and citrus fruit (etrog) used in the autumn festival of Sukkot. The earliest examples of Hanukkah lamps, decorative 8-spout oil lamps used at the festival of Hanukkah, come from this period too. The tallit (prayershawl) was also in use by this time. Illustrations of the Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac first told in Genesis 22, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac (mazalot), probably celebrating Jewish cosmology, appear in synagogue art.

Adherents Probably well over 3,000,000. By the sixth century CE there were already substantial communities in Palestine, Asia Minor, Babylonia, Egypt, North Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain and France.

Headquarters/
Main Centre
 In Palestine authority resided first in relatively small councils at Yavneh and Sepphoris, and later at the academies of Caesarea and Tiberias. In Babylonia the most important academies were those at Sura and Pumbeditha.