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OCTOBER, 1839.




By Isaac Nordheimer, D. P., Prof. Orient. Lang., University of the city of New York.


A KNOWLEDGE of the history and usages of that peculiar community, of whom were the Fathers and the Prophets, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, must be regarded as an object of deep and permanent interest, not only to Christians of every name, but to the general scholar.

Aside however from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which they hold in common with us, the ancient, literature and learning of the Jews, having been preserved in the Hebrew tongue, and not translated into modern languages, are but very inadequately appreciated, as they are but partially understood, by the majority even of our scholars and divines. The Talmud and the Rabbies are familiar to us by name'; but little more is known of them by the mass of those who have occasion to refer to their names, than that the one is a Jewish book and that the others are Jewish teachers. Of the contents and extent of the former or the station, duties and general character of the latter SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. NO. IV.


most of us have received only vague and indefiniie impres. sions. The present article has therefore been solicited from the author, who is familiar with the whole range of Rabbinical learning. The editor is also assured that Dr. Nordheimer is not of that class of the Jews who submil their consciences 10 the traditional authority of the Talmud, as a divine revelation, With him the “ Law and the Testimony” are the Old Tes. tament Scriptures, and he feels no restraint in treating the traditional books of the Jews as merely human compositions, of no authority whatever excepting so far as they contain veritable history and sound instruction. He writes, therefore, not as an advocate of the Jewish traditions, but as a scholar, who, possessing the keys of this storehouse of learning, is willing to open it to the inspec. tion of that large class of our readers who have had less opportunity of becoming acquainted with its curious and interesting interior structure and history, as well as with the accumulated mais of useless plenty which it contains.

To the Christian scholar the intrinsic merit of this article will sufficiently commend it, while to the mere English reader it will be found altogether intelligible and instructive. We are huppy to add that the same author proposes in a future No. of the Repository to favor us with a brief sketch of the history of Jewish schools and literature, from the date of the Talmud to the present time, from which we may hope to derive a better knowledge than we have heretofóre possessed, of the present internal state of that interesting and dispersed community, and of the manner in which we may hope most successfully to approach its members with the influences of Christianity.



The great body of precepts and illustrations relating to Jewish faith and practice entitled the Talmud (795a, doctrine, from the Chald. 7 to learn) consists of the Mishnah (men second law, deurépwois, from now to repeat), which forms its text, and a perpetual commentary called the Gemara (7completion, from na to finish). There are two of these commentaries, one composed in Palestine and the .(ת' בבלי) Talmud

other in Babylonia, which form together with the Mish nah the Jerusalem Talmud (~330777'7) and the Babylonian

(). The Mishnah contains what is termed the oral law (npr. 7717), forming the explanation and completion of the Pentateuch or written law (77-777). It is affirmed by the Jews that Moses received this oral law immediately from the Deity, and that he delivered it to the children of Israel, who handed it down by tradition from generation to generation until about the middle of the second century of the Christian era, when it was reduced by Rabbi Judah Hannasi to the form of a written voluine.

The two Gemaras, of Jerusalem and Babylonia, in addition to expositions of the contents of the Mishnah and discussions on disputed points of doctrine, contain also historical and biographical notices, legends. disquisitions on astronomy and sympathetic medicine, aphorisms, apologues, parables, short and pithy sermons, and rules of ethics and of practical wisdom in general. The Jerusalem Gemara was composed at the city of Tiberias by R. Jochanan about seventy years after the compilation of the Mishnah (viz. 230 A. D.). It is so named, either from the dialect in which it is written (a corrupt Chaldee), or because it embodies the learning of the schools of Palestine, whose metropolis was Jerusalem, in order to distinguish it from the similar but far more copious Babylonian Gemara, composed in Babylonia about a century later liy Rabbies Ashi and Abbina.

The miscellaneous nature of the contents of these productions sufficiently bespeaks the remoteness and antiquity of their origin. There is still, however, a certain order observed in the disposal of the numerous distinct treatises composing them, of which there are twenty-four in the Jerusalem Talmud, and sixty-three in the Babylonian. As the Mishnah is believed by the Jews to have been received by Moses directly from God himself, they hold it in the highest esteem and veneration, regarding its authority as equal to that of the Bible, of which they say it forms the completion. The order of the principal men who became in succession the depositaries of this sacred tradition, and who handed it down in an unbroken series from Moses to the period when it was committed to writing, is given by R. Moses ben Maimon, or as he is more commonly called Maimonides, in

the introduction to his celebrated digest of Jewish law entitled the Yad Hachazakah (apinn 79 the strong hand). His account, somewhat condensed, is as follows:

All the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai were accompanied by their interpretation ; as it is wriiten, “ I will give thee tables of stone, and the law, and the commandment." (Ex. 21: 12). “ The law” (1717) means the written law, and " the commandment” (1970) its interpretation, the oral law. Although this oral law was not preserved in writing, Moses taught it all to the seventy elders composing his Beth-din (1978702) or tribunal.* Eleazar the priest, Phin

The manner of making this communication, says Mai. monides (Preface to Zeraim), was according to the Talmud (Erubhin ch. 5, fol. 55), as follows: “ When Moses had received a commandment from God, he withdrew to his tent, and was followed thither by Aaron, to whom he taught both the commandment that had been given him and its accompany. ing exposition; after which Aaron took his seat at the right hand of Moses. Aaron's two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, then entered ; and, Moses having repeated to them all that he had told their father, they seated themselves, the one on the left hand of Moses, and the other on Aaron's right. The seventy elders were next called in, and to them Moses recapitulated what he had before told to Aaron and his sons. After this the tent was thrown open to the body of the people and to every one who came to seek the Lord. To these Moses once more rehearsed what he had already imparted to Aaron, his sons, and the seventy elders ; so that every individual received the commandment and its exposition directly from his lips. Thus Aaron heard the instruction repeated by Moses four several times, his sons thrice, the elders twice, and the mass of the people once. When this was completed, Moses retired, and Aaron repeated the commandment and its exposition to all present; and when his sons had thus likewise heard the commandment four times, viz. three times from Moses and once from their father, Aaron also retired. His sons then did the same, and after them the seventy elders : so that the elders heard the instruction four times, viz. twice from the lips of Moses, once from Aaron, and once from his sons; and so did likewise the people, who heard it once from Moses, once from Aaron, once from his sons, and once from the elders.”

When the congregation dispersed, the people instructed one another in what they had heard from the mouth of Moses, eas his son, and Joshua were likewise instructed by Moses, especially the latter, who was his own immediate disciple. From Joshua, who spent his lif: in teaching it, the oral law was transmitted to many of the elders of the people ; and from them and Phineas it was received by Eli. It then passed successively through the hands of Samuel and his tribunal, David and his tribunal, Abiah the Shilonite and his tribunal, Elijah, Elisha, Jehoida the priest, Zechariah, Hosea,

and wrote down the commandments on rolls (niban); the head men of the nation also went about teaching and expounding the commandments to the people, until they were made thoroughly acquainted with them. The commandments them. selves were alone set down in writing, the expositions being merely committed to memory. Thus, for example, when the Holy One (blessed be he!) said to Moses, “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days” (Lev. 23: 42), this was written down; but in addition thereto Moses received from the Deity the full and circumstantial explanation which the commandment required ; such as that it was to be held obligatory on males only, and that, besides females, all persons in sickness or on a journey were to be exempt from its observance. The materials of which the booths were to be constructed were likewise prescribed, as well as their form, dimensions, &c., all of which are detailed with great minuteness in the Talmud. The same holds true with respect to the whole of the six hundred and thirteen commandments that were delivered to Moses.

In the eleventh month (Shebhat) of the fortieth year after the departure from Egypt, Moses caused the people to be assembled, and said to them, “The time of my death is drawing nigh: if therefore any one of you have forgotten any decision (3) of the Law that he has heard, let him come to me, and I will repeat and explain it; and if any have a question to ask, I will answer it,” as it is written (Deut. 1: 5), “Moses began to expound the law.” Thus the people received instruction in every thing pertaining to the law from the mouth of Moses himself, who was engaged in this work from the first day of the eleventh month to the seventh of the twelfth month(Adar). A short time before his death, Moses wrote out thirteen complete copies of the law on parchment, and gave one of them to every tribe as the constant rule of their future conduct; the remaining one he gave to the Levites to be deposited in the ark, saying, “ Take this book," &c. (Deut. 31: 26). He then ascended Mount Nebo about noon of the seventh day of the month Adar (Megillah, fol. 13), and returned no more.

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