[Hebrew, Instruction] - After the Bible,
Judaism's most important book. It contains commentaries on the Holy
Scripture, rabbinical discussions, moral instructions and parables.
These cover subjects such as the essence of God, cosmology, the
afterlife, resurrection, the Final Judgement, the Messiah, the essence
of man, the human soul, sin and repentance, reward and punishment, faith
and prayer, religious laws, civil and penal law, family life, the role
of women, the rearing of children, the individual and society, moral
principles (with respect to God, other people and animals), instructions
on leading a pious life, the consumption of food, caring for one's body
and health, and demonology.
The Talmud developed gradually; its basic
elements were codified in the fourth century AD, though some fragments
were written later. The Talmud is comprised of two main parts. The
first, the Mishnah, is comprised of oral law that was written down by
the Tanaits. The second, the Gemara, provides commentary on the Mishnah,
and was written in two versions in the Talmudic academies of Palestine
and Babylon. Both versions are still in use in Judaism today, though the
Jerusalem Talmud (Hebrew, Talmud Yerushalmi, fourth century AD) was not
developed any further; the Babylon Talmud (Hebrew, Talmud Babli, ca.
500 AD) continued to grow, with new commentaries [Hebrew, tosefta,
"addition"] being added, as well as rabbinical decisions related to
religious problems (Rashi)-a lively interpretation of religion change
over time as conditions change.
The religious questions touched upon in the
Talmud are called halakha; parables, legends, moral edicts and folkloric
themes are called agada [Aramaic, story]. The Talmud Jews use today is a
multi-volume work, the study of which is a fundamental obligation of
the Orthodox Jews.