Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE JEWS AND THE TALMUD AFTER THE TIME OF

CHRIST.

BY DR.

DR. MICHELSEN.

It may easily be imagined that the few civil laws of Moses, as found scattered in a few chapters of the Pentateuch, and which were deemed sufficient for the social requirements of a tribe wandering in the desert, could form but a very inadequate provision for the growing, civil, political, and even religious requirements of a nation firmly established in a country of their own, ruled by monarchs, priests, or prophets of their own, and carrying on trade or social intercourse with other nations around them. There can be no doubt that various legislative decrees and judicial decisions were from time to time duly enacted, according to the requirements or the spirit of the age, and as these were in most cases but slightly and remotely founded on the original constitution (the Pentateuch), they received the name of “ traditional law” in contradistinction to the " written law,” as given by Moses. The former were called

תורה verbal or oral_law), and the latter) תורה שבעל פה

[ocr errors]

:

nav (written law). Such legislative enactments were usually (according to ancient custom) deposited in the archives of the temple in the custody of the high priest, but they were subsequently destroyed by the burning of the temple and the Babylonian captivity. On returning from exile, after a lapse of seventy years, the new generation brought with them notions which were at variance with the old Mosaicism : indeed it may be said that they scarcely knew anything of the Pentateuch which Ezra was obliged to explain to them; although its existence was well known to them (Ezra viii. 1).

The shortcomings of the written law and the loss of the traditional, added to the heathen notions imported from Chaldæa, soon gave rise to various sects and parties, which lived in continual hostility with each other, each aiming at popular influence uncontrolled by the absolute power of independent kings who no longer existed in Judæa, inasmuch as that country thenceforth formed a mere dependency of foreign potentates.

The different views on the subject of religion were made use of (as in later times during the Reformation in Germany) by the heads of the respective sects, for political purposes and popular ascendancy.

There were the Sadducees (the materialists of modern times) who rejected the traditional law and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, a sect which, though very unpopular, still counted in its ranks many of the statesmen and nobles.

The Pharisees (the Jesuits of our days) taught intolerance, were opposed to all progress and education, kept the people in dark ignorance, and invented or indulged in all sorts of traditional absurdities (the Talmud glossaries of later ages), and even wickedness. These found much favour amongst the ad. miring multitude, and by the hypocritical semblance of extreme piety and a strict observance of “opus operatum," they were enabled to assume an infallible authority and were supposed to possess Divine power. They created a species of mystic doctrines composed of Eastern gnosis intermixed with pythagorean ideas, by which the tenets of holy Scripture were interpreted, or rather transformed into cabalistic and mystical dogmas, intelligible only to the initiated and wondered at by the ignorant laity. It was not long before numbers of these cabalistic schools were established throughout the country, in which all the purer tenets of religion and the fundamental laws of Moses were superseded by wicked and absurd notions of Deity and the Divine laws. The Pharisees thus became the ruling and dominant party in the state, teaching in all the schools the leading principle of supreme rabbinical authority, which consisted in the formula, “the fear of the rabbis is equal to that of God.” They also taught that the "dicta” of the rabbis were superior to the written laws of Moses, theirs being the traditional laws which, from their multiplicity, Moses found it impossible to set down in writing, and merely entrusted by mouth to his brother Aaron and the elders, by which means they were handed down uninterruptedly from generation to generation.

Some of the rabbis went even farther in their bold assertions and ascribed the oral law to a much earlier period than Moses, viz., to the patriarch Abraham, who, they averred, actually observed and acted up to it. No one dared to question such impudent assertions on pain of excommunication, since “ doubting the word of a rabbi is doubting that of God.”

“A pious rabbi,” it was further taught, “is able to redeem the whole generation from sin, either by his prayers or his death.” In this manner was the power of absolution transferred from the high priests to the rabbis, who thus exercised unlimited power over the minds of the people. After the destruction of the Jewish state by Titus, the emigrated rabbis established a sort of Sanhedrim at Tiberias, and this thenceforth formed the Supreme Court or Synod in all matters connected with religion for the whole body of the Jews settled in the Roman empire.

In the second century A.D., Rabbi Jehudah, called the Saint, (0977.7) undertook to make a collection of the whole of the traditional law, i.e., of the dicta, doctrines and opinions of the various rabbis, to serve as a permanent code of law for all the Jews dispersed throughout the world. This collection, called “Mishnah,” (1709) i.e., second law, was universally adopted by the Jews and was everywhere sanctioned as the Divine oral law. The numerous supplementary interpretations and controversial commentaries on that text-book, which were continually suggested by the various rabbis, were finally, at the close of the third century, collected by Rabbi Jochannan, the head master of the school or college of Palestine, and the collection received the name of Gemarah, (na) i.e., complement. The Jews, scattered in the Persian empire, evinced a similar zeal for the study of the law, which gave rise to the establishment, in the middle of the fourth century, of the colleges of Sora and Nabardea on the Euphrates.

The different and even conflicting opinions in the interpretation of the oral law, as manifested in the above-mentioned collections, induced, at the commencement of the fifth century, the Rabbi Ahsia, head master of the Sora College, in conjunction with the Rabbi Abina (his pupil), to undertake a new collection of the oral law, as adopted by these Persian schools or colleges, thus forming a new “Gemarah,” which was finally completed in the sixth century by Rabbi Jose, head of the College at Pombeditha.

The Mishnah and Gemarah form together the Talmud (i. e., the doctrine or teaching), which received its name from the countries where it was composed and collected, one being called the Babylonian (mobn), whilst that collected by Rabbi Jehuda passes by the name of the Jerusalem Talmud (nebo opbevonnn. The text of either Talmud, the Mishnah, forms a collection of statutes and regulations on all sorts of religious ceremonies, domestic and social duties, as well as laws upon economical, agricultural, and commercial relations, whilst the Gemarah is replete with various interpretations, explanations, and controversies on a variety of subjects, of which not the least trace is to be found in the written law of Moses, but which encompasses the life of the orthodox Jew with an iron barrier that separates him from nearly all social transactions and intercourse with his Christian neighbours. The chasm thus formed was widened by the persecutions which the Jews received at the hands of the Christians, who regarded the latest descendants of

בבלי)

the contemporaries of Christ as his murderers, looking at them accordingly with contempt and hatred, and treating them as Pariahs, or even outlaws. It is self-evident that such persecutions could only tend to generate mutual hatred and contempt, their effect being to produce a more strict adherence, on the part of the Jews, to their religious tenets, in opposition to those professed by their enemies, who barely granted them a scanty existence in social and political life. In recent times, however, the position of the Jew has become less irksome, and a desire seems now universally evinced to treat the Jew on equal terms with all the other citizens of the State, and experience has shewn that in all those countries where such ameliorations have actually been introduced, the Jews have, to a great extent, freed themselves from those rabbinical trammels and prejudices, by adherence to which they may be said to form a state within a state.

The Talmud is divided into six sections (01770), each of which contains several Tractates (inde),“ subdivided into

.(פרקים) chapters

The subjects treated of in these six sections are as follows :

Section I. Of sowing, tilling, and cultivating the fields; of their produce and fruits; of the form of benediction, and offerings of the produce. This section contains eleven Tractates, the first of which treats (in 9 chapters) of the benedictions ; how, when, and where they are to be performed as thanksgivings to God for the fruit of the earth, and other benefits received at his hands.

The second Tractate (in 8 chapters) relates to the size and measure of the angles or corners of fields, the fruit or corn of which was to be assigned gratis to the poor.

The third Tractate (in 7 chapters) treats of dubious subjects, i. e., of raw materials, on which various opinions were held as to whether or not they were liable to the dues of tithe.

The fourth Tractate is in 9 chapters, and is devoted to a description of the various kinds of seeds which are not to be intermixed in sowing, as also of the various kinds of yarns or threads which are not to be intermingled in the making of dresses and garments.

The fifth Tractate (in 10 chapters) treats of the laws and regulations respecting the Sabbath year (the seventh year).

The sixth Tractate (in 11 chapters), of the holy offerings for the benefit of the priests.

The seventh Tractate (in 5 chapters), of the first tithing for the benefit of the Levites.

a Not always reckoned in the same order.'

The eighth Tractate (in 5 chapters) of the second tithing, which the Levites are to deliver to the priests, to be consumed at Jerusalem.

The ninth Tractate (in 4 chapters) of the offering-dough, a portion of which the housewives are to put aside for the officiating priest.

The tenth Tractate (in 3 chapters) of the mode of proceeding to be adopted with fruits of trees during the first three years of their growth.

The eleventh Tractate (in 4 chapters) of firstlings, with an enumeration of those things of which the firstlings are to be brought as an offering to the temple.

Section II. Of the holy days and their observances. This section contains twelve Tractates, viz. :

1. Of the Sabbath-day (in 24 chapters).

2. Of the beginning of the Sabbath-day, and the religious performances of it; also of the distance that may be walked, and the things that may be carried on that day (divided into 10 chapters).

3. Of the Paschal feast, the unleavened bread, and the offering lamb (divided into 10 chapters).

4. Of the shekels : the annual tribute in lieu of the animal sacrifices. This is divided into 8 chapters, and is the only Tractate of this section without a Gemarah.

5. Of the fast-day of atonement, and the observances on that day (in 8 chapters).

6. Of the feast of tabernacles (in 5 chapters).

7. Of an egg laid on the Sabbath-day, and in general of all that may be eaten on that day (in 5 chapters).

5 8. Of the feast of New Year (in 4 chapters). 9. Of other festivals (in 4 chapters). 10. Of Esther or Purim feast (in 4 chapters).

11. Of the minor feasts falling between the first and last days of the Easter and Tabernacle feasts (in 3 chapters).

12. Of the duty of each Israelite to appear three times in the year at Jerusalem.

Section III. Of matrimony, marriage state, and divorce. This section is divided into the following seven Tractates :

1. Of the degrees of affinity (in 16 chapters).

2. Of marriage contracts, marriage rights, and duties (in 13 chapters).

3. Of betrothals, and their validity (in 4 chapters).
4. Of divorce, and its ceremonies (in 9 chapters).
5. Of vows, and their validity (in il chapters).

a

« PreviousContinue »