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The Talmud
by [?]

The GEMARA, that is, the complement or perfection, contains the DISPUTES and the OPINIONS of the RABBINS on the oral traditions. Their last decisions. It must be confessed that absurdities are sometimes elucidated by other absurdities; but there are many admirable things in this vast repository. The Jews have such veneration for this compilation, that they compare the holy writings to water, and the Talmud to wine; the text of Moses to pepper, but the Talmud to aromatics. Of the twelve hours of which the day is composed, they tell us that God employs nine to study the Talmud, and only three to read the written law!

St. Jerome appears evidently to allude to this work, and notices its “Old Wives’ Tales,” and the filthiness of some of its matters. The truth is, that the rabbins resembled the Jesuits and Casuists; and Sanchez’s work on “Matrimonio” is well known to agitate matters with such scrupulous niceties as to become the most offensive thing possible. But as among the schoolmen and casuists there have been great men, the same happened to these Gemaraists. Maimonides was a pillar of light among their darkness. The antiquity of this work is of itself sufficient to make it very curious.

A specimen of the topics may be shown from the table and contents of “Mishnic Titles.” In the order of seeds, we find the following heads, which present no uninteresting picture of the pastoral and pious ceremonies of the ancient Jews.

The Mishna, entitled the Corner, i.e. of the field. The laws of gleaning are commanded according to Leviticus; xix. 9, 10. Of the corner to be left in a corn-field. When the corner is due and when not. Of the forgotten sheaf. Of the ears of corn left in gathering. Of grapes left upon the vine. Of olives left upon the trees. When and where the poor may lawfully glean. What sheaf, or olives, or grapes, may be looked upon to be forgotten, and what not. Who are the proper witnesses concerning the poor’s due, to exempt it from tithing, etc. They distinguished uncircumcised fruit:–it is unlawful to eat of the fruit of any tree till the fifth year of its growth: the first three years of its bearing, it is called uncircumcised; the fourth is offered to God; and the fifth may be eaten.

The Mishna, entitled Heterogeneous Mixtures, contains several curious horticultural particulars. Of divisions between garden-beds and fields, that the produce of the several sorts of grains or seeds may appear distinct. Of the distance between every species. Distances between vines planted in corn-fields from one another and from the corn; between vines planted against hedges, walls, or espaliers, and anything sowed near them. Various cases relating to vineyards planted near any forbidden seeds.

In their seventh, or sabbatical year, in which the produce of all estates was given up to the poor, one of these regulations is on the different work which must not be omitted in the sixth year, lest (because the seventh being devoted to the poor) the produce should be unfairly diminished, and the public benefit arising from this law be frustrated. Of whatever is not perennial, and produced that year by the earth, no money may be made; but what is perennial may be sold.

On priests’ tithes, we have a regulation concerning eating the fruits carried to the place where they are to be separated.

The order women is very copious. A husband is obliged to forbid his wife to keep a particular man’s company before two witnesses. Of the waters of jealousy by which a suspected woman is to be tried by drinking, we find ample particulars. The ceremonies of clothing the accused woman at her trial. Pregnant women, or who suckle, are not obliged to drink for the rabbins seem to be well convinced of the effects of the imagination. Of their divorces many are the laws; and care is taken to particularise bills of divorces written by men in delirium or dangerously ill. One party of the rabbins will not allow of any divorce, unless something light was found in the woman’s character, while another (the Pharisees) allow divorces even when a woman has only been so unfortunate as to suffer her husband’s soup to be burnt!