**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Talmud
by [?]

These few titles may enable the reader to form a general notion of the several subjects on which the Mishna treats. The Gemara or Commentary is often overloaded with ineptitudes and ridiculous subtilties. For instance, in the article of “Negative Oaths.” If a man swears he will eat no bread, and does eat all sorts of bread, in that case the perjury is but one; but if he swears that he will eat neither barley, nor wheaten, nor rye-bread, the perjury is multiplied as he multiplies his eating of the several sorts.–Again, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had strong differences about touching the holy writings with their hands. The doctors ordained that whoever touched the book of the law must not eat of the truma (first fruits of the wrought produce of the ground), till they had washed their hands. The reason they gave was this. In times of persecution, they used to hide those sacred books in secret places, and good men would lay them out of the way when they had done reading them. It was possible, then, that these rolls of the law might be gnawed by mice. The hands then that touched these books when they took them out of the places where they had laid them up, were supposed to be unclean, so far as to disable them from eating the truma till they were washed. On that account they made this a general rule, that if any part of the Bible (except Ecclesiastes, because that excellent book their sagacity accounted less holy than the rest) or their phylacteries, or the strings of their phylacteries, were touched by one who had a right to eat the truma, he might not eat it till he had washed his hands. An evidence of that superstitious trifling, for which the Pharisees and the later Rabbins have been so justly reprobated.

They were absurdly minute in the literal observance of their vows, and as shamefully subtile in their artful evasion of them. The Pharisees could be easy enough to themselves when convenient, and always as hard and unrelenting as possible to all others. They quibbled, and dissolved their vows, with experienced casuistry. Jesus reproaches the Pharisees in Matthew xv. and Mark vii. for flagrantly violating the fifth commandment, by allowing the vow of a son, perhaps made in hasty anger, its full force, when he had sworn that his father should never be the better for him, or anything he had, and by which an indigent father might be suffered to starve. There is an express case to this purpose in the Mishna, in the title of Vows. The reader may be amused by the story:–A man made a vow that his father should not profit by him. This man afterwards made a wedding-feast for his son, and wishes his father should be present; but he cannot invite him, because he is tied up by his vow. He invented this expedient:–He makes a gift of the court in which the feast was to be kept, and of the feast itself, to a third person in trust, that his father should be invited by that third person, with the other company whom he at first designed. This third person then says–If these things you thus have given me are mine, I will dedicate them to God, and then none of you can be the better for them. The son replied–I did not give them to you that you should consecrate them. Then the third man said–Yours was no donation, only you were willing to eat and drink with your father. Thus, says R. Juda, they dissolved each other’s intentions; and when the case came before the rabbins, they decreed that a gift which may not be consecrated by the person to whom it is given is not a gift.

The following extract from the Talmud exhibits a subtile mode of reasoning, which the Jews adopted when the learned of Rome sought to persuade them to conform to their idolatry. It forms an entire Mishna, entitled Sedir Nezikin, Avoda Zara, iv. 7. on idolatrous worship, translated by Wotton.

“Some Roman senators examined the Jews in this manner:–If God hath no delight in the worship of idols, why did he not destroy them? The Jews made answer–If men had worshipped only things of which the world had had no need, he would have destroyed the object of their worship; but they also worship the sun and moon, stars and planets; and then he must have destroyed his world for the sake of these deluded men. But still, said the Romans, why does not God destroy the things which the world does not want, and leave those things which the world cannot be without? Because, replied the Jews, this would strengthen the hands of such as worship these necessary things, who would then say–Ye allow now that these are gods, since they are not destroyed.”