The Babylonian Talmud

By Translated by Michael L. Rodkinson

Book 10 - Volume 19

Volume II: Historical and Literary Introduction to the New Edition of the Talmud

Part III


The Method of our Translation into English of our Revised Text in the "New Edition."

After having submitted the text of the Talmud to a thorough review, and carried out the corrections thus found necessary, we have come down to the conclusion that the translation of the Talmud into English in this corrected form would be although not one of the easiest, but a possible task. 1 Thus we made up our mind to start this task, having considered as our leading principle to carry it out in a manner that should facilitate the understanding of the Talmud to such English readers as are not conversant with the Hebrew text. Therefore we did not care to give the discussions of the Mishnas, Tosephtas and Boraithas which the Gemara quotes for the purpose of a contradiction, objection, or comparison with a distinguishing expression, as we thought it is immaterial for the English reader. The method of the Gemara, however, is to distinguish the expressions for the purpose of letting the reader know whether the quotation is from a Mishna, Tosephta, or Boraitha, or was only said by the Amoraim, the expounders of the Mishna, viz.: (1) Tenan, for the quotation of a Mishna; (2) Tania, for the quotation of a Tosephta or a Boraitha; (3) Itemar, for the quotation of that which was said by the Amoraim. Therefore in the first volume of our editions, for all the quotations we have used only one expression, "we have learned," or "it was taught." However, after we were criticised for this, we also adopted a method of distinguishing the quotations, which is printed in the Explanatory Remarks to each volume; namely: Remark 1. For a quotation from the Mishna, "we have learned in a Mishna," for a Tosephta or a Boraitha, "we have learned in a Tosephta or a Boraitha," and for the sayings of the Amoraim, "it was taught." Thus have we also corrected in the second edition of the first and the fourth volumes: Remark 2. To save space we did not adopt the method of the German translators who usually write question and answer to each paragraph where such is to be found; we have indicated the question by an interrogation point, and immediately follows the answer without being so marked. Coming to the third explanatory remark, in which we say that we translate only the second, we have to give here this explanation at length, as this treats about omissions from the text in the translation.

In our Hakol, vol. VI., No. 298, 1885, in which we announced that we desire to revise and correct the Talmud so as to make its translation possible into a living language, we gave some examples of the omissions necessary in Halakha and Hagada for this purpose. And we dare say that the examples were favorably received by eminent students of the Talmud. As an answer to another criticism in a Hebrew monthly in New York, Ner Hamarobe, we wrote a long article in the same about our method of the omissions in Halakha, claiming that in reality we omit nothing of importance of the whole text, in the shape given out by its compilers, and only that which we were certain to have been added by the dislikers of the Talmud for the purpose of degrading it we do omit. We cannot very well translate the whole article here for lack of space and time. We will therefore limit ourselves to pointing out the omissions of Halakha and Hagada with one or two examples: (1) Omitting repetitions, e.g., in Tract Kethuboth 72b, there is a Mishna, "if one betroths a woman with the stipulation that she is not subject to any vows," and the whole Mishna with its Gemara is repeated in Tract Kedushin 58, without any change, and the Gemara to this Mishnayoth questions why the repetition? To which the same answer, "it was learned by the way," is repeated in both tracts. In our edition the Mishna will appear only once, in Tract Kedushin, and it is self-evident that the question and the answer of the Gemara falls off. However, the continuation which is if importance comes in the proper place. This is concerning the Mishnayoth. The discussions in the Gemara are repeated sometimes from one to fifteen times, some of them without any change at all, and some with change of little or no importance. In our edition we give the discussion only once, in its proper place. True, it is a great difficulty to go over all the repetitions, to mark the changes wherever they are, and to consider the matter thoroughly as to which is the most proper place for them. However, we did not spare time and careful study. And according to our ability we left it at the place which seemed to us to be proper and cancelling all other repetitions. 1 (2) There is a custom in the text when it brings a statement from an Amora (very seldom also from a Tana) which is in conflict with a Mishna or a Boraitha, and trying to reconcile them by a long discussion, and after it comes to the conclusion that such a reconciliation is impossible, it concludes that "if such was taught it must be so and so," contrary to the first statement. We in our edition translate only the conclusion, omitting the whole discussion, which partly or wholly is to be found elsewhere. (Examples of this are given in our above-mentioned article, and as they are very numerous, we cannot give them here). (3) Where there are two versions in the text under the term Lishma achrena (another version), or Ika d'amri (some say), or Waibayith Aema (if you wish, we may say), and the second is contrary or entirely different from the first, we mostly give the second only. However, we are very careful in omitting such. (See our concluding words in Vol. XVII., page 8), and as to the last phrase, Waibayith Aema, which in many places is said twice or thrice, the reader will find all of them translated in our translation, under the term, "if you wish it may be said so, and if you wish, it may be said so." (4) The reader will find in our edition foot-notes stating, "transferred from tract so and so," in Halakha as well as in Hagada. We do so when the subject treated is inserted in a place where it is disconnected with the preceding and following statement; however, there is a special discussion about the same subject in another tract. (Concerning Hagada we did so in Tract Sanhedrin, transferring Hagadas which have no connection in the preceding chapters, to the last (eleventh) chapter which is all Hagada. This is done for the purpose of preventing confusion in the reader's mind, which, while engaged in one subject, is abruptly confronted with a strange subject. (5) In a very few places we combine two Mishnayoths which are united in the editions of the separate Mishnayoths, but are divided in the Gemara into two or three (see Nedarim 32b and 33a), to which the Gemara questions "in accordance with what Tana the statement of this Mishna is given," and answers "in accordance with so and so," and the same it does with the divided Mishna with the same question and answer. (6) In places where the Gemara discusses in a long paragraph, "how was the case? Shall we assume so, then such a statement would be in the way, and if we assume so, another statement of so and so would be in the way," etc. The conclusion, however, is explained clearly and nicely. In such cases we often translate the conclusion only, omitting the discussion, which seems to us to be inserted only for the purpose of sharpening the mind. (However, we are very careful with such omissions, and if we see in them something of importance, we do not omit them.) To this point, may be added then that all the discussions usual in the Gemara why the Tana or the Amora A does not say like B, and why B does not say like C, and C like D, and then why D does not say like C, B, and A, etc. After then when the reason is given why A does not say like B, and B like C, it is again asked why should A not adopt the reason of B, etc., etc. We then give only the questions and answers of the first category, viz., why does not A agree with B and C, and B and C with A. We omit, however, the second category of the questions and answers for not adopting the reasons, which in many places occupy a whole column and after reading it, we do not find anything new or important, but simply repetitions after repetitions which confuse the mind of the reader without doing any good. (7) Questions which remain undecided and many of them are not at all practical but only imaginary, and very peculiar too, 1 we omit. Many of such questions were ascribed to the Amora Jeremiah, of whom Rabha said that, "When he was in Babylonia he never understood what the Rabbis said." When he (Jeremiah) came to Palestine he expressed himself concerning the Babylonian scholars thus: "The Babylonians who are dwelling in a dark land are proclaiming dark Halakhath." It is the same to us if Jeremiah questioned the above-mentioned questions at the time he did not understand the Rabbis, or, as I. H. Weiss said, that he intended with such questions to ridicule the Rabbis, for at any rate such questions must not be placed in our edition. We have good reason to say that all such questions were inserted in the name of Jeremiah or other Amoraim, by the dislikers of the Talmud, who were to be found. from its very beginning, for the purpose of ridiculing it. We cannot agree with Weiss that Jeremiah himself put such questions, as for a similar question: "If it happened that one has put one foot into the Sabbath limit, and the other foot was still out of it, may he enter or not?" he was immediately driven out from the college. Hence, since the other questions ascribed to him are much worse in every respect than the one just mentioned, is it possible that he would be listened to and such inserted as undecided questions? We would also state that the above statement of the dark Halakhath by the Babylonian sages was also put in his mouth by the same people, as we cannot believe that such a great Amora like Jeremiah should throw stones in the valley from which he drank his water.

Finally, we will give one example concerning Hagadas, in Tract Zebachin, pp. 113a, in the discussion whether the flood was in Palestine or not, basing their statements upon Ecclesiastes, "there is no new thing under the sun," i.e., no new creatures were created after the seven days of creation, and as there are to be found some creatures which, according to their size, could not enter into the ark of Noah, and we see their existence, it must be concluded that the flood which had destroyed all the creatures did not take place in Palestine, in which such creatures are to be found. The opponents of this say that the flood was in Palestine also, and of all kinds of the existing creatures, there were some in the ark. And when the last were objected to by the existence of r'em (wild-ox), which, according to Rabba b. b. Hannah, the size of its offspring of one day was equal to forty miles, hence it could not in any way be entered in the ark, the answer comes that its snout only was in the ark, and the rest of the body was swimming in the water.

Now we would ask any reader if it is possible that such a thing should be said by any sage of the Talmud, and especially by Resh Lakish, who was one of the greatest Amoraim of Palestine. As this Hagada was discussed in connection with a Halakha it must not by any means be taken as allegorical. It is therefore more than certain that one who desired to make the Talmud ridiculous put in the mouths of Jochanan and Resh Lakish the discussion about the r'em with such a ridiculous answer. Hence in our translation it must be omitted. There is another one which was put as a question: "May the high priest marry a pregnant virgin?" and to the question "how can a virgin be pregnant?" the answer comes that "perhaps she became pregnant in a bath where preceding her was a man who had left there his seed." 1 We do not believe that any one with common sense, and without partiality, can be found who would deny that such things were inserted by the Talmud haters only for the purpose of ridiculing the Talmud. It is self-evident then that in our edition such and numerous similar legends do not find place.

Concerning the translation itself, we translate almost literally but not slavishly. In those places where the text of the Gemara can be understood only with the aid of Rashi's commentary, we reproduce the sense without marking "Rashi." However, in those places where Rashi adds something to make the text better understood, we put Rashi's commentary in parentheses. See fifth remark on the copyrighting; but passages inserted from the Gemara itself we put in brackets. Those passages, however, which are not explained by Rashi or which we found the explanation more detailed in other commentaries, we translate according to the latter's, stating in the respective foot-note that it is according to so and so. Our only desire was to enable the English student, even laymen, to understand the sense without difficulty, in which, according to I. M. Wise in his review of Volume VIII., we have succeeded. We may state also that, though we have strictly followed our method, yet we were compelled in some places to deviate from the same. It was also impossible for us to arrange our new edition in accordance with the old edition; based upon the decision of Sherira Gaon that it is immaterial in what order the tracts should be brought, as the Gemara itself states that the consecutive order of the Mishna is not always to be taken seriously. However, each tract is numbered from page 1, so that if the reader prefers binding the tracts according to the former order he may do so. There are, however, many more points concerning our method which we omit for lack of space and time, especially since the method is fully traced in its main features.


94:1 See letter of Dr. M. Jastrow in the prospectus of our work, on page 10.

96:1 In our edition, if such an omission comes from that which was already printed, we mark it in parentheses or in a foot-note: "repeated from tract or from volume so and so, page so and so," which could not do with the text which was not as yet translated.

97:1 E.g., ‏נפלמןהגג ותקעלביבמתו‎, the translation of which we do not care to give.

99:1 It seems to us that such were inserted by one against the belief that the Virgin Mary had borne Jesus.