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The Talmud's Importance for the Jewish People Bookmark and Share
The Talmud's Importance for the Jewish People
By: Rabbi Adin (Steinsaltz) Even-Yisrael

The Talmud was created by the Jewish people and the Talmud has, in turn, molded them as a nation. So many aspects of Jewish culture are somehow connected to, based on, or inspired by the Talmud: Halakhic literature, Jewish philosophy, Biblical exegesis, and even works that have no ostensible connection with Talmudic literature, like poetry or prayers. The Talmud also has far-reaching socio-historical implications, as no Jewish community that has been deprived of the ability to study Talmud has been able to endure.

The power of the Talmud derives from two elements. Not only does Talmud constitute the backbone of diverse Jewish knowledge, but its study also cannot be confined to mere mechanical memorization. Rather, engagement with the Talmud entails constant renewal and innovation, requiring the active participation and emotional and intellectual involvement of its students. It is impossible to study Talmud in an externalized and alienated fashion.

Talmudic scholarship may be termed "sacred intellectualism." This unique blend of profound faith and questioning skepticism, an incessant self-criticism, together with the constant awareness that beyond it lies a reality to which one must adhere, has characterized the Jewish people throughout the ages.

The Talmud is also a powerful stabilizing factor, the voice of sanity in a discordant and disjointed world. It has saved the Jewish people and the Jewish individual from twofold dangers - materialism on the one hand, and alienated mysticism on the other - not because the Talmud is the unhappy medium between the two, but because, to a certain extent, it is their synthesis, combining both elements in a truly unique fashion.

The final edition of the Talmud may be compared to the stages of maturity of a living organism. Like a tree, it has reached a certain form that is not likely to change substantially, yet it continues to live, grow, and proliferate. It is incumbent on every scholar to add to the corpus of the Talmud, thus making their contribution to the ongoing Talmudic conversation.

The Talmud is not a schematic textbook, but a "slice of life." Therefore, when beginning to study Talmud, one always finds oneself in the middle of things, regardless of where one starts. The ability to understand is gained only through study, and the more one studies, the better one understands what one has already studied. Talmud study can be viewed as an ever-rising spiral. As our sages said: "Everything has its boundaries, even Heaven and earth have their boundaries. Only Torah has no bounds."