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Shavuot and Jewish Learning

Dr. Josh Kulp Discusses Talmud Study


Dr. Josh Kulp

Dr. Josh Kulp

Here are some proverbial sayings from the Talmud which I found in Philip Birnbaum's "A Book of Jewish Concepts" (Hebrew Publishing Company, p. 638):
  • The hope of the world lies in its school children.
  • A single light will do for a hundred men as well as for one.
  • I have learned much from my teachers, even more from my colleagues, but I have learned the most from my students.
  • Love your wife as much as yourself, but honor her more than yourself.
  • A little coin in a big jar makes a lot of noise.
  • He who seeks a friend without faults will remain friendless.
  • When good people die, they are not really dead, for their example lives.
In this online chat (Shavuot 2003), Dr. Josh Kulp, Director of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, talks about how study of the Talmud can enrich our everyday lives.

Host Lisa_Katz says:
Welcome. Shavuot, in addition to being a harvest festival, commemorates the Giving of the Torah (Matan Torah) to the Jewish People on Mount Sinai. Moses received both the written and oral law on Mount Sinai. The oral law was passed down orally from generation to generation until it was eventually written down into the Mishnah and interpreted in the Talmud. The Talmud covers the whole range of human life – thus the phrase the ocean of Talmud (Yam Ha-Talmud). Dr. Josh Kulp, Director of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, is here to tell us how much we can gain from the study of Talmud. Thanks for joining us Josh!

Host Josh_Kulp says:
Good evening (morning for us). Happy Shavuot. I am here to answer any questions you have about Jewish learning in general and Talmud in specific.

Dori says:
In what language was/is the Talmud?

Host Josh_Kulp says:
The Talmud contains basically 2 languages. Hebrew and Aramaic. The earliest level is in Hebrew. And the later rabbis developed in into Aramaic. Aramaic is not that different from Hebrew in any case. It was never translated until the modern times. Now you can read Talmud in English. If you are interested in studying the Talmud, I recommend talking to a local rabbi or joining an online Talmud class. The easiest way to start learning Talmud is to spend a chunk of time (one month, two months, a year) focusing on it and other Jewish books.

BarbO says:
Is it the Talmud that teaches us the social graces, as well as other things?

Host Josh_Kulp says:
The Talmud contains teachings about everything. It has law, philosophy, folk wisdom, history, stories, ... basically anything that the Rabbis talked about is in the Talmud.

Dori says:
Are the Dead sea Scrolls related to the Talmud?

Host Josh_Kulp says:
The Dead Sea Scrolls were mostly written from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BCE. And the Talmud wasn't finished until 6th or 7th century of CE. It was also compiled mostly in Babylonia. And the Dead Sea Scrolls are from ancient Israel. So, with all of those differences withstanding, it is often very useful to compare certain texts of the Dead Sea Scroll to the rabbinic teachings in the Talmud and in the Mishnah. Don't forget, the Dead Sea Scrolls were mostly authored by Sectarian Jews whose teachings did not survive as normative Judaism.

BarbO says:
How is the Mishnah different from the Talmud?

Host Josh_Kulp says:
The Mishnah was compiled around the year 200 in the land of Israel. It is a short, very legalist, text without a lot of discussion - basically just contains teachings. The Talmud began as a commentary on the Mishnah. And it developed from there. The Talmud was not finished until the 6th-7th century. Whereas the Mishnah contains short precise teachings, the Talmud contains long discussions and arguments and legends. Hence the word Talmudic logic.

BarbO says:
Can we discuss an example from the Talmud, please?

Host Josh_Kulp says:
Barb, let me tell you about what I am teaching now at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. We have been learning a tractate (book) called Baba Matzia which means in Aramaic the Second Gate. It is the second book of three that deal with Civil Law. It is generally the one of the most learned tractates of the Talmud. We have been learning a chapter that deals with the responsibility to return lost items. The Torah tells us that you are not allowed to see your neighbors items lost and ignore them. The examples they give are oxen, sheep, and garments. In the Talmud the rabbis ask if these are the only things that must be returned. The rabbis ask how do you establish who was the rightful owner of the lost property. They talk about property that may have been lost for a very long time - what are your responsibilities to that.

BarbO says:
Wouldn't the point be that you know it's not yours?
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