Note: Blue highlighting has been applied to the words Elizabeth Dilling underlined in her exhibits. The text is unchanged from the original.
Michael L. Rodkinson: The History of the Talmud
The Fathers of the Christian church have likewise drawn on it, as Basilius of Cappadocia, Hieronymus, Chrysostomus, and many others who construed passages in the Bible in accordance with the Hagada. The moral code contained in the Hagada, teaches man how to conduct himself toward all men and in all situations of life. We shall deal with this moral law in a future chapter on the Ethics of the Talmud.
The two Talmuds contain, then, Halakhas, Hagadas, references to all branches of science known in those days, but without any system or order. Many times a Hagada is interpolated in the middle of a Halakha, and again in like manner a digression on a scientific subject extraneous to the Halakha is inserted in it. The compiler of the Talmud, whether from careless method or from the great labor involved, could introduce no order. In this respect there is little difference between the two Talmuds; nor is there much difference in the sources whence each drew its material. Sayings from the Talmud of Palestine are quoted in that of Babylonia, sometimes under the name of their author or their citer in Babylonia; other passages are stated to emanate from the "West." "In the West (Palestine) it was said." In the Talmud Palestinian, similarly (vide I. H. Weiss, Vol. III, 127, etc.), the Babylonian authority is often given; e.g., "There they learn" or "say." It is clear however that when the Babylonian Talmud was compiled that of Palestine was unknown to its compilers, although, according to the opinion of many, the Talmud of Palestine was arranged by R. Johanan and concluded by R. Jose bar Bun about one hundred years before the Babylonian; others, however, affirm that the Talmud of Palestine was concluded only in the eighth century or even as late as the ninth (in the time of Anan, the founder of the Karaite sect), and adduce evidence in substantiation. We may assume, as a compromise, both assertions to be true; the greater part had indeed been arranged and systematized in the time of Hillel, the last of the Nasis in the West, but it was not employed to any extent in the colleges remaining in Palestine and Syria, because the Babylonian Talmud had spread until it reached the West. But in the time of the Karaites many things were added to the Talmud of Palestine (to oppose the doctrines of the Karaites, as the small tract on Tephilin and the like, which that sect repudiated) by those who wished their
words to be held as of equal sacredness with the Talmud, as was then customary. (We shall speak of this further on.) The bulk of the Palestine Talmud, after all the additions, is much less than that of the Babylonian, albeit it contains Gemara on two additional tracts (thirty-nine instead of thirty-seven, as will be explained) and fragmentary chapters of other tracts. This is owing to the fact that the discussion of the Mishnayoth is not so elaborate, and there is less of scholastics. We have already stated that its quality, as regards the Halakhas, is also inferior. It was not as popular as that of Babylonia, therefore fewer copies were made of it than of the latter. For this reason, since its conclusion its opponents have been less numerous, though it was very much persecuted at the time when it was studied in the colleges. The government rulers persecuted Israel and its Torah, since the death of Rabbi, and the persecutions did not stop until the death of Hillel, the last of his descendants, with whom the office of Nasi ceased to exist (36o). This was alone one of the causes why the Talmud of Palestine d less widely than its younger brother of Babylonia. The lot of the Talmud in Babylonia was better, since from the time of the death of Rabbi (223) till Mar b. R. Rah Ashi, one of the last of the Amoraim (500), it was not persecuted by the Persian rulers. For about a hundred years, the heads of the Exile were diligent in their studies, uniting thereunto its political power. If it sometimes happened that some kings were ill-disposed to the Jews, still they did not interfere with their studies.* For this reason the study of the Talmud flourished in the colleges of Sura, Nahardea and Pumbeditha, and the number of its students was counted by thousands. (The Talmud counts the auditors of Abba Arikha's [Rabb's] lectures as 12,000.) And so the Talmud became a vast sea, and its waves rose with might. R. Ashi (355 - 427) saw, therefore, that the time had come for revising, systematizing and concluding it, when he came to re store the college of Sura (Matha Mekhasia), which had fallen into decay on the death of Rabh.
About this R. Ashi it was said (Sanhedrin, p. 108) that from the time of Rabbi to his time there is not to be found a man who was unique in the possession of wisdom, riches and glory. He
* See Getzow, "Al Naharoth Babel." ,
was in favor with King Izgadar II, rich and long-lived. Therefore, he undertook in the course of one year to systematize two tracts. Whether he arranged them in the order in which they are found in the Mishnayoth, or differently, or whether he revised and improved them, is not known to us; but this, at least, is clear, that some tracts he revised twice, and the second time in a manner opposite to the first.* Be this as it may, it is also certain that the Talmud which we possess is not that which came from R. Ashi's hands, since additions by seven heads of the colleges who succeeded him in Sura, and by their colleagues, Meremar, Idi bar Abin, Nahman bar Huna, Tabyomi (Mar b. R. Ashi) his son, Rabba Tosphoah, Rabina bar Huna, Rabbana Jose, who presided together 125 years, are mentioned in the Talmud, none of which are found in R. Ashi's edition. Perhaps they also made eliminations in his edition though they did not attain the learning and religious wisdom of R. Ashi, except his son, Tabyomi. The latter filled the place of his father in learning and wisdom, though not in his breadth of view, for in his time reigned King Peros, the son of Izgadar III, who persecuted the Jews, the Talmud, and those who cherished it. Therefore, even if we suppose that his son Mar was diligent in arranging and revising the Talmud, as traces of his insertions and corrections are found in it, yet he did not succeed in completing it, owing to the persecutions of the government, especially as he did not occupy his office long, and thus the Talmud has remained uncorrected. But as the sages became aware that the times were changing, the number of learned men diminishing, they began to fear lest in the course of time, passages would multiply in the Talmud which would rather detract from than add to its value; therefore they concluded it, and decreed that thenceforth nothing should be added to it. They also ordered that the sages should no more be called "Amoraim" (signifying commentators of the Mishna), but Saburaim (i.e., explainers of the Talmud to the people). Thus the Talmud was concluded in the age of Rabbana Jose (about 525), without further revision or rearranging. In reality, however, these sages achieved almost nothing; for, despite their decree, the Soburites (as also many of its enemies) as well as the Gaonim and the
* Vide "Last Gate," 356b.
rabbis succeeding them, added to and eliminated from it and altered in many places its version, as I. H. Weiss has proved beyond dispute and also we ourselves in our book "L'baker Mishpat" and in the journal "Hakol" many times, as will be mentioned further on. (See App. No. 10.)
THE PERSECUTIONS OF THE TALMUD IN THE PERSIAN AND BYZANTINE EMPIRES IN THE SIXTH CENTURY AFTER THE CLOSE OF THE TALMUD.
In the reign of Kobad (Cabades) in Persia, a fanatic reformer named Mazdak desired to introduce the doctrine of the community of property and wives, thus modifying the Zoroastrian creed (5011). The king became an adherent of the new doctrine and decreed its acceptance by the people. The lower classes eagerly availed themselves of the license thus granted. To this communism, the Jews, led by Mar Zutra II, son of R. Huna, the young exilarch, offered an armed resistance. The occasion of the revolt was the murder of Mar Isaac, president of one of the colleges. It is related that they established an independent Jewish state, having for king the Prince of Captivity, with Machuza as the capital. At last, after seven years, Mar Zutra and his grandfather, Mar Chanina, were taken prisoners, executed, and their bodies nailed to the cross on the bridge of Machuza (about 520). On account of the ensuing persecutions the office of Exilarch remained for some time in abeyance. The colleges were closed, as the teachers were compelled to conceal themselves, and Abuna and Giza, two of the most eminent, fled. When peace was restored after Kobad's death, the college at Sura received Giza as president, and that at Pumbeditha, Semuna. A third name of eminence survives, that of Rabbi or Rab (near Nahardea), of whom little is known. Men of religious mind of the period devoted themselves to the study of the Talmud, the love for which persecution had but increased, which satisfied religious zeal and promoted tranquility of mind, and the knowledge of which raised its possessor to positions of honor and trust.
The original development of the Talmud had at that period
ceased. Giza and Semuna conceived the desire to fix the laws for practical use, casting aside theoretical speculation, for it was necessary that there be no doubts or wavering. Their activity in this work was but a continuation of that which had begun at the close of the Talmud. The labors of the presidents of the colleges were confined to this task and to assembling, as of old, the disciples in Adar (March) and Ellul (September) and instructing them by lectures, and to assigning themes for private study. To fix the laws, the arguments pro and con needed to be weighed; therefore they were called Sabureans (Sabural). Many points of practice in the ritual, the civil law, and the marriage code were settled at this period.
Giza and Semuna gave chief attention to committing the Talmud to writing, making use of oral traditions and of notes made to aid the memory by various individuals. All legends were incorporated, and the obscure passages elucidated by their additions, for everything emanating from the Amoraim was thought important. In this form it has reached us. The vowel points to the Bible were also invented at this time, according to Graetz.
"The names of the immediate successors of Giza and Semuna have not been preserved either by chronicles or tradition"—forgotten in the persecution visited on the colleges during this century by both Christian and Zoroastrian churches.
Hormisdas IV, Chosroes Nushirvan's son, was unlike his father. Led by the Magi, who strove to check the approaching dissolution of their religion by persecution of the adherents of other faiths, he vented his wrath upon the Jews and Christians of his empire. The Talmudical colleges at Sura and Pumbeditha were closed, and again many teachers fled (about 580 this time to Firuzshabar, where, under an Arabian governor, they were less exposed to espionage. New colleges arose there, among which that of Mari was eminent, and there they continued their Talmudic labors. A general, Babram Tshubin, who had experienced the ingratitude of the king, usurped the Persian throne. In this he was assisted by the Jews with money and men, and in return granted them many favors and concessions. As a result, the colleges of Sura and Pumbeditha were reopened; Chanan of Iskia returned from Firuzshabar to Pumbeditha, and restored the college there; it is also probable
that the president of Sura, which was of far greater repute, was elected at that time, though his name is not mentioned in the chronicles.
With Babram's fall the vengeance of the lawful heir to the throne, Prince Chosru, was visited on the Jews. With the aid of the Byzantine emperor, Mauritius, and the loyal portion of the Persian people, he defeated the usurper, putting to the sword also the greater part of the Jewish population of Machuza, and probably of other cities as well.
THE EIGHTH CENTURY. THE DOMINION OF THE GAONIM. THE OPPOSITION OF THE KARAITES. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A SECT OF THAT NAME.
The Pharisees had been victorious over the Sadducees and the other sects opposed to the Oral Law, but had not annihilated them entirely; since only because these latter could not withstand them, they kept silence and were discontented in their hearts. As the Talmud gained strength and became more severe in its decrees against the Sadducees and Samaritans, so that in the end the Kuthim were declared as idolaters in all respects, then their indignation burned and they awaited a favorable time for revenge. In the time of the dominance of the Gaonim, who carried out the Talmud in practice, the measure became full, and Anan, the nephew of the Gaon at Sura, when he was not elected as Gaon, for the reason of his liberal ideas and his opposition to the Talmud, established the Karaite sect.
Those who hold that the Karaites were a new sect founded by Anan (76o C.E.), are mistaken, for a small sect under the name of Karaites, or adherents of the Text, had existed already in the days of the Talmud, where they are mentioned in many places, as "adherents of the Text," or once "the Karaites add" (Pesachim, 117a in text; in our edition, Vol. V, p. 145). Doubtless the remainder of the Sadducees assumed this name, having lost political influence since they had been vanquished, and the word "Sadducees" being hated by the people. Therefore the remains of the sect called themselves "Karaites," i.e.
those who occupy themselves with the text of Scripture, and endeavor to understand its real meaning. Owing to their small numbers, or to the lack of a great man to head them, this sect kept secret its hatred of the Talmud, though it existed so long as to outlive even the close of the latter, and the Talmudic sages paid no attention to them. Finally, however, chance gave them a man fit to be their leader, who publicly opposed the Talmud so that all its enemies made one league against it, and they were at first a great power; and in the course of 700 years they did not cease to persecute the Talmud and almost destroyed it; finally, however, they lost their influence which they never regained, and to-day are decayed so that small numbers only live in Austria, Crimea, and many other places in Russia, numbering in all to-day no more than 4,000 or 5,000 souls altogether.
This man was Anan ben David, nephew of the exilarch Solomon, in Baghdad, who had died childless. Anan expected to be elected as his successor, but his younger brother was chosen instead, and he was rejected because of his liberal ideas and want of sympathy with the Talmud. Then he publicly began to make war on the Talmud and Talmudists, and became the head of all its opponents and ill-wishers. He made his headquarters at Jerusalem, after having been, it seems, obliged to leave Babylonia. There he assumed the title of exilarch, and around him were assembled a great multitude who made war on the Oral Law, its scholars, and in particular on the two colleges of Sura and Pumbeditha.
By his general precept, "Search well in the Scriptures," he declared as naught the whole Oral Law. And wishing to find favor in the eyes of the Caliphs, who fixed the dates of their festivals by observation of the new moon, he also renewed this custom, once in force among the Jews while the Temple had existed, repealing thus the calculation of R. Adda received among all Talmudists. He openly said to the Caliph Almanzur that the Jews had been guilty of persecuting Jesus and opposing Mahomet, though (said he) both these men did much to drive idolatry out of existence, and cannot be attacked without guilt. Of the first he said that he had been a holy man who did not want to appear as a prophet, or a god, but only desired to reform the faith which the Pharisees had perverted. Of the sec-
ond he said that he really was a prophet for the Arabs, only he does not believe that the Law (of Moses) is repealed by Mahommedanism.
His first work was to separate himself from the Jews by fixing the date of Pentecost to be fifty days after the first Sabbath after Passover, as the Sadducees fixed it formerly. The dates of New Year and the Day of Atonement, Passover and the Feast of Booths were determined by watching for the new moon, which did not agree with the Jewish dates. As in the leap year one month is added to the year, he allowed, in case of need, to begin Passover when barley is ripe in the fields. The Phylacteries (not a grave ceremony among the Jews, at any rate), the four species of the Lulab and the semi-holiday Hanuka (Dedication), he abolished. On the other hand he made the observation of Sabbath more burdensome, so that the lighting of candles was prohibited on the eve of Sabbath, even by a non-Jew, also the leaving of one's house during Sabbath when most neighbors are not Jews, i.e. Karaites; the dietary laws he also made stricter, so as to prohibit his adherents eating in company with Jews for the latter are not careful enough and oftentimes eat with Gentiles.
Soon Anan saw that if f every one were left to interpret the Biblical text according to his own mind, etc., his sect would be split, and not endure (as actually was the case in the course of time, as will be explained further on), and that a fixed commentary is needed at least for those passages which can by no means be interpreted literally. Therefore he claimed many great authorities, long deceased, as Karaites, and declared that R. Jehuda b. Tabai, the colleague of Simeon b. Shetah, etc. Shamai the elder, the colleague of Hillel the Elder, and other such, were some of the founders of their sect, and he ascribed to them some interpretations of passages which he claimed to have received by tradition from them. "Abandon the Talmud and Mishna," he said to his followers, "and I will make you a Talmud of my own, according to the traditions I have." Though in reality he took the rules of the Mishna as basis, yet he said that as far as details are concerned he is as wise as the sages of the Mishna, or more so, and can construe the Biblical texts by his own intellect.
His hatred of the Talmud became so great that he said that if he could have swallowed the Talmud, he would cast himself
into a lime-kiln, that it might be burned with him and leave no vestige of its existence. Thus the people of Israel separated itself then into two hostile hosts. The Talmudists declared the Karaites not to be Jews, and forbade to give them any holy ceremony to perform, while the Karaites said of the followers of the rabbis that they are Jewish sinners, and it is sinful to intermarry with them. The city of Jerusalem witnessed for the third time a splitting of Israel into parties.
Of Anan's writing we know nothing, although according to the Karaites he wrote some comments on the Bible and prayers. From the compositions imputed by them to him, we can see that only the love of resistance and victory absorbed him; how great his learning was we can not judge, as in general his biography is unknown to us, but it is known that he was not given to philosophy, nor ingenious in interpreting Scripture. One good effect we can ascribe to him, that, owing to his opposition, the Talmudic rabbis were also forced to pay more attention to the Scriptures, and make researches and learn the niceties of the Hebrew language, so that Anan and his sect were the prime cause of all the compositions on grammar, Massorah and vowel points, and even poetic compositions that the Talmudists gave birth to in the course of time.
After Anan's death Saul, his son, succeeded him as exilarch of the Karaites, but Anan's disciples separated from him, as they did not agree with him about some ceremonies, according to Saul's interpretation of biblical passages. They became a distinct sect calling themselves Ananites; so it also happened after the death of Saul, who was succeeded by Josiah, his son. And so almost every age sprang a new Karaite sect with a name of its own, each interpreting Scripture in its own way. Some of them will be mentioned presently. It is self-evident that an attempt to get at the profound meaning of the Scriptures was the business of every such sect; through their activity the knowledge of Hebrew grammar, of Massorah, the vowel-points and punctuation marks, was diffused; theological philosophizing was also not strange to some Karaites, as they had to explain such words as God's "hand," "eye," "finger," which they were unwilling to take literally and materialize God, just as the other Jews. Thus gradually a large literature sprang among the Karaites, not inferior, taken as a whole, to the Talmud itself in bulk.
At all events, the Talmud was menaced by a much greater danger from these internal enemies than from its external foes. For the latter did not attack the Talmud itself, except so far as it was an obstacle in their way, but their main and avowed object was to convert the Jews to another religion, or even merely to fill their own pockets with Jewish gold, given to avert the persecution instigated for that very purpose. The Talmud was then attacked only incidentally, not for its sake, while the main object was something else.
But the Karaites made it their great aim to drive the Talmud itself out of existence, to direct their arrows against it for its own sake, and endeavored to bring about, that the Jews should become Christians, or Mussulmans, or join any sect whatever, the Karaites did not care which, provided that the Jews should forsake the hateful Talmud, and its Halakhas and Hagadas should get lost. Therefore the struggle with them was very great, especially as they pretended that their traditions were based on the great authorities of the remnants of the nation.
As their doctrines, however, were not fixed, and as almost every age the Karaites were split into diverse sects, therefore they could not resist or make headway against the 'Talmud, whose strength is, to those who rightly understand it, that it has never purposed to make fixed rules, to last for all ages; deliberation and reasoning concerning the Halakhas according to the circumstances, is the principle of the Talmud; and the saying of the Talmud, "even when they say to you of right that it is left, and of left that it is right, thou shalt not swerve from the commandment," shows the opinion of the Talmud, that the practice of the ceremonies and precepts is dependent on the time, place and other circumstances. With this power the Talmud combated all its enemies, and was victorious.
The controversies between the Jews and the Karaites are recorded in many books, Karaite and Talmudistic, from the age of R. Saadia the Gaon, and his opponent Sahal ben Matzliah to the present time. 1n them can also be found the history of their alternate triumphs. But this is not our task here: we will remark only that from the days of R. Saadiah the Gaon, when the Rabbis had begun to have polemics with them, can be seen the deep mark the Karaite literature left on the Rabbinical
one. Philosophy was from that time used in conjunction with the Torah; many Gaonim followed R. Saadiah's method of harmonizing the Torah and the philosophy of that time, that they should seem as mutual enemies. So the Karaites charged such men with infidelity, but others were themselves compelled to imitate them, and called in the aid of philosophy, of the divinity, to interpret the texts of the Holy Scriptures.
The effect of the Karaites on the Talmudist Rabbis is made evident also in this: that since their time the rabbis also began to write down fixed Halakhas taken from the Talmud, that the readers should not otherwise by error adopt the Karaite rules, made by the Karaite leaders, which they might mistake for the rules of the Talmud itself, since they could not know the whole Talmud by heart. They composed, therefore, the "Halakhoth G'doloth" (Great Halakhas), "Sh'iltoth'derab A'hai" (Queries of R. Ahai), for the sake of the students, who could not themselves wade through the whole Talmud. But thereby they opposed the spirit and object of the Talmud itself, that the Halakhas should be matter for discussion, and modified in accordance with the requirements of the time and place. As soon as the Gaonim had permitted to propound decisions of the Halakhas, and to fix them, those Gaonim, who succeeded them, were compelled to teach that these decisions of the former Gaonim, even though given without proofs, are holy for the people, as if given from Mount Sinai. This circumstance added fuel to the quarrel of the Karaites, and gave them new points of attack. The hope of some great men of the nation to reconcile the Jews with the Karaites became naught, for although the Karaites quarreled among themselves, and split into rival sects, yet they all equally hated the Talmud, reviled it, and insulted it, styling the two colleges, at Sura and Pumbeditha, "the two harlots" spoken of in Ezekiel, who (claimed they) referred to these colleges in his prophecy.
According to Makrizi there were among the Karaites ten sects, differing from each other in their opinions, practice and festivals; they had no permanence, some rose, some fell, and in the tenth century only five large sects were found, named
1. Jodganim or Jodganim.
4. Abn Amronites or Tiflisites.
The reader will find in the books of Jost, Gratz, Furst, Geiger, and in Hebrew, in "Bequoreth L'toldoth Hakaraim" an account of the particulars about which the various sects of the Karaites differed, and also the names of their leaders. We
do not think it necessary to give these details in this place. We will mention for illustration the latest sect, which wished to fix the day of Atonement only on a Saturday every year, because it is said "Sabbath Sabbathan," which means a Sabbath of rest (Lev. xxiii. 32), and they translate "a Sabbath of Sabbaths," and the first day of Passover on Thursday. Thus each Karaite sect celebrated the Biblical festivals on different days, for each sect construed the texts in the Pentateuch by preference without being able to come to an agreement. Thus also in respect of the observation of Sabbath: for some Karaites, their houses were during the Sabbath their prisons, where they did sit in darkness, and which they could not leave when their neighbors happened not to be Karaites like themselves. In this we see the power of the Talmud, that even those who were inimical to it or hostile to a large portion of it, Halakhas never had different opinions concerning the festivals and other such things, important to one particular nation; for they could not deny its general tradition.
The effects of Karaism are also traceable in some religious practices, which had not been usual among the people of ancient times. Thus Phylacteries, which it had not been customary to use, in spite of the literal interpretation of the Talmud of the passage "and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes," (Deut. vi. 8); perhaps for the reason that Hillel had said: "Leave Israel alone; if they are not prophets, they are children of prophets," (Pesachim); for after all, the arguments of the Talmud in favor of the literalness of that passage, the people felt that it was only a figurative expression; and the Talmud itself prohibited the use of phylacteries to the people, permitting it only to confirmed scholars. But when the Karaites interpreted the passage figuratively, the Gaonim permitted the use of Tephilin to the people also, to show their difference from the Karaites.
The opposition of the Karaites effected also that the
Gaonim should declare that the Hagada of the Talmud is not obligatory to believe for any man; and that it is not to be taken literally, but as allegorical. "Leave to every one the right to hold what opinions he chooseth about the Hagada of the Talmud" says R. Samuel b. Hopni, father-in-law to Hai Gaon, to ward off the attacks of the Karaites and opponents of the Talmud generally, who made it responsible for many Hagadic things cautioned in it. And indeed we see that the collections of Halakhas from the Talmud, as Rab Alphasi and his colleagues inserted but little of the Hagada, as if to show that the Hagadas are not minded. Though in truth the Hagadas of the Talmud relating to morality are the main element of the Talmud, mostly require no change, addition, or subtraction, even in our age. While on the other hand, the absence of the ethics of the Talmudic Hagada is painfully felt in Karaite literature to the present day. In points of morality their opinions are as various as concerning the Halakhas, in the course of time issued from the Karaite ascetics who abstained from meat and wine, left their homes, dwelt in deserts, and mourned over the destruction of Jerusalem. The Karaites styled them "the sixty heroes who are around Solomon's bed," for there were sixty in number, and called them the great teachers, for they had been taught by them that it is not legal to eat meat in exile, since a text says one should not slaughter outside the camp. In contrast with these, from among the Karaites came also Hiri Hakalhi or Habalki who, owing to his opposition to the Talmud, denied also Moses' Torah, providence, creation, etc., so that the Karaites repulsed him also. There were among them also some who believed in a material God, eating something of the sacrifices, and enjoying the agreeable flavor of them. Such was the destiny of those who rejected tradition, and relied on their own intellect.
The issue was that, though among the Karaites were also great men and great sects—and many times they triumphed over the Talmudists for centuries—the following peculiarities made them a sect secluded from the whole world (especially from the Rabbis, who were to them as if unclean); their scrupulousness about cleanliness and uncleanliness, their separation from anybody who was not a Karaite Jew, so as not to take from him bread and other articles of the bakery, and so as not
to eat anything that had been touched by a non-Jew (some prohibited even meat fit for a sacrifice). Gradually their numbers diminished, so that now they number only about four thousand souls in the world, and even these few differ among themselves in their usages and festivals. To this day the Karaites in Egypt and the East remain in the dark during the eve of Sabbath; the dates of their festivals are not alike every year, and by their attacks on the Talmud they not only failed to weaken its influence or diminish the number of its adherents, but brought about its increased influence and accepted holiness. Though the Rabbis kept apart from them, and said to those who wished to make peace between them, "the Karaites (or torn pieces, Kraim Kra'im), never became joined," still they did not forbear to borrow from them what seemed to them good, adopting the Massorah and vowel points of Ben Asher, who was one of them.
About the Judaized Chazars [Khazars], of their time, the Karaites say that they had the Karaite form of Judaism, but modern scholars contradict this. They say that the Chazars were Talmudic Jews and A. B. Gottlober has written admirably about this subject. His argument seems to savor of the truth. But there is no doubt, that among the Jewish tribes of Arabia, and those of the Judaized Arabian kingdom, there were Talmudic Jews who rendered many services to the Jews of the Byzantine empire; but as these matters do not pertain to our subject, we will not speak further of them, and conclude hereby the present chapter. (See App. at the end of this volume.)
ISLAM AND ITS INFLUENCE ON THE TALMUD.
In 622, the Hebrew religion gave birth to a second daughter, Mohammedanism—founded by Mahomet of Mecca among the tribes of Arabia, who had lived unprogressive for ages in the large peninsula between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, keeping by the usages received from their ancestors traditionally. Hundreds of years had passed without making any impression on the development of this people, until Mahom med arose, and in the space of twenty years subdued with the
sword and by the tongue the whole great land of Arabia. And like a stream of mighty waters the Arabs burst from their bonds, animated by a spirit of war, and fired by religious zeal, tore away from the Byzantine empire the whole of Syria and Egypt, and conquered also Persia, extended their empire to India and Caucasus, on the one hand, and to Western Africa, on the other, spreading, at last, over Spain and Southern Italy to the heart of Christendom, preaching Islam, and bearing the banner of their prophet wherever they stepped.
For the second time, after an interval of six hundred years, Judaism witnessed a new faith born, all whose choice portions, all whose good and beauty, were taken from the storehouse of the Talmudic Hagada. When Mahomet arose to say that through Gabriel, the angel, the Lord had destined him to confirm the truth of the Divine revelation previously to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and the rest of the saints who had been on earth, he borrowed only the foundation of his idea from the Hagada of the Talmud. Likewise he borrowed many sayings, traditions, and historic legends from the same source, and these materials served him as the foundation of the principles he prescribed for the guidance of his people. All the Hebrew plants succeeded speedily on the Arabian soil, as if they had been native.
Islam grew in power and soon made progress, political and ecclesiastical, for new forces joined it. It reared a new civilization on the ruins of the heathen culture of Syria. During the first century of its existence it likewise exercised an influence on the scholars of the Talmud. As the Greek spirit had formerly been wedded to the Jewish spirit, so now the Arabian was wedded to it. It might have supplanted Jewish thought altogether had not the many sages, adherents of the Talmud, written excellent books in Arabic, extolling the Talmud, its system and its spirit.
When the Jewish tribes of Arabia, some of these powerful and independent, had refused to believe in the inspiration of the new prophet, Islam arose on its parent Judaism, as Christianity had done before; persecutions, massacres, blood and fire and exile were visited on the adherents of the Talmud. As long as Mahomet had entertained the hope of gaining Jews for converts, his treatment of them was favorable and
he enjoined in the Koran not to be inimical to adorers of One God. He even wanted to make the date of the fast of Rhamadan on the tenth of Tishri (the Day of Atonement), as well as to make Jerusalem the centre of the pilgrims instead of Mecca. Perceiving, however, that notwithstanding all this, Islam gained few Jewish converts, he turned the enemy of the Jews and became wroth against them ("The Vision of the Cow"; a chapter in the Koran) and persecuted them with fury and bloodthirstiness as infidels. But at his death his hatred and intolerance died with him, the Jews found peace and protection under the Caliphs, and the Gaonim could establish their colleges. When Spain was added in 711 by the General Torick Aben Zara, bright days ensued for the Jews; they were able to devote themselves to spiritual activity undisturbed, also to take a large part in the culture of science which flourished in Spain. Great offices and high posts were given to Talmudic Jews; councillors, authors of law articles, court physicians and ministers were taken from among them. Together with their civic prosperity their spiritual activity made progress, and they made great contributions to Judaism, and benefited their co-religionists. Rarely were they visited by storms, as in Granada, in 1603, and at Cordova, in 1157, and then they suffered only as citizens.
In Egypt, Syria, Fez and Morocco, wherever Islam dominated, Jewish communities flourished. In contrast to this, the study of the Torah decayed in the East, and from Babylonia it changed its place to Spain.
The prosperity and the power of the Jews called forth envy and opposition, resulting in the desertion of some Jews to Islam; and this spirit of opposition was kindled yet more by false Messiahs arising frequently, as Shiraini in 72o and Abu Eiei in 1464, in the reign of the Caliph Merian, who opposed themselves to the Talmud with all their might (the last abolished also divorce). In spite of all that, the Talmud was honored as before. For the Gaonim and the two colleges at Sura and Pumbeditha were as beacons to all the exiled Jews till the second half of the tenth century. Only a singular accident, which happened about 960, put an end to this unlimited and undivided dominion of Babylonia over the Jewish minds. Four scholars had left Sura with the purpose of collecting money
among their European brethren, for the benefit of encouraging a more assiduous study of the Talmud at the college of Sura; the vessel being captured by an Arab pirate, the four sages were sold as slaves. One, R. Shemariah b. El'hanan was then brought to Alexandria; there the Jewish community ransomed him, and appointed him as supervisor of religion and teacher of the Talmud in Cairo. The second, R. Hushiel, was sold into slavery at the African coast, and brought to Kairuban. The third, R. Moses b. Enoch was ransomed from his owners after many hardships, at Cordova, where the community chose him as Rabbi. The name of the fourth has not transpired. It is possible that he reached France. The four men, not having attained their object of collecting money for Sura, and its college having been closed seven hundred years after its foundation, brought to an end the spiritual dominion of Babylonia over the Jewish mind and scattered the seeds of Talmudic study throughout all lands.
The college of Pumbeditha, though it continued to exist for some period after that of Sura, spreading the light of the Torah among all the exiled, sank from its preeminent rank, gradually, till its existence came to an end (about 1040). With it was extinguished the light of the Gaonim. From that time the centre of religious activity for the Jews was in Europe. The Talmud had its home in Spain, whence it spread to other countries, as will be seen in the coming chapters.
THE VICTORY OF KARAISM OVER THE SPIRITUAL DOMINION OF THE TALMUD AND THE MIND OF THE JEWISH NATION—THE LAST GAONIM AT SURA AND PUMBEDITHA—THE CENTRE OF TALMUDIC STUDY TRANSFERRED FROM MESOPOTAMIA TO SPAIN—THE SCHOLARS OF KAIRUBAN—THE PERIOD OF THE GREATEST DIFFUSION OF TALMUDIC STUDY.
Though Rabbinism came out victorious from the struggle with Karaism, it can not be denied that in one respect the latter triumphed. The unlimited dominion which the Talmudic spirit of the colleges of Sura and Pumbeditha had at that time on the minds of the nation of Israel in general in all places of
their abode—this spiritual dominion waned greatly. The glory of these colleges irresistibly declined, in spite of all efforts to the contrary, even of a supreme man like Saadiah the Gaon. The spirit of investigation and free thought at Baghdad induced the disciples, to whom the religious teachings of their master Saadiah gave the example, to engage in the study of philosophy, grammar and the interpretations of the text of the Scripture, and to abandon the hard and exhausting studies of Sura. A slight cause, the voyage of the four scholars mentioned above to Europe, sufficed to hasten the end of this college, which did not exist long after the death of R. Saadiah the Gaon, so that it was closed forever after centuries of its existence.
The college at Pumbeditha continued some time longer; it put forth its last efforts, before the lights of its Gaonim and Exilarchs were extinguished, before the glory and religious and spiritual pre-eminence of Babylon departed from there to honor Spain; and as the light of a candle blazes up before it is extinguished, so there shone on the Babylonian horizon three Gaonim, Sherira b. Hanina, Hai his son, and Samuel b. Hophni the father-in-law of the latter (960-1038). The activity of these men in the field of Talmudic literature persists and exercise their influence yet.
R. Sherira placed the Talmudic studies too much above all other studies, whereas in the college at Sura, in accordance with the spirit of Saadiah the Gaon, the sciences also stood in the first rank of studies and a critical spirit reigned in studying Scripture and in commenting on the Talmud. At Pumbeditha the Talmud was the only dish offered to the students, the only subject of the curriculum. R. Sherira was the first who fearlessly taught and said: "The utterances of the Gaonim require no demonstration; whoso rebels against their decisions, rebels against God and betrays His Torah." His book "Megilath Stharim" (Scroll of Mysteries), which was undoubtedly written in this autocratic spirit, is lost. But, on the other hand, he , has bequeathed to us a fragment which enlightens us at present, being the chief basis of all Jewish literary and theological history. This is the letter he sent to the congregation of Kairuban, termed "R. Sherira's Epistle," which treats of the history of the Talmud and of the Gaonim and is the key to the otherwise mysterious history of that epoch. From this letter only can
we take the essential information for arranging the history from the close of the Talmud to his time. Without this document many and important periods, from the time of the Maccabees to those of the Gaonim, over a thousand years, would remain to us obscure and unknown. The epistle is wonderfully accurate in respect to chronology, and is free from any bias. Only by means of it, and of other compositions of this class, as the Megilath Taanith (Scroll of Fasts), Seder Olam (Order of the World), the Sedar Tanaim and Amoraim, together with the remnants of information of R. Nathan bar Izhak the Babylonian (956) concerning the colleges at Sura and Pumbeditha, and the methods of study at their time, can the modern scholar compile the known histories, so very necessary to the understanding of the Talmud and its literature.
R. Hai, his son, was indeed more inclined towards the sciences than his father. He was proficient in Arabic learning. Nor was he averse to philosophic studies. He opposed himself with all his might against speculations about the hypothesis of religion. In theological and Talmudical knowledge, R. Hai surpassed all his colleagues and stood alone in his age. From Northern Africa and Spain, whither sparks of Talmudic literary activity had just penetrated and kindled, came to him questions in great number. He replied to them in Arabic or in Hebrew; the spirit of reconciliation between philosophy and theology is in all his answers. His list of Hebrew roots, commentaries on the Mishna, and compositions examining Scriptures exist mostly no longer, and only fragments of Talmudic jurisprudence, as laws of buying and selling, of oaths, etc., which he attempted to methodize in verse are preserved. So also is ascribed to him a didactic poem entitled " Musar Haschel" (Morality of Reason) very excellent in its thoughts, matter, and intention (purpose, aim, conception), albeit we can not extol the style or the poetic form. At all events this R. Hai, the last of the Gaonim is the first of all Talmudic scholars even at this day, and his words are oracular for all commentators and all those who decide Halakhas according to the Talmud.
His father-in-law, Samuel b. Hophni, held of the same opinions as he, but was more free in his criticism of the Scriptures than all his colleagues. Of his many works only fragments (which originally written in Arabic, we have in the
Hebrew garb) of his commentaries to the Scriptures remain. But his compositions about Halakhas and essentials of religion are all lost, and only their names survive. The fundamental principle of this thinker was: "Things opposed to human common sense should not be admitted." He combated violently also the Karaites and was attacked desperately, as they mocked and scoffed at him and even wrote satiric Hebrew poems about him.
Those three were the last of those remaining at these colleges, and at their death the sources of wisdom in Babylonia were stopped off. After the decease of ben Hophni (about 1034) the college at Sura was abolished, and two years after the death of R. Hai (1640) the college of Pumbeditha was closed. The wisdom of Israel removed to North Africa (Kairuban) and Spain and bore fair fruit there.
The city Kairuban had a great reputation. In an antique commentary, imputed to a disciple of R. Saadiah the Gaon, this city is mentioned as "the city of great sages." As is known, one of the four above-mentioned rabbis, R. Hushiel, who with his colleagues had been voyaging to collect money for the college of Sura, was cast thither. All four introduced mental activity in all places they visited. R. Hananel, the son of R. Hushiel, succeeded to his position (in 1050) and surpassed his father in wisdom and in energy. He bequeathed to us fragments of commentaries on Scriptures and the Talmud, which were of great help to the study in the conditions at that time, when Talmudic activity was diffused among Jews. He and his contemporary, Nisim b. Jacob, who also resided in Kairuban, renewed the youth of the Palestinian Talmud, which had been neglected. Especially did the latter contribute to bring about this. He also issued the book "Maphteah " (Key) for several tracts of the Babylonian Talmud and in it he cast light on many difficult passages in the Palestinian Talmud by comparing the two Talmuds. R. Hananel also wrote a commentary on the Talmud, which was published in separate parts. Therein he explains the subject and meaning of the words in Hebrew, and draws a parallel between the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud. He wrote also a book containing abstracts arranged in Talmudic order of the Halakhas, concerning service and pecuniary matters.
A careful examination of the books of the two men will show that they were in unison with their opinions with Saadiah the Gaon, and diffused his teaching and ideas among the Jews. Friendship existed between these two men and Hai and the learned men of Spain, as is seen from their large correspondence. There is also a third one of the sages of Kairuban, who contributed to the study of the Talmud, he is Hephetz b. Jatzbiah, held in great esteem by his contemporaries, and upon whom all titles of honor that great men receive were bestowed. Of his works nothing is known except the name "Sepher Hephetz" (the book of Hephetz or Desirable book) which he wrote as a commentary to the "books of duties."
The sages of Kairuban witnessed the end of the two colleges and the extinction of the Gaonim, but also the flourishing of Jewish literature in Spain, whither it had been spread from Northern Africa. After the decease of these learned men the glory of Kairuban became also extinct, and Jewish intellectual activity left the East and emigrated to the West.
An examination of the literary period after the death of the Gaonim shows that it surpassed by far the preceding period. Whereas, in the time of the Exilarchs and the Gaonim, only the Talmud had been the subject chiefly studied and only to it had contributions been made which helped to perpetuate the spirit of Judaism. Now, when Jewish learning removed to Spain and Southern France, it blossomed and became split into many branches, to each of which many good books were contributed. On the study of the Scriptures shone forth the light of free criticism; the studies of Masorah reached perfection; grammar and linguistic researches came to the front rank; the Talmud and Midrash, long ago concluded, were subjected to the analysis of commentaries and abridged into systematic abstracts. The basis of the philosophic conception of the Jewish faith was laid; and religious and ritual poems succeeded, when treated by the sublimely inspired Spanish poets. A broader and deeper comprehension of the Talmud was also the result of the intellectual awakening. It is true that the cause of this intellectual activity were the Arabs, while the polemics with the Karaites enhanced it, and made it penetrate through the wall of Judaism; but, taken up by the Jews, it made progress and continued to do so even when both Arabs and Karaites had abandoned knowledge
altogether. This spiritual awakening caused even the remotest branch of Israelite stock, from which almost all life had fled, to bloom up and to awake to new life. Even the small community of Samaritans, whose existence had been quite forgotten, came to life and took part in the Jewish culture. The book of "Joshua" of the Samaritans, the "Reminiscences of Abul-Pathah" (a historical treatise of these events), the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, and the Arabic version of the Scriptures by Abu-Laid appeared at this time. Also fragments of ritual composition there are a few left of many, but their value is small and they are not as ancient as had been at first thought. On the new Jewish literature the Samaritan sect never made any impression; but the intellectual movement of the Jews involved also the remnant of the Samaritans and aroused it from its slumber. But in the time of the Gaonim, when the bearers of the banner of the Talmud ranked themselves to battle with the Karaites, they did not condescend to notice the Samaritans. When we say that this period surpassed the former, we are far from disparaging the great Gaonim, and from thinking them men inferior to their successors. In truth, these men were only dwarfs who stood on the shoulders of giants for had they not stood on the shoulders of those giants they could not have investigated deeply all those subjects to which in time of the Gaonim no attention had been paid. For, in spite of the precept of Sherira, above mentioned, "that the utterances of the Gaonim require no demonstration," they did not cease to give proofs, reasons, and to advance arguments in their replies to questioners. Only by means of thorough and deep research in the Talmud, by comparing and by reasoning, did the Gaonim bring the ideas of their time in accordance with the ancient Halakhas, thus increasing the practical importance of tradition and giving to the Torah a living interest. The Spanish and French scholars took up their work and carried it on, extending it to all branches of science. Their literature, therefore, attained its highest development, so that this period has been termed the "golden age of Jewish learning." The replies of the Gaonim only were the basis of their superstructure, reared when intellectual activity had removed from the banks of the Euphrates to the banks of the Tagus and the Rhine.
Their explanations of Halakha were of two kinds; either those induced by the bare love of knowledge, or answers which had to be given to question arising from practical exigencies, which occasioned the analysis of the Halakhas and the investigation whether the spirit of the Halakhas held good only at their time or applied to other times also.
Five compilations of this kind, termed "Replies of the Gaonim," exist in the Jewish literature, which have been compiled from the beginning of the seventh to the eleventh centuries. The first of the authors of those replies was the Gaon Hananai and the last Hai the Gaon. This literature of the Gaonim's replies is a large field for scientific researches in literary history in general, of historic events, and of intellectual progress. In all their replies and decisions we see that their aim is knowledge, not authoritativeness as is usual in the case of priests or even of Gaonim. For their decision they gave reasons and advanced arguments, and also forbade no learned or ingenious man to object to them.
This spirit of employing reason found in this literature of Replies still continues. By it the present is linked with the past and the future with the present. These replies touch almost all branches of thought as well as all practical questions, viz. : the value of the Agada in Talmudic literature; the value , of the studies of the mysteries; opinions on philosophy, on the rights due to sciences, answers to questions about chronology and calculations of time. History, geography, and mathematics in some of their replies are also discussed. There are also answers with reasons to questions about Laws of Marriage, Gentiles, Proselytes, Testaments, Mourning, Sermons, Divorce. They also explain to those who question them different passages in Mishna and Talmud—questions even without any practical aim—only to increase and advance the Torah by the discussions made in the house of learning.