The Talmud
From the Hebrew lamad, to learn, the Talmud is the name
of the great code of Jewish civil and canonical law. It is divided
into two portions—the Mishna and the Gemara; the former constitutes
the text and the latter is a commentary and supplement.
But besides being the basis of a legal code, it is also a collection
of Jewish poetry and legend.
The Mishna is a development of the laws contained in the
Pentateuch. It is divided into six sedarim or orders, each containing
a number of tractates, which are again divided into peraqim
or chapters. The sedarim are
(1) Zeraim, which deals with agriculture;
(2) Moed, with festivals and sacrifices;
(3) Nashim, with the law regarding women;
(4) Nezaqin, with civil law;
(5) Qodashim, with the sacrificial law; and
(6) Tohoroth or Tah, with purifications.
The Mishna is said to have been handed down by Ezra and
to be in part the work of Joshua, David, or Solomon, and originally
communicated orally by the Deity in the time of Moses.
There are two recensions—the Talmud of Jerusalem and the
Talmud of Babylon. The latter, besides the sedarim already mentioned,
contains seven additional treatises that are regarded as
extra-canonical. The first is supposed to have been finally edited
toward the close of the fourth century, and the second by
Rabbi Ashi, president of the Academy of Syro in Babylon,
sometime in the fourth century. Although revised from time to
time before then, both versions have been greatly affected
through the interpolation of traditions, and reinterpretations
in the light of rabbinical discussions. The rabbinical decisions
in the Mishna are entitled helacoth and the traditional narratives
The cosmogony of the Talmud assumes that the universe has
been developed by means of a series of cataclysms—world after
world was destroyed until the Creator made the present earth.
E. Deutsch, commenting on the Talmuc in the Quarterly Review,
(1867) noted
‘‘The how of the creation was not mere matter of speculation.
The co-operation of angels, whose existence was warranted
by Scripture, and a whole hierarchy of whom had been built
up under Persian influences, was distinctly denied. In a discussion
about the day of their creation, it is agreed on all hands
that there were no angels at first, lest men might say, ‘Michael
spanned out the firmament on the south, and Gabriel to the
north.’ There is a distinct foreshadowing of the Gnostic Demiurgos—that
antique link between the Divine Spirit and the
world of matter—to be found in the Talmud. What with Plato
were the Ideas, with Philo the Logos, with the Kabalists the
‘World of Aziluth,’ what the Gnostics called more emphatically
the wisdom (sophi), or power (dunamis), and Plotinus the nous,
that the Talmudical authors call Metation.
‘‘There is a good deal, in the post-captivity Talmud, about
the Angels, borrowed from the Persian. The Archangels or Angelic
princes are seven in number, and their Hebrew names
and functions correspond almost exactly to those of their Persian
prototypes. There are also hosts of ministering angels, the
Persian Yazatas, whose functions, besides that of being messengers,
were two-fold—to praise God and to be guardians of man.
In their first capacity they are daily created by God’s breath out
of a stream of fire that rolls its waves under the supernal
throne. In their second, two of them accompany every man,
and for every new good deed man acquires a new guardian
angel, who always watches over his steps. When a righteous
man dies, three hosts of angels descend from the celestial battlements
to meet him. One says (in the words of Scripture), ‘He
shall go in peace;’ the second takes up the strain and says, ‘Who
has walked in righteousness;’ and the third concludes, ‘Let him
come in peace and rest upon his bed.’ In like manner, when the
wicked man passes away, three hosts of wicked angels are ready
Talking Mongoose Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
to escort him, but their address is not couched in any spirit of
consolation or encouragement.’’
The Talmud is the supreme repository of Jewish moral and
spiritual law; it also enshrines a wealth of historical, geographical,
philosophical, and poetical traditions. It is one of the great
documents of human history and the central focus of Jewish
It has been considered by some authorities that a great
many of the traditional tales in the Talmud have a magical basis,
and that magical secrets are contained in them, but this depends
entirely upon the interpretation put upon them, and the
subject is one which necessitates close study. An English translation
of the Jerusalem Talmud was published in 1871, and of
the Babylonian Talmud (35 vols.), 1935–52.