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Introduction Chapter VII, The Talmud

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The Talmud, by Joseph Barclay, [1878] Suggestion before reading the Tracts—Remarks—Conclusion. In reading the following tracts it should be borne in mind that the meaning in many places is more implied than expressed. 1 Often an idea is taken for granted, which patient continuance in reading can alone bring to light. The subjects to which these tracts refer should first be studied in the Bible; because after such study the restless subtlety of the Rabbis in "binding heavy burdens on men's shoulders" can be more fully discerned. It is desirable to look on these writings from this point of observation; just as on some mountain top one looks not only at the gold which the morning sun pours on grass and flower, but also on the deep valley where the shadows still rest, that one may the more sensibly feel how glorious the sun is. The whole theory of this second, or Oral Law, has arisen from inattention to the express statement of Moses: "These words (the ten commandments) the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more" (Deut. v. 22). And it tends to nullify the declaration of the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and He has taken the Law upon Himself to keep it" (Isaiah ix. 6). In concluding this introduction it is perhaps well to glance briefly at the age in which the Talmud grew to its present state. It was a period of great activity and thought. Old systems of debasing superstition were breaking up and passing away. A new faith had arisen to regenerate man. The five centuries which followed the appearing of our Saviour in this world were filled with religious and political events, which still make their vibrations felt. From the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish polity, an impulse was given to those political changes which have since gone on without intermission amongst the nations of the earth. From the overthrow of the Jewish Temple an impulse was given to religious earnestness, which, often from wrong, often from right motives, has increased, and will increase, as the great consummation draws nigh. While the Rabbis were labouring at their gigantic mental structure, while generation after generation of their wisest and most patriotic men were accumulating materials to build the tower, which became a beacon to their countrymen for all time, the Christian Church was not idle. By their writings and eloquence the Fathers were gathering the treasures of patristic lore, which have descended to us. While Rabbis were discoursing in the synagogues of Tiberias and Babylon, Christian orators were preaching in the basilicas of Constantinople and Rome. They have all gone from this mortal scene. But their thoughts are handed down, so that we may converse with them, though they are no longer on earth. We can hear their wisdom—we can see their errors—we can almost fancy we behold their forms—so that, being dead, they yet speak. Since they ceased from their labours empires have risen and fallen, countless millions of our race have vanished into eternity, and left their bodies to moulder into dust. But their teachings still live on, to influence immortal souls for weal or woe. Doubtless their departures from the Word of God prepared a way and furnished matter for the numerous heresies and lawless deeds which form a great portion of the history of mankind. From their errors sprang at least in part the Koran. This and kindred themes, however, open up an interminable vista, leading us away from the Talmud itself. It is better now to conclude this introduction. And with what more suitable words can I close than with those drawn from the wisdom of the Fathers? "It is not incumbent upon thee to complete the work: neither art thou free to cease from it. If thou hast studied the law, great shall be thy reward; for the Master of thy work is faithful to pay the reward of thy labour: but know that the reward of the righteous is in the world to come." 45:1 The expression "they" is often used in the phraseology of the Talmud to denote either certain officials, or else the sages and men of authority. The exact reference can only be gathered from the context. So again with the use of "he." In such cases the expression "he" generally refers to the decision on a particular occasion.

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1 Ahmed M = "Tiberias is an Israeli city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel."
2 Ahmed M = "Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman and Byzantine, the Latin, and the Ottoman empires. "
3 Ahmed M = "The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God."