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The Talmud: A Biography

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The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Ye The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia. Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud's prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book's origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated--but also excoriated and maligned--in the centuries since it first appeared. An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.


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The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Ye The life and times of an enduring work of Jewish spirituality The Babylonian Talmud, a postbiblical Jewish text that is part scripture and part commentary, is an unlikely bestseller. Written in a hybrid of Hebrew and Aramaic, it is often ambiguous to the point of incomprehension, and its subject matter reflects a narrow scholasticism that should hardly have broad appeal. Yet the Talmud has remained in print for centuries and is more popular today than ever. Barry Scott Wimpfheimer tells the remarkable story of this ancient Jewish book and explains why it has endured for almost two millennia. Providing a concise biography of this quintessential work of rabbinic Judaism, Wimpfheimer takes readers from the Talmud's prehistory in biblical and second-temple Judaism to its present-day use as a source of religious ideology, a model of different modes of rationality, and a totem of cultural identity. He describes the book's origins and structure, its centrality to Jewish law, its mixed reception history, and its golden renaissance in modernity. He explains why reading the Talmud can feel like being swept up in a river or lost in a maze, and why the Talmud has come to be venerated--but also excoriated and maligned--in the centuries since it first appeared. An incomparable introduction to a work of literature that has lived a full and varied life, this accessible book shows why the Talmud is at once a received source of traditional teachings, a touchstone of cultural authority, and a powerful symbol of Jewishness for both supporters and critics.

30 review for The Talmud: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex Obrigewitsch

    A solid primer for accessing the Talmud - a hesitating step into the desert wandering which exceeds a lifetime. Fittingly enough, a "biography" of a text such as the Talmud could never be written; the writing and the work that it demands extend beyond the limits of any life, into the infinite. Wimpfheimer does what he can, however, dividing the Talmud into three strata of interpretation and reception. He provides exemplary readings of a couple of passages, repeated in each of the three strata of A solid primer for accessing the Talmud - a hesitating step into the desert wandering which exceeds a lifetime. Fittingly enough, a "biography" of a text such as the Talmud could never be written; the writing and the work that it demands extend beyond the limits of any life, into the infinite. Wimpfheimer does what he can, however, dividing the Talmud into three strata of interpretation and reception. He provides exemplary readings of a couple of passages, repeated in each of the three strata of access (one had never have thought they would give so much consideration to fire liability), as well as a very brief look at the history of the text and the interpretive sects which formed around it. The final section on contemporary relations to the Talmud is fairly disappointing, however, in its comparisons to Seinfeld (as though mundane minutiae were something exclusively talmudic?) and the superfluous tip of the hat to gender theory. You get what you might expect with this one - a scholar obviously familiar with the text, struggling to make it amenable to the popular reader, only ending up doing a disservice to both said reader to whom he has cowed and the learned scholarship from which he has bowed out. But as a gift, one takes it with an open palm and a grateful smile...

  2. 4 out of 5

    BHodges

    Another great addition to the LOGRB series!

  3. 4 out of 5

    char

    I got about halfway through before giving up on this one. I just could not penetrate his writing. I'm not sure if it's him or me but it was just not coming together. I think he definitely could have benefited from a better editor on those first two chapters, which were pretty disorganized. I also was hoping for a more historical account of the Talmud's redaction, which might have helped to better support the textual analyses. I got about halfway through before giving up on this one. I just could not penetrate his writing. I'm not sure if it's him or me but it was just not coming together. I think he definitely could have benefited from a better editor on those first two chapters, which were pretty disorganized. I also was hoping for a more historical account of the Talmud's redaction, which might have helped to better support the textual analyses.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis

    Impenetrable! Despite multiple efforts, I was only able to read 30 pages of this book because the author’s writing style was extremely difficult for me to read. I had really looked forward to this book as our December selection because I wanted to learn more about the Talmud. I did learn quite a bit during the discussion, but frankly could not learn anything from the book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    You ever read an introduction long after you should have because you, on the one hand, know the thing pretty well and, on the other hand, missed some obvious 101 stuff? Yeah, this was a very useful book in that respect. Time to go through the footnotes and make my next reading list.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Wasn't an entertaining read but the information it gives is exactly what you want if you're looking for a 'biography' of the Talmud. Wasn't an entertaining read but the information it gives is exactly what you want if you're looking for a 'biography' of the Talmud.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    296.12 W757 2018

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Seth Morris

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eliana

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ruti

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marion

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Miller

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura Benbow

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Caleb Robinson

  21. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abraham Mustri

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Forrest Scott Lewis

  26. 5 out of 5

    Perel

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mauricio Santoro

  28. 5 out of 5

    gary schreiber

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bill

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