As the Jewish people are plunged deeper into a purging exile, persecution and dispersion become common and increasingly intensive.
Leadership comes to the sad conclusion that unless the Oral Torah is written, it will be soon forgotten. A brief but strong respite from the throbs of exile is interpreted as a sign from G-d to begin this holy task. Rav (Rabbi) Yehuda HaNassi coordinates the leading sages of his time to edit and authorize the first recording of the Oral Torah. It is called the Mishna and it documents the teachings of Moses, as transmitted verbally from teacher to student for the past fifteen-hundred years. Already there are points under dispute. He takes care to record every legitimate opinion, insuring that no one can later claim that the decisions of the Mishna were written without considering the opinions of every sage. The disputes are subsequently resolved.
The Mishna is written very concisely. Topics within the Mishna are organized into the following six sections: Agriculture, Holidays, Marriage, Civil Law, The Temple, and Ritual Purity.
Other works are subsequently documented such as the Medrash which is organized around books of the Bible, providing interpretation and moral lessons.
The mounting persecutions of the next several centuries mandate the need to record the way in which the Mishna is to be read and understood. The leading Jewish scholars in both Israel and Babylon author a set of works which come to be known respectively as the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds.
Besides providing explanation for the laws of the Mishna, the Talmud also records many insights and words of wisdom from the Torah sages.
Of the two, the Babylonian Talmud becomes the dominant source for Jewish law and practice.
Unlike the Mishna, the Talmud is written in an Aramaic dialect. It is mostly a series of discussions and conclusions of the leading sages of the later generations and is loosely organized around the Mishna. The text contains no punctuation, no introductory material, no cross-references, and no commentaries. It assumes that the reader has sufficient background to understand it. As such, it is initially of practical use for only the accomplished scholar.
Later works by scholars such as Rashi and the Rambam will make the Talmud and its teachings significantly more accessible to the masses. As Jewish history and publishing technologies progress, the volume of explanatory material becomes astonishing, testifying to the depth, genius, and value of the Talmud. In a recent year, almost three-hundred new books were published on the Rambam, alone.
Once the Mishna and Talmud are concluded and authorized, they become primary references for all subsequent determinations about Jewish behavior, ethics, and values. Together, they serve as our record of the Oral Torah
The Oral Torah has the same legitimacy and authority as the Written Torah.
For the rest of Jewish history, in order for a behavior, ethic, or value to legitimately be considered Jewish, it must be consistent with both the Written and the Oral Torahs. It is for this reason that all Rabbis today are expected to be well versed in the Written and Oral Torahs and every Rabbinical academy emphasizes the mastery of both the Written and the Oral Torahs.
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