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  1. Does the Talmud have things that are not laws like stories of prophets
  2. Is all of the Talmud just explanation of things in the Tanakh?
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  • Welcome @Vladislav - looking forward to having you learn with us!
    – Dov
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:15
  • Try reading this - chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3347866/jewish/…
    – Dov
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:16
  • The article doesn't answer my second question
    – Shanel
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:52
  • Yes I know it was just a good primer...
    – Dov
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 18:30

2 Answers 2

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Regarding your second question, I would strongly recommend reading "What is the Talmud". It is a comprehensive work written during World War 2, by Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits.

Rabbi Berkovits explains the need for an explanation on the written Torah:

All written material requires a commentary. The first reader is always also the first commentator. The Bible is the written teachings (the so-called Written Law, or Torah Shebichtav) of Judaism — the Book as compendium. That is why it is inconceivable without commentary. Like any teachings, it must also be explained, and as everywhere, in the case of the Bible as well, explanation begins with reading. To read the Bible is always to explain the Bible. However, to explain the Bible means to study the Bible. The process of studying and its outcome are designated by tradition in the language of the Bible by the word Talmud. (Lamod = Heb. learn; “Talmud” is an abbreviation of Talmud-Torah study of the Torah.)

Irrespective of the way that the Bible is read, the reader will always encounter major difficulties in it. “Questions” will be asked. Asking questions is the dynamic strength of the Talmud. It is an integral part of the text. The Bible is text — but above all, it is teachings (Torah); yet answers are part of teachings. The provider of the text left questions unresolved. The provider of the Teachings must also have provided the answers. The Talmud consists of question and answer. From all of this it follows: The Jewish people received the Talmud together with the Bible. Written and oral teachings cannot be separated from each other. Both come from the same source. The Talmud is as old as the Bible itself.

Since the Torah wished to be taught and put into effect, it always needed the “oral” supplement. When Moses first read and taught the Bible, the history of the Oral Teachings began. This is the reason why the Sages say: “Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai and handed it down…” (Avot 1:1) The handing down of the text from master to student involves the teaching of its correct reading — commentary in the broadest sense of the word. Such “transmission” is “Oral Law.” It was in this sense that the Talmud was originally called: “masoret me-ha-Avot” — handing down or transmission from the Fathers. But what the Fathers handed down is “Kabbalah — that which is received” for the children. (Not to be confused with the later meaning of this word, which generally denotes Jewish mysticism.)

In "Essay on Fundamentals" chapter 10, The Ramchal, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto explains:

Behold the Master, blessed be He, did not want to write the Torah with sufficient clarity, such that it would not need explanation. Just the opposite, He wrote many things in it that are very unclear, such that it would not have been possible for anyone in the world to understand their true intention without His giving over the explantation through the tradition that came from Him, may He be blessed - the author of the [Torah's written] words. By way of example, the commandment of tefillin, mezuzah and that which is similar to them - the command came about them [more generally], but their properties are not clarified in that which is written. However the truth is that it was with specific intent that the Master, blessed be He, hid the true intention of His words, for reasons known to Him. Nevertheless, what He hid in the written Torah, He surely gave over orally to our teacher, Moses, peace be upon him. And the tradition continued from him to the sages, generation after generation. And see that the true intention of Scripture is clarified through this tradition. So the true performance of the commandments as the Master, blessed be He, wanted them is known to us.

The Ramchal then goes on to explain that the correspondence of the words of the written Torah to the traditional explanation is divided into three sections:

The first section:

the group of things that are found in their generalizations in Scripture - but without their specifics - and their specifics are clarified in the tradition.

The second section:

the group of written passages in which the understanding is unclear - in that they can bear different explanations - and its clarification is determined by the tradition.

The third section:

the group of written passages in which - according to the words - it would truly have one intention, but the tradition clarifies that the desired [understanding] is quite different from that which appears. And about this, [the Sages], may their memory be blessed, said (Sotah 16a), "The law (halakha) circumvents Scripture." However there are not many items in this group. Moreover, if you exert yourself and deepen the matter, you will find that the simple reading does not totally contradict the law and that it is not counter to it. Rather, it can be understood from a certain perspective and within certain limits.

You further ask

"Is all of the Talmud just explanation of things in the Tanakh?"

There are two things here, the written Torah and the oral Torah. The written Torah is, well, the name says it all, the Torah as Hashem gave it to us. However, G-d says "This month is to be the beginning of months for you" (Shemos 12:2). What month is that? The Torah does not explain that, so how are we meant to know the "fine details"? To this, the oral Torah comes to rescue. The oral Torah is the tradition that came from Moshe from Sinai, and is passed down from father to son, for a few thousand generations now.

The Talmud asks: What was the order of teaching the Oral Law? How was the Oral Law first taught? (Eruvin 54b) and goes on to explain the order:

Moses learned directly from the mouth of the Almighty. Aaron entered and sat before him, and Moses taught him his lesson as he had learned it from God. Aaron moved aside and sat to the left of Moses. Aaron’s sons entered, and Moses taught them their lesson while Aaron listened. Aaron’s sons moved aside; Elazar sat to the right of Moses and Itamar sat to the left of Aaron. Rabbi Yehuda disagreed with the first tanna with regard to the seating arrangements and said: Actually, Aaron would return to sit to the right of Moses. The elders entered and Moses taught them their lesson. The elders moved aside, and the entire nation entered and Moses taught them their lesson.

This oral tradition, is transmitted oraly, from father to son. However, there was a time, were a certain Rabbi, named Yehuda Hanasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) saw it fitting to write the tradition down. This is the Mishnah.

Over the past years, many Rabbi's studied the Mishnah and interpreted verses. This formed the Talmud as we know. As Rabbi Steinsaltz explains:

Over the course of the next 300 years, scholars pored over the Mishna and expounded upon it. The Gemara (also called Talmud in the more restricted sense of the term) is a compilation of their debates and commentaries on the Mishna.

The discussions of the sages from Palestine are contained in the Jerusalem Talmud, which was edited by the disciples of Rabbi Yohanan in Tiberias in the 4th century C.E. Its Diaspora counterpart, the Babylonian Talmud, was compiled by Rav Ashi and Ravina in the 5th century C.E and is considered to be more extensive and authoritative.

See also this article by Rabbi Yehudah Shurpin from Chabad.org:

As anyone who has learned the Bible can attest, there are certain verses where there is no way of knowing what it refers to by just looking at the verse. Examples include the commandment to circumcise oneself, or to put tefillin on the arm and head, or to take the four species on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

There is no way of knowing from the verses alone what exactly are we supposed to cut when we make a circumcision, or how to put on tefillin, or even what it is. The same holds true for almost all other commandments. More details are given in the Written Torah for some commandments than for others, but at the end of the day, there is a glaring lack of detail and information.

This is where the Oral Torah comes in. It is an “owner’s manual” and “companion guide” (so to speak) for the Torah. With it we can understand what the Torah means, and determine the details of the various commandments. Furthermore, we have rules of exegesis so that we can determine the Torah’s view on various issues that are not directly addressed. The Oral Torah comprises traditions and extrapolations based on the inscribed Torah, the Bible.

Just before the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, G‑d tells Moses that He will give him “the stone tablets, the Torah and the commandments."1 By adding the word “commandments” in addition to the Torah, G‑d implies that there commandments that are not included in the “Torah.” This, among others, is a clear implication of the existence of the Oral Torah.

The Torah itself commands us to keep the Oral Torah:

You shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the L‑rd will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not diverge from the word they tell you, either right or left.2

The traditions of the Oral Torah were passed down from generation to generation, from Moses to Joshua, and from there down to the leaders and sages of each generation,3 until eventually, after the destruction of the Second Temple, they were written down in what is known as the Mishnah, Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) and Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud).

Concerning your first question, "Does the Talmud have things that are not laws like stories of prophets"- There's the concept of "Talmudic Aggadah" - אַגָּדָה‎.

Concerning Aggadah, there's a Wikipedia-article citing the Ramchal:

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-1746), discusses this two-tiered, literal-allegorical mode of transmission of the Aggadah in his well-known Discourse on the Haggadot. He explains that the Oral Law, in fact, comprises two components: the legal component (חלק המצוות‎), discussing the mitzvot and halakha; and "the secret" component (חלק הסודות‎), discussing the deeper teachings. The Aggadah, along with the Kabbalah, falls under the latter.

You can say that Aggadah can be specified as "a tale", as the Talmud in Yoma 75a explains:

Others say: It was called coriander [gad] because it is similar to a tale [haggada], which draws a person’s heart toward it, just like water, which is essential for life, draws one

Somewhere else in the Talmud (Chullin 92a), Aggadah is described as an explanation in homiletically form:

Rabbi Abba said to Rabbi Yirmeya bar Abba: When Rav interpreted these verses homiletically he interpreted them according to the way in which you have interpreted them, and not according to any of the other opinions cited above.

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    I found this question/answer while pursuing a different question, and I'm very glad I did!
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 15:13
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  1. Yes, Talmud has a wealth of content, which is mainly divided into halacha, which is the study of law, and aggadata, which is a body of teachings through anecdote and parable, similar to midrash.

  2. The Talmud is the notes of the discussions that the Amoraim had about the Mishna. The purpose of those discussions was to clarify ambiguities, fill in gaps, resolve disputes as well as impart the general Torah wisdom of the Amoraim to future generations. All of this is somehow rooted in either the Written or Oral Torah, so it's not always (directly at least), a commentary on the Written Torah (Tanach)

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  • I didn't understand your second answer could you answer with from the torah or not I know it has explanation of Torah and commentaries but does it have things beyond explanation of bibical things
    – Shanel
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:25
  • The Tanach is the Written Torah, which is the blueprint for the universe, so it contains in some form, everything. The Oral Torah was given at Sinai, which is the tradition given by God to understand and interpret the Written Torah. The Mishna is the first official "writing down" of the Oral Torah, a selection of the main legal points, with some "aggadata" thrown in as well. So it is all, fundamentally, rooted in the "biblical" *(which covers the entirety of life), even if it's not always obvious where it traces back to.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:40
  • Could you just answer does the talmud have other things than just Torah explanation? Or not?
    – Shanel
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:51
  • I'm not sure what exactly you mean then, can you give me some examples?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 16:14
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    @VladislavKatarov yes it does have things other than Torah explanation. The Talmud contains many aphorisms of our sages, inspiring stories of our sages or just metaphorical stories meant to teach us lessons, in addition to Halacha, explanations and various interpretations of Tanach verses, and the debates that our rabbis had in order to pry out the Halacha of something discussed in the Mishnah Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 16:29

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