why is the Talmud is written in such a confusing manner. Every other discipline in the world is taught in such a way as to make it as easy as possible to understand. If you learn mathematics for example, they first teach you addition then subtraction. Once you master that, you go on to multiplication, division, algebra, geometry, etc.

There is a clear order, building up from simple to complex and it's written in such a way as to be as easy as possible to understand. On the other hand, the talmud is written in a seemingly chaotic fashion. The very first mishna says:

"when do we read the shema?.. When the Kohanim enter to eat their teruma..."

Who? What? What Kohanim? What shema?! First tell me about the source of the mitzva of shema. Where does it come from. What is it? Instead the mishna jumps right in with a confusing mix of information. furthermore the talmud is constantly going off on tangents many of which are totally unrelated to the current tractate.

why is it written like this?

for example, If I want to teach physics in a clear way, I'd start with newton's laws of motion and then after a semester when this is fully clear I'd move up to waves and other more complicated stuff, then maybe optics or electromagnetism then thermodynamics,etc then quantum theory. (and even within newton's laws, I would start from basic and move up to complex). I would not start with newton's laws then throw in some electro-magnetism stuff and a little quantum mechanics all at once as this would totaly confuse every one. One must start with ONE most fundamental subject and explain it fully then move on to another subject which builds on that.

  • 1
    It's confusing because you're not used to it. Every other discipline in the world is taught in such a way...if you learn mathematics, first they teach you addition then subtraction. Etc.
    – Seth J
    Feb 27, 2013 at 22:04
  • 1
    To echo @SethJ, your example of the first Mishna is actually very beautiful in its succinctness and in the amount of information it carries with it in so few words.
    – yoel
    Feb 27, 2013 at 22:09
  • 1
    If you want to know what the halacha is, there are better ways to do it than by diving into the talmud. You study talmud to understand the process and the arguments moreso than to get the answer. Feb 27, 2013 at 22:36
  • 1
    In line with what several others have said, I believe there is the assumption when you open Mishna that you are familiar with halacha at least as stated by the Torah, and as practiced as well. There are plenty of assumptions about familiarity with agriculture, government, and other aspects of life as well. Similarly, in a university course on physics it is often reasonably assumed that students have familiarity with lower school physics.
    – WAF
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:02
  • 3
    Mishna was originally tool for encapsulating a compressed form of the Oral Torah in a form that lends itself to verbatim preservation either in human memory or on paper. I don't think it was meant to be, by itself, an ideal form of pedagogy for any level of student. That would have been left to one's teacher.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:50

4 Answers 4


Keep in mind that the Oral Law had been left as oral teachings for quite some time, until the Mishnah began to put things down.

At the time the Mishnah was written, an average Jew would have been raised knowing that he recites Shema twice daily, and he would have seen Kohanim waiting till nightfall to consume terumah. So the Mishnah is filling us in on the nitty-gritty that we may not have known just from observing normal practice, assuming we have some background.

It's also been suggested that part of the goal was to keep a great deal of the Oral Law oral, hence the Mishnah is just some rough notes. It wasn't intended as a standalone text for a novice.

  • many of the tangents the talmud and mishna go off in have NOTHING to do with the current tractate. look at perek beis shamai in berachos for example. likewise in the gemora you can go from berachos to tuma/tahara to kilaim etc.
    – ray
    Feb 28, 2013 at 6:00
  • That's a different issue. The Talmud's goal was to put down as much law and lore as they could, and if tangents are how they got there, so be it. It's still been suggested that keeping it difficult was part of how to keep it partly oral; it's also been suggested that some of what we see are notes from the lecture hall, and occasionally things went on tangents. By the way sometimes things fit better than you think; the destruction of the Second Temple is in a chapter called "those damaged", in the tractate on divorces; Sotah immediately veers into self-control for men (not "blame the woman")
    – Shalom
    Feb 28, 2013 at 13:00
  • ... and the chapter in Pesachim about how family dynamics play out with regards to the Korban Pesach starts getting into general discussions of family dynamics, and our relationship with G-d.
    – Shalom
    Feb 28, 2013 at 13:01
  • 1
    It's also been suggested By whom?
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 15, 2016 at 4:04
  • This is a great answer. The crux of it is that the Talmud isn't intended for someone landing from Mars and trying to learn from scratch; rather, it is assumed that the reader is embedded in a Jewish community and already knows these practices from doing. Aug 28, 2018 at 11:09

Pirkey Avos 5:22

Five years is the age for the study of Scripture. Ten, for the study of Mishnah. Thirteen, for the obligation to observe the mitzvot. Fifteen, for the study of Talmud.

Talmud seems difficult because it is expected that you will have spent five years studying the Scripture on which it is based and five years studying the Mishnah itself before diving into the Gemara in all its complexity. Besides this, you will have been actively engaged in learning about the practical aspects of the commandments from the age of three on. In other words, it's not a first year class.

  • But it's a class for 15 year-olds according to this Braisa.
    – Double AA
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:27
  • @DoubleAA yeah, and they've been in school since five! Three, really, as far as learning about mitzvos is concerned.
    – yoel
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:30
  • Who hasn't been in school since five?
    – Double AA
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:30
  • 3
    @DoubleAA I'm sure if one dedicated their life to physics and started with the basics at five, at fifteen they'd be ready for advanced classes.
    – yoel
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:31
  • 1
    Are you expecting future readers to approach your answers after receiving a basic education in the other comments and posts?
    – Double AA
    Feb 27, 2013 at 23:42

I think that it's important to take into consideration the manner in which the Talmud was composed. It has never been a secret that the authors of the Talmud were many and various, ranging over a period of some three centuries and spanning an area that ranged from Palestine in the West to Babylonia in the East. It is, in essence, a commentary upon a similarly authored compilation (the Mishna having been composed by multiple individuals over a period of a century at a minimum), and one which incorporates other teachings - both those that are anonymously authored and those that were attributed, however correctly or incorrectly, to specific individuals.

The compilation of the Talmud involved stitching these different texts together on the basis of theme and content, sometimes coupling a section with another because they share a keyword or because they both refer to the same sage. The "stitching" comprises those anonymous portions that were written last of all, which link each sugya to its surrounding content and which provide a narratorial voice that questions and analyses the authenticity of traditions. As a piece of literature, this is already vastly different to other examples of human creativity, and cannot properly be compared to them.

When somebody wishes to learn mathematics, the teacher will begin with the most basic information and will increase in complexity as the student's skills develop. Likewise, if somebody wishes to learn halakha, (s)he will start with basic material and only approach the more difficult material once that has been mastered. Under no circumstances would somebody start with the Talmud if their intentions are to know the halakha. They start with the Talmud if their intentions are to know the Talmud, which is a field of study in and of itself.


Basically: they didn't have the time, resources, and manpower to make the Talmud a careful, precise, and highly organized text. So they didn't.

Try turning one page of Talmudic thought into careful, precise, ordered statements. It requires a MONUMENTAL amount of work. The Encyclopedia Talmudit has taken almost fifty years now to get to the letter Yud, and that is with fully-funded experts, in close contact, in a wealthy country, using computers and email. Imagine trying to make breakfast or write down a poem in the year 600!, and then consider how impossible it would have been to turn the Talmud into a tidy encyclopedia back then.

Fortunately: Time was on our side. Over many centuries, thousands of minds have poured over the Talmud and contributed to making it clearer and more consistent. Rashi was a breakthrough, as was Tosfot, and now is Schottenstein. Its a big task, but we've got a long time to work on it.

  • 1
    The Rambam made a "encyclopedia talmudis" (although he doesn't mention aggadata) all by himself less then 700 years later. Mishnayos would be a lot easier in his style. Feb 28, 2013 at 18:56
  • @ShmuelBrin Its one thing to organize a work that does exist. But its another to organize a work, that hasn't even been created yet - ie while Struggling just to compile and record and assemble and create a huge body of information. RAMBAM was only able to do what he did because the authors of Talmud did the first step, of just getting all the material down on a page. And of course, Rambam left out basically all the rationales and arguments and proof-texts and minority opinions.
    – Ben
    Feb 28, 2013 at 19:09
  • 1
    @ShmuelBrin I don't think Rambam made an 'encyclopedia talmudis'. He made a listing of psaks.
    – Double AA
    Feb 28, 2013 at 19:24
  • @DoubleAA this comment is on Ben ‘s answer but I am tagging doubleaa because I enjoy his critical analysis of statements made on this forum. I feel as though a better outlook on the matter (of why the Gemara is so succinct), was because that they wanted to keep the oral law, oral! With this idea, the writhing down of the oral law was done in more of a “surface level” way so that the Torah won’t completely be forgotten. The penetrating depth of the Talmud must be passed down through the doros, whether through pilpul or mesora from rishonim and so on.
    – Mevakeish
    Jun 24, 2021 at 4:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .