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There are a few aspects of the Talmud that I'm curious about:

  • Someone compiled it. My history knowledge is poor. I understand that Rabbi Yehuda compiled the Mishna. I'm not sure who compiled the Yerushalmi and the Bavli.
  • There were numerous rabbis and houses of study scattered throughout both Israel and Babylon. How did the compiler discover who said or taught what? Did they send "snoopers" to these places to listen in on the discussion? Did rabbis or others send letters saying "Hey, Rav Yochanan heard about what you said and disagree with you, Rav Akiva?"
  • There are some stories that seem quite private. E.g., somewhere, the Talmud discusses the size of a Rav's male organ. Who would know about such personal information, and why would he care to have that fact written down?
  • I understand that Bavli was written much later than Yerushalmi. How much of the Yerushalmi is copied verbatim into the Bavli?
  • Many people said many things. Obviously, not all of it got into the Talmud. What decided what was compiled and what wasn't?

I am interested in books and / or online resources that discuss this. If you can, explain why you think your source is the best one available.

  • though it doesn't deal with all the items you list, a good place to start is Maimonides' Introduction to the Talmud (isbn 1880582287) – rosends Aug 20 '15 at 15:17
  • @Danno Much of Rambam's works are online. I don't think that this is part of Mishne Torah. Would u know the Hebrew title & if this is online? – DanF Aug 20 '15 at 15:40
  • Unrelated to your question but a pedantic point, AFAIK there was no Rav Yochanan or Rav Akiva. Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Akiva were people, though (in fact, there were at least two Rabbi Yochanans... a tanna and an amora). See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/46005/1713 – Daniel Aug 20 '15 at 16:26
  • @Daniel Don't take the quote literally. It was a template / example. I could have substituted any 2 names. Thanks for the link. I see that you are the answerer. This is very informative. – DanF Aug 20 '15 at 17:34
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On the compilation of Bavli Talmud, see "The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud" by Jacob Neusner and on Yerushalmi, see "A Guide to the Jerusalem Talmud" by Heshey Zelcer. Both of them provide a valuable source to its world and composition.

On the context, history and its sources see "The Sages (4 volumes)", by Rabbi Binyamin Lau. It covers many aspects of traditions and rabbinic tales; for example, deal and examines exquisitely the development of stories and traditions by comparing sources in the Bavli and the Yerushalmi.

Finally, on general questions you may have, I highly reccomend "First Steps in the Talmud: A Guide to the Confused" also by Jacob Neusner. It does not aim to explain every last detail of the Talmud, but introduced me to the interesting and complex details of the Talmud in an accessible and engaging manner. Hope it helps :)

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Rabbi Triebitz has a 20 part series on this, on Hashkafacircle, here.


It should be noted that some of his ideas are non-standard.

  • interesting!!...watched a couple of them so far..trying HARD to stay on track with his train of thought...One potentially dumb question: is there a reason for his mannerisms(rocking back and forth "shpilkies", as my sister says, voice pitch rising like the house is on fire), or are they just that, his individual mannerisms? – Gary Aug 20 '15 at 18:10
  • @Gary I believe he always sounds like that. Glad you enjoyed. You may be interested in other shiurim on the site. – mevaqesh Aug 20 '15 at 20:21
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This is an active area of academic research. If you go to this website from UCL and search for "Talmud" you will find a list of books and articles on the subject, which form a reading list for a course. Of course, you won't expect these sources to agree with each other in all matters.

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Three more suggestions relevant to your question:

R Meir Zvi Bergman's Gateway to the Talmud (artscroll)

This is a wonderful introduction to the Talmud. This volume is only 154 pages, in easy to read font, so it is only a gate, but what a gate! It describes the historical development of Talmudic study, the differences between the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud, and the principles for deciding the Law. This is a historian's book, or a book for one seeking to begin studies in the Talmud -- from an amazon review

and two classics from R Adin Steinsaltz:

Reference Guide to the Talmud and The Essential Talmud

Now I can't guarantee all your questions will be answered in there. You might benefit from asking here as separate questions. In any case

  • Talmud Bavli was compiled by Rav Ashi and Ravina
  • They decided which teachings made it into the Talmud and which didn't
  • I don't believe much of the Yerushalmi, if any, is copied verbatim into the Bavli - what happened though is that amoraim "from the West" (i.e., from Israel) went to Babylonia and brought with them teachings which were discussed and incorporated in the Bavli. But both texts evolved quite independently (although they are obviously starting from the same mishnayot)

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