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I am a non-Jew and am I interested in studying the Talmud, but don't know how to begin.

To start with, I have tried looking for an affordable Talmud or even part of it that I can buy just to start but it seems that all I can find are Talmud collections often costing hundreds.

How do I get started? Is there a version I can buy that is broken up into books I can buy seperately or even an App?

My first language is English so any translations would have to be in English.

My purpose in reading the Talmud is simply for personal study. I'd like to learn about Judaism in a general sense (beyond having knowledge of the Tanakh) and there seems no better way to extend my education of Abrahamic traditions.

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    Hi Charlie. You might like to know that many Jews (myself included) discourage non-Jews from studying the Talmud. – ezra Dec 31 '17 at 23:33
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    @ezra and why is that? – Charlie Dec 31 '17 at 23:40
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    The Talmud is a commentary on many tractates of the Mishna. Depending on the purpose of your study, you might want to start with the mishna. – mevaqesh Jan 1 '18 at 0:14
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    The Talmud can't be studied before one understands its structure, methodology and underlying purpose. In a sense, one must study about the talmud before he can study the talmud. – rosends Jan 1 '18 at 0:15
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    @Charlie Well it's a complicated matter, and you'll probably get different answers depending on who you talk to (for instance, you've already received conflicting answers here in the comment section). According to Maimonides, a Ben Noah should not study any Torah other than what is related to the Seven Laws of Noah. That aside, I honestly do not think you are up to studying the Talmud, based on the fact that you don't know enough about Judaism. – ezra Jan 1 '18 at 3:12
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The talmud is not like the Tanakh -- it's not a linear, coherent text that you can just start reading, relying on a few footnotes here and there. To illustrate, let me describe the first side of the first page of the first tractate, B'rachot. It begins with a mishna, which asks: from what time in the evening can we recite the Sh'ma? The mishna then answers by saying from the time the kohanim enter their houses to eat t'rumah; these are the words of R' Eliezer. The mishna then presents other opinions and an anecdote, and then there's a discussion of the general principle in interpreting "midnight". That's all in the first paragraph, just a few sentences in the Hebrew. The g'mara then begins to deconstruct this, asking where we learn these various points. The g'mara discussion of this mishna continues for eight (double-sided) pages of compact Aramaic.

Beginners working alone should expect to struggle with this, even in translation. The discussions assume a knowledge of halacha, Jewish law, and familiarity with the rules of exegesis (derivation). It is akin to reading a college-level mathematics text before you've learned algebra -- you might learn something from it here and there, purely as a matter of chance, but you'll miss most of what "learning talmud" entails and you won't learn the underlying concepts. And -- this is something that's different in Judaism than in other contexts -- studying talmud is almost universally done with a study partner, because studying it together and discussing it leads to deeper understanding and discipline.

If you want to learn talmud, I recommend that, instead of diving into a talmudic discourse, you learn about the talmud, its structure, its key players, and its methods of exegesis. Books such as R' Adin Steinsaltz's Essential Talmud provide an accessible introduction to the topic.

  • "compact Aramaic" - if that's how you describe the Bavli, what adjective would you use for the Yerushalmi? :) – Heshy Jan 1 '18 at 16:31
  • @Heshy I don't know; I've never studied Yerushalmi. :-) But I meant more "in comparison to what you'd expect in an English text or even from the Tanakh". – Monica Cellio Jan 1 '18 at 16:31
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    R. Yechezkel Feivel, in Toldos Adam Chapter 3, goes through the first mishnah in Berachos to show how someone with no background will not be able to understand it. hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=46835&st=&pgnum=25 (last paragraph) – Alex Jan 1 '18 at 19:05
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A good introduction to Talmud study, is study of the Mishna, since the Talmud is a commentary on many Tractates of the Mishna. Notably, the Mishna is the primary work of Jewish law, compiled after Tanakh was written, and obviously before the Talmud. It is perhaps the archetypal work of the Oral Law.

The Mishna is available with English translation here on Sefaria. As noted here, Herbert Danby's translation of the Mishna is available here. It is based primarily on the Tifferet Israel commentary on the Mishna of R. Israel Lipschitz. You can also find links to five of the six orders of the Mishna (Kodashim apparently excluded), with Philip Blackman's translation, including introductions, supplements, and notes, here.

Whether or not the Mishna is a part of the Talmud, is a semantic question. The Term Talmud frequently is used to include the Mishna (and the Tosefta, but you don't have to worry about that.)

Another classical work of Jewish law, is the comprehensive Mishneh Torah written by Maimonides about a millennium after the Mishna.

It is available in English here.

See also the resources listed in response to this related question.

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