Yehuda Cahn



As with most classical Jewish texts, no one person wrote the Jerusalem Talmud.  As the Rambam explains in his Introduction to the Mishnah, the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled by Rabbi Yochanan and his disciples, meaning that Rabbi Yochanan established the general outline of the material, but the work did not take final form until about sixty years or so after his death.  As the reader will see, Rabbi Yochanan is one of the sages most frequently cited in the Jerusalem Talmud.

Although Medieval Jewish scholars frequently cite the Jerusalem Talmud, it has not received the extensive attention which has been lavished upon the Babylonian Talmud.  Indeed, when there is a conflict between the two, the Halachic authorities almost always rule according to the Babylonian Talmud.  One result of the lack of attention to the Jerusalem Talmud is that there appears to be less certainty about the correct version of the text.  Only one complete manuscript of the Jerusalem Talmud, known as the Leyden manuscript written in 1289, exists.  Daniel Bomberg published an edition of the Jerusalem Talmud in Venice in 1523 based primarily on that manuscript and several other manuscripts which have since disappeared.  The present work is based upon the famous Romm edition first published in Vilna, Lithuania during the 1800’s.  That edition was based primarily upon an earlier printing in Zhitomir, Poland and includes extensive notes citing the textual variations found in other printed editions and manuscripts.

Despite the fact that several printed editions of the Jerusalem Talmud have been published over the centuries, none has emerged as a standard edition so that specific page numbers can be cited in each tractate.  Instead, it is customary to cite references to the Jerusalem Talmud by the chapter and Mishnah (also called “Halachah”) of the tractate in which they appear and that practice has been followed in the present work.

Because the present work deals with Aggadoth (or, to use the terminology of the Jerusalem Talmud, Haggadoth), one can also find versions of some of the material presented here in Ein Yaakov, a collection of Aggadoth written by Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Chaviv during the 1500’s.  In addition, many Aggadoth of the Jerusalem Talmud appear in different forms in the Babylonian Talmud or in various Midrashim.  While it is not the purpose of this work to perform the scholarly task of comparing the various extant texts of the Jerusalem Talmud or other ancient Jewish literature, cross-references are noted and points of comparison made where helpful to a better understanding of the text.

The renowned Tosafist, Rabbeinu Tam, noted that there were different dialects of Aramaic in use in the Land of Israel and Babylon.  For this reason, the vocabulary and the spelling of some words found in the Jerusalem Talmud vary from those of the Babylonian Talmud.  Although this has discouraged some scholars from a comprehensive study of the Jerusalem Talmud, several excellent medieval commentaries include translations of the Aramaic text into simple Hebrew so that a clear understanding of the text is possible.  In addition, several scholars have cataloged some of these linguistic points.

Literal translation of the Talmud, especially the laconic Jerusalem Talmud, is inappropriate and inconsistent with the intent of the original compilers.  It is forbidden to write down the oral tradition that God gave Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai.  However, when intense persecution threatened to prevent Jewish scholars from accurately transmitting tradition, the rabbis found themselves forced to record it in the form of the Talmud.  However, this meant putting into writing only so much as was absolutely necessary to perpetuate tradition and no more.  The resulting work resembles the shorthand notes a university student might take of a professor’s lecture.  The Talmudic compilers did not mean for later generations to understand the text as it is written.  Rather, the intention was that students should add in the words or information necessary to have the text make sense.  For example, the Talmud often quotes a few words from a Scriptural verse, the idea being that the student would either be familiar with the complete verse or look it up.  In the present translation, the full verse is quoted where appropriate.

The abbreviated style of the Jerusalem Talmud also includes the use of specialized terminology.  For example, the word “Dalemah” () indicates that a story or parable is to follow.  Along similar lines, the Talmud sometimes omits words which may be easily implied from the text.  For instance, the Talmud may cite the name of a Sage followed by a quotation, but omitting the words, “he said.”  In these and all similar circumstances, the translation provides the implied words.  The Talmud, even in standard printed editions, is written largely without any punctuation.  Punctuation has been supplied in the Hebrew excerpts which accompany the translation to assist readers trying to follow along in the original.

In modern English, once a conversation between two speakers is introduced, one usually does not keep identifying who is speaking.  Instead, each sentence is a separate paragraph enclosed by quotation marks and the reader understands who is speaking.  Because the Talmud uses no punctuation, each sentence of a conversation is often preceded by “He said… .”  The present translation omits many of these redundant phrases, relying instead on the modern convention of using quotation marks.

In an attempt to keep the translation closer to its original meaning, an effort has been made to make it gender neutral where doing so does not destroy the flow of the text.  Thus, for example, a literal translation of the beginning of Mishnah 9:5 would read, “A man is obliged to bless God for evil just as he blesses Him for good.”  The author of the Mishnah obviously did not mean that only men are so obligated as opposed to women and, in former times, anyone studying the Mishnah would have understood that.  Unfortunately, in recent times, there are those who insist that such phraseology implies that women are excluded.  To avoid this misunderstanding, the translation reads, “A person is obliged to bless God for evil just as he or she blesses Him for good.”  In sentences which repeat the word “he” more than once, however, this type of wording tends to sound awkward.  (E.g.:  He or she said that if he or she could, he or she would have gone to his or her house, etc.)  Accordingly, there are instances where the translation employs the old convention of having the masculine imply both masculine and feminine.

This translation supplies additional information necessary to understand the text in brackets.  After each selection, a brief commentary appears in italics designed to further elucidate the concepts presented in the text.

Several commentators have sought to explain why the Jewish sages so often chose to express themselves by means of stories and parables, particularly when these stories tend to contain material which a well-educated person finds difficult to believe.  The Rambam explained that certain concepts were too esoteric to be set out in a straightforward manner.  Only a parable could make the topic clear.  In other cases, the Talmud dealt with matters which the general public may easily misunderstand.  Accordingly, the rabbis expressed themselves in parables which only their advanced students could fathom.  This permitted them to pass on the information to those capable of understanding it while others could view what was being said as entertaining “stories”.

There may be another reason that the sages often expressed themselves with allegories, however.  When a rabbi admonishes members of the public to perform religious deeds, the response is straightforward.  For instance, a person who hears that he or she should recite a blessing in a certain fashion can easily follow the rabbi’s instructions to say the words properly.  However, when a rabbi exhorts his followers to improve upon their character traits, the matter is quite different.  By way of example, a rabbi might explain that greed is wrong because it leads to strife.  When people seek to satisfy their greed, they come into conflict with others who may also be greedy.  The result is conflict, perhaps even war.  In addition, greed is evil because it focuses one’s attention on the temporal world and away from God.  People may understand intellectually why greed is wrong, and yet find it difficult to improve, for the change they seek is not merely the outward performance of a religious act but an internal alteration of personality.  To change one’s character, to alter one’s emotions and outlook on life, one needs more than an understanding that such change is right.  One needs emotional stimulation.  That is where a story comes in.  It engages the listener’s emotions and thereby induces a change in outlook.  As the rabbis themselves say, “Aggadah attracts a person’s heart.”

The Talmud states that “Numerous prophets arose for Israel, twice as many as the number of people who exited Egypt, but a prophecy which was needed for all generations was recorded while that which was not needed was not recorded.”  If this was the case with prophecy, it is even truer of the Aggadoth because, as with the rest of the Oral Torah, it is forbidden to write down the Aggadoth unless there is a grave danger that they will be utterly forgotten.  Accordingly, it is fair to conclude that although myriad homilies and stories may have existed at the time the Talmud was redacted, only the select few which the rabbis thought of as having essential importance to the Jewish people throughout all generations were immortalized in the Talmud.

In light of the above, the question of whether every detail of the Aggadoth literally occurred is irrelevant.  Whether certain Aggadoth represent homiletic exaggeration to impress a point, whether they were sometimes a rabbi’s semi-prophetic visions or dreams, or whether they were simply cleverly constructed parables is unimportant because their true purpose is to instruct, enlighten and inspire.  Their reality is based upon the eternal truths they represent, not the precision of their historical accuracy.


Torah From Jerusalem Volume 2

The goal of this anthology is to produce a translation which conveys the meaning of the text in easily readable form.  Accordingly, it avoids highly technical analyses of linguistic usage or variant manuscript readings except when those have a significant bearing on the basic meaning of the text.

Those with a background in Talmud who wish to follow along in the Hebrew should keep in mind that the originators of the Jerusalem Talmud spoke a form of Aramaic somewhat different from that used in Babylonia.  In particular, they often slurred the guttural letters ע, ח, ה, א.  For instance, the word אמר, meaning “he said,” is often simply מר, the word אנן, meaning “we,” is reduced to נן, and the word כאילו, meaning “as though,” becomes כילו.  The names of the sages were also often shortened in this fashion.  For example, רבי אליעזר became רבי ליעזר and רבי אבא became רבי בא.  In addition, the guttural letters were sometimes used interchangeably.  By way of illustration, the word היכן, meaning “where” in the Babylonian Talmud is איכן in the Jerusalem Talmud.

The editors of the Jerusalem Talmud also employed many contractions.  Thus, the words כי האי, meaning “like this” are contracted to כיי, and the  words לית אנא, meaning “should I not?” are contracted to לינא.  Although scribes often employed some contractions and abbreviations partly to ease the time consuming job of copying so much material by hand, these contractions probably reflect the form of Aramaic spoken in the Land of Israel.

As noted in the introduction to Volume I, sometimes the Talmud paraphrases a verse from the Tanach or even quotes the Tanach as saying something which is only derived from a verse but not explicit in it.  For the convenience of the reader, when the Hebrew text cites a Biblical reference, it is reproduced in this translation in its full correct form.  In addition, to enhance the clarity of the text, names of people and places cited in Biblical verses are translated with their traditional English equivalents (Jacob, Samuel, etc.) while names and places in the Talmudic text are transliterated (Yaakov, Shemuel, etc.).

Although later scholars have traditionally studied the Jerusalem Talmud less than the Babylonian Talmud, the editors of the Babylonian Talmud had the highest esteem for their colleagues living in the Land of Israel.  For example, the Babylonian Talmud portrays the scholars of the Land of Israel as showing great respect for one another and working harmoniously to arrive at the true meaning of the Torah.  Moreover, the Midrash asserts that the sages in the Land of Israel delved into the Torah at great length until they had a clear understanding of it.  Rabbi Zera valued the learning available in the Land of Israel to such a degree that before traveling there, he fasted one hundred times to forget what he had learned in Babylonia so that he could study the teachings of the Land of Israel without preconceived ideas.

By contrast, the Babylonian sages viewed their own scholarship as the result of contentious debate.  This may explain why the Halachah follows the opinion of the Babylonian Talmud.  Studying Torah in a spirit of cooperation is praiseworthy.  However, because the Babylonian scholars argued strenuously among themselves, they could be sure that any Halachic conclusion they reached had been carefully tested and was correct.

One scholar has suggested that the primacy of the Babylonian Talmud reflects the spiritual condition of the Jewish people.  Just as, sadly, the Temple has remained in a state of destruction these many years and Jews have been scattered in exile, so the Talmud of the Land of Israel has been neglected.  Perhaps now that the end of the long exile is approaching, it is especially fitting to study the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Talmud teaches that since the destruction of the Temple, the situation of the Jewish people has deteriorated so that all that keeps things going is the recital of Uva LeTzion (ובא לציון) and the Kaddish which follows the study of Aggadoth.  One reason the study of Aggadoth has such power is that it contains material which everyone can understand and appreciate, not only great scholars.

Avoth D’Rabbi Nathan says that whoever has mastered Halachah but not Midrash has not tasted fear of sin while whoever has mastered Midrash but not Halachah has not tasted wisdom.  One who has mastered Midrash but not Halachah is like a mighty warrior without weaponry while whoever has mastered Halachah but not Midrash is like a weak person with weaponry.  So it emerges that the study of Midrashim and Aggadoth as well as Halachoth is essential to becoming a good Jew.

The Zohar denounces those who view the Torah as mere stories.  If that were the case, it would be possible to create similar stories, or perhaps even better ones, today.  The reason the Torah contains what appear to be simple stories is that its great holiness cannot exist in undiluted form in the physical world nor could the physical world tolerate such holiness.  Only by clothing itself in story form can the Torah exist in the physical world.  Saying that the Torah is a mere storybook is as silly as saying that the clothing a person wears is what he or she really looks like.

The same principle applies to the Aggadoth of the Talmud.  What appear on the surface as simple stories actually represent profound spiritual concepts.

Peah 1:1  (compare B.T. Shabbath 133B)

תנירביישמעאל:  “… זֶהאֵ-לִיוְאַנְוֵהוּ…” (שמותטו:ב).  וכיאפשרלולאדםלנוואותאתבוראו?  אלאאנווהולפניובמצות.  אעשהלפניולולבנאה, סוכהנאה, שופרנאה, ציציתנאין, תפיליןנאין.

אבאשאולאומר:  אדמהלו.  מההוארחוםוחנון, אףאתתהארחוםוחנון.

מעשהברביישבבשעמדוהחליקאתכלנכסיולעניים.  שלחלורבןגמליאל, “והלאאמרו, ‘חומשמנכסיולמצות?'”


רבייוסיברביבוןבשםרבילוי:  כךהיתההלכהבידםושכחוהועמדוהַשְׁנִיִםוהסכימועלדעתהראשוניםללמדךשכלדברשביתדיןנותניןנפשןעליוהואמתקייםכמהשנאמרלמשהמסיני.

ואתייאכיידאמררבימנא:  “כִּילֹאדָבָררֵקהוּאמִכֶּם…” (דבריםלב:מז) ואםהוארֵק, מכםהוא.  למה?   שאיןאתםיגיעיןבתורה.  “…כִּיהוּאחַיֵּיכֶם…” (שםשם).   אימתיהואחייכם?  כשאתםיגיעיןבו.

רביתנחומאבשםרבהונא:  “וּבְצַלְאֵלבֶּןאוּרִיבֶןחוּרלְמַטֵּהיְהוּדָהעָשָׂהאֵתכָּלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּהה’ אֶתמֹשֶׁה” (שמותלח:כב).  “אוֹתוֹמֹשֶׁה” איןכתיבכאן, אלא “אֲשֶׁרצִוָּהה’ אֶתמֹשֶׁה.”  אפילודבריםשלאשמעמפירבוהסכימהדעתוכמהשנאמרלמשהמסיני.

רבייוחנןבשםרביבניי:  “כַּאֲשֶׁרצִוָּהה’ אֶתמֹשֶׁהעַבְדּוֹכֵּןצִוָּהמֹשֶׁהאֶתיְהוֹשֻׁעַוְכֵןעָשָׂהיְהוֹשֻׁעַלֹאהֵסִירדָּבָרמִכֹּלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּהה’ אֶתמֹשֶׁה” (יהושעיא:טו).  “אוֹתוֹמֹשֶׁה” איןכתיבכאן, אלא “מִכֹּלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּהה’ אֶתמֹשֶׁה.”  אפילודבריםשלאשמעמפימשההסכימהדעתוכמהשנאמרלמשהמסיני.

רבייוחנןבשםרביבניי, רביחונהבשםרבי:  “תּוֹרַתאֱמֶתהָיְתָהבְּפִיהוּ…” (מלאכיב:ו) – דבריםששמעמפירבו.  “…וְעַוְלָהלֹאנִמְצָאבִשְׂפָתָיו…” (שםשם) – אפילודבריםשלאשמעמפירבו.

ורבנןאמרי:  “כִּיה’ יִהְיֶהבְכִסְלֶךָוְשָׁמַררַגְלְךָמִלָּכֶד” (משליג:כו).  אפילודבריםשאתהכסילבהן, “וְשָׁמַררַגְלְךָמִלָּכֶד.”  רבידוסאאמר:  מןההורייה.  ורבנןאמרי:  מןהעבירה.  רבילויאמר:  מןהמזיקין.

אמררביאבא:  אםנתתמכיסךצדקה, הקדושברוךהואמשמרךמןהפיסיןומןהזימיותומןהגלגלותומןהארנוניות.

Rabbi Yishmael taught:  “…this is my God and I will beautify Him… .”  Is it then possible for a person to beautify his Creator?  Rather the meaning is, “I will beautify Mitzvoth before Him.”  I will prepare before Him a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Sukkah, a beautiful Shofar, beautiful Tzitzioth, and beautiful Tefillin.

Abba Shaul says: [The phrase “…this is my God and I will beautify Him…” means] “I will emulate Him.”  Just as He is merciful and gracious, so should you be merciful and gracious.

An incident occurred where Rabbi Yeshavov arose and distributed all his property to the poor [based on this concept of “beautifying” the Mitzvah of charity or imitating God by being merciful].  Rabban Gamliel sent him [a message], “Did not the sages say to limit contributions for Mitzvoth to one-fifth of one’s property?”

[How could Rabban Gamliel have sent such a message?]  Did not Rabban Gamliel live at a time before the Sanhedrin met in Usha [and issued a decree limiting charitable contributions to a fifth of one’s wealth]?

Rabbi Yossi bar Bon said in the name of Rabbi Levi:  So had the earlier rabbis established the Halachah, but it became forgotten.  Later ones arose who agreed with the opinion of the first ones.  [The Sanhedrin in Usha established the exact same rule as existed in earlier times but which had been forgotten in the interim.]  This teaches that any issue upon which a court diligently labors becomes correctly established just as it was related to Moses at Sinai.

This accords with that which Rabbi Manna said:  “For it [the Torah] is not an empty matter for you…”  And if it is empty, it is because of you.  Why?  Because you have not exerted [sufficient] effort in Torah study.  [Since the Torah promises success to those who study it, the only reason a person can fail to understand it is lack of effort.]  The verse continues, “…for it is your life….”  When is it your life?  When you exert effort on it.

Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rav Huna:  “And Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah did all which the Lord commanded Moses.”  It is not written here “which Moses commanded him,” but rather “which the Lord commanded Moses.”  Even things which he did not hear from his master’s mouth he deduced on his own just as they were told to Moses at Sinai.

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Banai:  “Just as the Lord commanded Moses, His servant, so Moses commanded Joshua and so did Joshua [do]; he did not omit a thing from all which the Lord commanded Moses.”  It is not written here “he did not omit a thing from all which Moses commanded him,” but rather “from all which the Lord commanded Moses.”  Even things which he did not hear from Moses’s mouth he deduced on his own just as they were told to Moses at Sinai.

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Banai and Rav Chuna in the name of Rebbi:  “A law of truth was in his mouth…” refers to words which he heard from his master.  “…and injustice is not found on his lips…” means even things which he did not hear from his master [were nonetheless correct].

The rabbis say:  “For the Lord will be your security [בכסלך] and guard your foot from danger.”  Even matters concerning which you are a fool [כסיל], God will “…guard your foot from danger.”  Rabbi Dosa said that “danger” refers to erroneous teaching.  The rabbis say it means sin.  Rabbi Levi said it refers to demons.

Rabbi Abba said that the above verse means:  If you dispense charity from your wallet, then the Holy One, Blessed be He, will guard you from tributes, fines, head taxes and taxes in kind.  [The Hebrew term “your security” (בכסלך) is similar to “your wallet” (כיסך)].

The Torah says, “You shall come to the Levite priests and to the judge who shall be in those days and inquire, and they will tell you the words of the law.  You shall do according to the words which they tell you from the place which the Lord will choose and be careful to do according to all that they will instruct you.  According to the law which they instruct you and the statute which they tell you, you shall do; do not stray from the words which they tell you right or left.”

Scripture refers to “the judge who shall be in those days” to emphasize that the Jewish people must rely on the rabbis and teachers of the generation in which they live.  It does not matter whether current leaders rise to the level of those of earlier generations.  Moreover, one must obey the rulings of such leaders even if they appear to say that “right is left and left is right,” meaning that what they say appears illogical.

In the foregoing passage, the Talmud explains that the faith in the rabbinical leadership of the Jewish people which the Torah requires is justified because when one studies Torah with sufficient diligence, he is bound to come to correct conclusions, even correctly figuring out matters which were forgotten over time due to persecution or for other reasons.  Accordingly, when dealing with Halachic rulings, one cannot assume that everyone’s view is of equal value.  Instead, those outstanding rabbis who study with great dedication and self-sacrifice are bound to come to correct conclusions which must be followed. 

Peah 1:1 (continued) (compare B.T. Baba Bathra  11A)

מונבזהמלךעמדובזבזכלנכסיולעניים.  שלחולוקרוביוואמרולו, “אבותיךהוסיפועלשלהןועלשלאבותיהןואתהביזבזתהאתשלךואתשלאבותיך.”

אמרלהו, “כלשכן!  אבותיגנזוב