A fascinating—and stimulating—look at “the other Talmud”
and the possibilities for Jewish life reflected there.
“The difference between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi is something like the difference between making a movie for a regular theater versus making one for a 3-D theater and/or an IMAX theater. It’s still the story of Judaism and the Jewish people. But the colors are richer, the action is bigger, the effects are more powerful in the 3-D/IMAX world of the Yerushalmi. Your actors … live on the soundstage, that is, in Israel, and that informs their performance…. You could imagine the Yerushalmi is a pop-up book: you open it and Jewish living materializes.”
—from the Introduction
This engaging look at the Judaism that might have been breaks open the Yerushalmi—“The Talmud of the Land of Israel”—and what it means for Jewish life today. It examines what the Yerushalmi is, how it differs from the Bavli—the Babylonian Talmud—and how and why the Bavli is used today. It reveals how the Yerushalmi’s vision of Jewish practice resembles today’s liberal Judaism, and why the Yerushalmi is growing in popularity.
This broad but accessible overview of all the essential aspects of “The Talmud of the Land of Israel” will help you deepen your understanding of Judaism and the history of the Jewish people.
“Takes us on a wonderful odyssey … chock full of tantalizing textual nuggets which demonstrate Abrams’ erudition and breadth of knowledge. She … makes the essential aspects accessible to each and every [reader].”
—Dr. Norman J. Cohen, professor of midrash, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion; author, Masking and Unmasking Ourselves: Interpreting Biblical Texts on
Clothing and Identity and The Way Into Torah
“Comprehensive and clear…. Provides an understanding of a generally neglected but absolutely crucial and foundational text of the Jewish people. [The book] deserves to be read and placed on the shelf of every Jewish and religious studies library.”
—Rabbi David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion
“A joyful romp through the foreign fields of the Talmud Yerushalmi. Master teacher Rabbi Judith Abrams leads readers dancing through the Talmud texts. Brava on a wonderful introduction to a difficult text.”
—Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies, The Jewish Theological Seminary; author, Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud
“Does a great service by introducing the Jerusalem Talmud to the English-speaking public. Allows the reader to get a taste of the Jerusalem Talmud by contrasting it primarily to the Babylonian Talmud without our having to completely agree with all her views. Well done!”
—Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, rabbi emeritus, United Orthodox Synagogues
“Presents Yerushalmi texts that reflect many of the interests of this ‘other Talmud’ in a clear and extremely engaging manner.”
—Rabbi Michael Chernick, PhD, Deutsch Professor of Jewish Jurisprudence and Social Justice, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion; author, A Great Voice That Did Not Cease
Download a printable version
- How does the Talmud (Yerushalmi or Bavli) shape your Jewish practice? Does it inform your Jewish spiritual or mystical life? If so, how?
- How does the Yerushalmi differ from the Bavli? Why did the Yerushalmi become “the other Talmud”?
- Which celebrities from the days of the Yerushalmi do you most admire? What draws you to them?
- What did the sages believe were the most important mitzvot? What did they believe were some of the worst sins?
- How did the sages of “the other Talmud” believe prayer worked? How is this the same or different from what you do today?
- How did the sages observe the holidays in different ways than we do today? Would you adopt or adapt any of these practices?
- How did the sages celebrate the life cycle? Will this information change the way you approach these moments?
- What are the classical sources one might turn to in building a framework of Jewish ethics? What books would be included in such a list of sources?
- How are the insights of the ancient Rabbis who wrote the books of the Talmud still relevant to modern society?
- In what ways can Jewish values be helpful to both Jews and non-Jews?
- Is reading and studying about values enough to influence a person’s actions? If not, what more is needed?
- What are some of the values mentioned in this book that would help make the world a better place to live in?
- Are there any values you read about that you do not agree with, or that you could not accept? Explain.
- How would you summarize the main ideas of this book?
- Do you think the Talmud emphasizes values more for the individual or the community? Which do you think is more important?
- What are two or three of the values discussed in the book that have been important to you?
Can you tell us about your writing process?
For me, writing starts with learning. Everything flows from the joy and excitement of studying Talmud. In this case, my study partner and I had both been through the Bavli several times and we decided to strike out into new territory. We decided to study only the Yerushalmi. It took about six months to clear the Bavli out of our heads. At first, we kept comparing the Yerushalmi to the Bavli, saying things such as, “It ended differently in the Bavli“ or, “Wait, why isn’t this the same as what we saw in the Bavli?“ Finally, we were able to see the document on its own terms. Then it was a revelation. Everything we thought we knew about both Talmuds was wrong. I knew I wanted to bring people this Talmud, with which most people are unfamiliar, in all its beauty and simplicity.
How can people use this book?
People can read it on their own or learn from it in groups. Hopefully, it will cause them to like both Talmuds more. It can also be used to augment a person’s “spiritual toolkit.“ There are lots of prayers and rituals that can only be found in the Yerushalmi that are simply marvelous. The book can also be used as a textbook for classes in Talmud.
Which is your favorite passage in the book?
The soul of the Yerushalmi, indeed, the soul of all Jewish tradition, is found in that first passage from Yerushalmi Peah 1:1:
These are the things without measure: corners of the field, first fruits, appearing in Jerusalem on the festivals, deeds of kindness and Talmud study. These are the things whose fruit a person eats in this world and whose principal remains in the World to Come: honoring father and mother, acts of loving-kindness, bringing peace between a man and his fellow, and Torah study is equal to them all.
The sages are saying, right at the start of their whole endeavor, “We will spend the next six orders of the Mishnah measuring everything: time, space, the size of a Passover sacrifice, etc. But right here, at the beginning, we are admitting that there are some things that fall outside the scope of our project. Some things just can’t be measured or adequately described.“
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they discover the joy of Talmud study in general and find the beauty and flexibility of the Yerushalmi specifically. It really affirms what more liberal movements of Judaism have been saying for quite some time, that there is more than one correct way to “do Jewish.“ There are a lot of valid alternatives for Jewish practice and belief. There is joy to be found in learning. Let’s go find it!
Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams, PhD, an award-winning Jewish educator, is widely recognized for making the study of Judaism and its sacred texts accessible and relevant to our everyday lives. She is the founder and director of Maqom: A School for Adult Talmud Study (www.maqom.com) and a recipient of the Covenant Award for outstanding performance in the field of Jewish education. She teaches through the ALEPH rabbinic program and is author of Learn Talmud and Talmud for Beginners, among other books about Talmud and prayer. She is a popular speaker on the topics of Jewish learning and sacred literature.