Q. Why do so many people study the Talmud?
A. Firstly, the Talmud is not a book. It is a 63-volume library. Its formal structure is six s’darim or “Orders”, i.e. general categories of knowledge. It reasons out innumerable subjects with close logic, bringing in information on an amazing range of subjects. The rabbis liken the Talmud to a sea, carrying the human being to every kind of fascinating ports, but requiring navigational skills not only to reach the destination of the moment but to get safely home again.
There are of course translations – the pioneer Soncino translation is now supplemented by the rather more user-friendly Schottenstein (ArtScroll) edition – but Talmud study groups and yeshivot utilise the original Hebrew-Aramaic text using a sing-song that enlivens the ancient discussions.
Studying the Talmud enhances one’s knowledge of Jewish law, ways and practices. It also enshrines major philosophical ideas such as the power of truth, justice and peace: truth because the debates constantly seek out true answers, justice because Jewish teaching is the basis of a just society, and peace because the chavruta or study-pair end their discussion either agreeing or agreeing to disagree.