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The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Talmud

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Talmud

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The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Talmud
By Rabbi Aaron Parry
Alpha Books - A Member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc.: 2004
ISBN: 1-59257-202-2

Reviewed by Zev Harris - January 26, 2009

The Talmud is a multi-volumed collection of Rabbinic discussions, stories, and observations on just about every imaginable aspect of Judaism from Jewish law and traditions to Jewish history and even science and mathematics. The Talmud consists of two parts, the Mishna (the written record of the oral law) and the Gemara, which consists of additional discussions on the Mishna itself. In short, the Talmud is the written record of Jewish oral tradition that traces its history back to Moses. The Talmud serves to expand upon and explain - well, everything even remotely connected the Tanakh, which consists of the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings), and by extension it examines almost every aspect of Jewish life and law. To make things even more complicated, within the pages of the Talmud, you will find that the discussion on any given topic will include commentaries by a vast array of Rabbis. These Rabbis often lived centuries apart, and more often than not, they strenuously disagree with each other about the meaning of the topic under discussion! Suffice it to say that mastery of the Talmud can take a lifetime!

So where does someone start who wants to embark upon the study of the Talmud, or who is simply interested in learning about this cornerstone of Judaism? For an introduction to the Talmud, you will not go wrong by consulting Rabbi Aaron Parry's book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Talmud. This book will not teach you Talmud, nor does it try to. Rather, in writing this book Rabbi Parry has written a virtual guide book to this intellectually challenging and immensely important work. Most important, Rabbi Parry, who has served as the education director for Jews for Judaism and as a pulpit Rabbi, writes with amazing grace, humor, and erudition, making a complex subject understandable without talking down to the reader.

Within the pages of this book he discusses what exactly the Talmud is, its history, and the role it plays in Jewish thought and religious practice. He guides you through its various parts, and to the two versions of the Talmud studied today, namely the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. He also introduces you to the important personages that you'll meet in the Talmud and their respective school's of thought. In addition, Rabbi Parry guides you through an overview of the unique methodology used in studying the Talmud, as well as introducing you to the mystical, spiritual, humorous, and metaphorical aspects of the Talmud. Rabbit Parry also shows how the study of the Talmud is as pertinent today as it was a thousand years ago, and how Talmudic wisdom is applicable to just about every modern subject from the environment and bioethics to finding a job and dealing with death.

In short, The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Talmud takes the reader on a fascinating and intellectually stimulating tour though one of the most important Jewish texts in existence. Building upon the solid introduction to the Talmud that you will receive from this book, you will find yourself energized and ready to actually embark upon the study of the Talmud. To that end, Rabbi Parry has included a short bibliography of texts, and websites, that you can consult to further your study of the Talmud. As well, those who are simply looking for a solid introduction to the Jewish Oral Tradition, will find that this book well meets their needs.

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