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The Other Talmud The Yerushalmi

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The Other Talmud  The Yerushalmi

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The Other Talmud The Yerushalmi
Unlocking the Secrets of "The Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today"
By Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012, 239 pages
ISBN: 978-1-58023-463-4

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 25, 2012

Ancient Jews took two approaches to explain the Torah during the beginning of the Common Era. Around 200 CE, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi edited the Mishnah, which is a compilation of discussions on Jewish law in a very brief manner. Around 400 CE, various scholars edited different sets of Midrashim, expositions that focused primarily on commenting upon biblical passages. Midrashim continued to be written even late in the middle ages.

Because the Mishnah is brief and because the law continued to change, two different attempts were made to comment upon it. One was composed in Israel and is called the Jerusalem Talmud, or Yerushalmi in Hebrew. This work was never fully edited because of harsh persecution against Jews in the fourth century, and what we have today is the somewhat unfinished version of that time. The second work is the Talmud of Babylonia, with editorial material inserted as late as the seventh century. Since the Babylonian Talmud was edited and is easier to study, most Jews, but not all, ignore the Yerushalmi; although great scholars, such as Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), used both Talmuds.

Rabbi Dr. Judith Z. Abrams offers readers an opportunity to become acquainted with the Yerushalmi by citing a host of selections from this Talmud together with her comments upon them. These selections include many fascinating Talmudic tales about Talmudic rabbis showing what they thought and how they taught people to act. The tales are sometimes magical in nature, which captured the attention of listeners and made the lesson more striking, such as the way Rabbi Pinchas persuaded mice to act as he wanted.

Abrams also includes many statements by the Israeli rabbis and contrasts them with similar statements made some centuries later by the rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud. The statements show that the Jews living in the ancestral home in Israel sometimes had a different approach to life. They seemed to emphasize the importance of priest and meditation, while the Babylonian Jews did not. They had a very lenient view of illegitimacy, accepting certain children that the Babylonians would stamp as illegitimate. They also gave a greater role to grandparents than the Babylonians. It is possible that some of the differences resulted from changing ideas over time and changed circumstances.

Abrams divides her book into twenty-four section with each section containing as many as fourteen parts, thereby quoting and commenting upon a multitude of subjects, such as right and wrong, crime and punishment, Judaism vs. Christianity, prayers, holidays, childbirth, school, weddings, and old age.

The book is filled with many surprises. For example, many people may think that Jews today observe holidays as they were observed in the past. This is not so. Abrams offers quotes that show that the ancient rabbis had different ideas how to celebrate the holidays. For instance, "Hanukkah doesn't become a full-blown ritual (in the Yerushalmi) until it surfaces as such in the" Babylonian Talmud.

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of eighteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House. His website is

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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