THE Hebrew edition of Rosh Hashana contains an elaborate introduction in three chapters, the translation of which does not appear as yet. Its contents include many important rules which we have followed in the entire work, but we do not feel called upon at this time to engross the time of the English reader by reciting them. We, however, deem it a duty to say a few words, so that the reader may understand our position and the reason why we have undertaken a work which will ...
THE Hebrew edition of Rosh Hashana contains an elaborate introduction in three chapters, the translation of which does not appear as yet. Its contents include many important rules which we have followed in the entire work, but we do not feel called upon at this time to engross the time of the English reader by reciting them. We, however, deem it a duty to say a few words, so that the reader may understand our position and the reason why we have undertaken a work which will probably be productive of much adverse criticism in certain quarters.
The fate of the Talmud has been the fate of the Jews. As soon as the Hebrew was born1 he was surrounded by enemies. His whole history has been one of struggle against persecution and attack. Defamation and deformation have been his lot. So too, has it been with the Talmud. At the beginning of its formative period, viz., the development of the Mishna, it was beset by such enemies as the Sadducees, the Boëthusians, and other sects, not to mention the Roman Government.2 When its canon was fixed, the Karaites tried to destroy or belittle its influence, and since that time it has been subjected to an experience of unvarying difficulty. Yet, with remarkable truth, the words of Isaiah [xliii. 2] may be applied to both: "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." There is, however, one point concerning which this simile is not true. The Jew has advanced; the Talmud has remained stationary.
Since the time of Moses Mendelssohn the Jew has made vast strides forward. There is to-day no branch of human activity in which his influence is not felt. Interesting himself in the affairs of the world, he has been enabled to bring a degree of intelligence and industry to bear upon modern life that has challenged the admiration of the world. But with the Talmud it is not so. That vast encyclopædia of Jewish lore remains as it was. No improvement has been possible; no progress has been made with it. Issue after issue has appeared, but it has always been called the Talmud Babli, as chaotic as it was when its canon was originally appointed.1 Commentary upon commentary has appeared; every issue of the Talmud contains new glosses from prominent scholars, proposing textual changes, yet the text of the Talmud has not received that heroic treatment that will alone enable us to say that the Talmud has been improved. Few books have ever received more attention than this vast storehouse of Jewish knowledge. Friends and enemies it has had. Attack after attack has been made upon it, and defence after defence made for it; yet whether its enemies or its defenders have done it more harm it would be hard to tell. Not, forsooth, that we do not willingly recognize that there have been many learned and earnest spirits who have labored faithfully in its behalf; but for the most part, if the Talmud could speak, it would say, "God save me from my friends!" For the friends have, generally, defended without due knowledge of that stupendous monument of rabbinical lore; and the enemies have usually attacked it by using single phrases or epigrams disconnected from their context, by which method anything could be proven. In both cases ignorance has been fatal. For, how many have read the whole Talmud through and are thus competent to judge of its merits? Is it right to attack or defend without sufficient information? Is it not a proof of ignorance and unfairness to find fault with that of which we are not able to give proper testimony?