When you look at a page of the Talmud today, you will find the Hebrew text of the Mishna is featured in the middle of the page. Interspersed around the Hebrew of the Mishna are explanations in Aramaic which are called the ‘Gemara’.
The Aramaic word ‘Gemara’ means ‘tradition’. In Hebrew, the word ‘Gemara’ means ‘completion’. Indeed, the Gemara is a compilation of the various rabbinic discussions on the Mishna, and as such completes the understanding of the Mishna.
The text of the Mishna quotes rabbis who lived from about 100 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. These rabbis are called the ‘Tanaim’, ‘teachers’. In this group are included such greats as Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva, and of course Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. In the Gemara, they all have the title Rebbe before their first name.
The text of the Gemara quotes rabbis who lived from about 200 C.E. to about 500 C.E. These rabbis are called the ‘Amoraim’, ‘explainers’ or ‘interpreters’. In this group are included Rav Ashi, Rav Yochanan, etc. Names of the Amoraim are not so famous, but they all begin with the title Rav.
The Mishna and Gemara texts are surrounded by other layers of text and commentaries from later periods. The text surrounding today’s Talmud also quotes Rishonim, literally, ‘the first ones’, rabbinic authorities who predated Rabbi Joseph Caro, the 16th century author of the code of Jewish law known as the Shulchan Aruch. Among the most prominent Rishonim are Rashi, his students and their descendants, who were the chief authors of the Tosaphos: Maimonidies and Nachmanides.
Gemara – Jerusalem Talmud
- The Jerusalem Talmud was redacted in the year 350 C.E. in Israel by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi. It contains explanations of the Mishna, legislation, customs, case histories and moral exhortations.
- The Gemara is a synopsis of the discussions, questions and decisions of the Academies in Israel where the Mishna had been studied for almost 200 years.
- Due to the location of the Academies, the agricultural laws of the Land of Israel are discussed in great detail.
Gemara – Babylonian Talmud
- The Babylonian Talmud was redacted in the year 500 C.E. by Ravina and Rav Ashi, two leaders of the Babylonian Jewish community. The language of the Talmud is Aramaic, in Hebrew script.
- It contains explanations of the Mishna, legislation, customs, case histories and moral exhortations.
- The Gemara is a synopsis of the discussions, questions and decisions of the Babylonian Academies in which the Mishna was studied for more than 300 years.