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EDITOR’S PREFACE


In placing before the public the first volume of the translation of the Agada of the Babylonian Talmud, a brief explanation of the purpose of this work will not be amiss.

There can be no doubt that the Talmud has been the most important factor in Jewish life. Time and again, it has proven to be the fountain of life to the Jewish nation during its entire exile, so that it is impossible to think of Israel, without thinking of the Talmud. Its influence was wrought and exercised upon both young and old; to the former, it was a spring wherewith to quench their mental thirst, and to the latter, a source of consolation and historical pride.

Observation of the Jew in our free country, in so far as religion and Jewish education are concerned and more especially among the youth, leads to the conclusion that the lack of religion is, in great measure, due to ignorance. The main source of education, the Talmud, has remained a sealed book to them, and therefore, as the years advance, religion declines and is forgotten. In order, therefore, to render some service to Israel and render accessible an important part of the Talmud in both the original Hebrew and English, the author has attempted this work.

The translation treats with the part of Agada only, and has practically no relation to the Halacha (Law). The Talmud consists of two parts: the Halacha, which treats of all the laws concerning Jewish life, in every form and respect; the second part, which treats of narrations, ethics, sociology, astronomy, and medicine, under the name Agada or as it is commonly known “The Homiletics of the Talmud,” and among Jews, this portion is called En Jacob. In choosing the part of Agada, the advice of the sages has been followed who say, “He who wishes to become acquainted with his Creator, let him study the Agada.” Special pains were taken to translate in such a way that the reader, in due time, should be able to assimilate some parts in the original Hebrew; as for example, every word added in the translation, which has no equivalent in Hebrew, has been placed in brackets, so that the reader may distinguish the direct translation from the necessary explanatory words.

To translate the latter is difficult. First, because this part has not as yet been translated into English in its entirety; in fact, the Mesichta (treatise) “Berachoth” has never before been attempted even by those who did translate some portions of the Talmud. Secondly, because none of those who have rendered translations heretofore, did so under the spiritual influence of an Orthodox Rabbi, who considers the Talmud not only secondary to the Bible but believes, as a Jew should, that the Talmud was given unto Moses orally on Mount Sinai together with the Bible; as the Talmud states in Berachoth 5a.

In addition to the Introduction, which has been translated from the original Hebrew by the son of Maimonides, it is noteworthy to call the attention of the esteemed reader to the fact that the Tanaim and Amoraim, the composers of the entire Talmud, lived under the most trying conditions, and under a strict censorship ready to oppress and punish rigorously the slightest criticism; and for these reasons, some of the sayings and teachings of our sages , in certain portions of the Agada, under the cover of allegory, refer and allude to either their own condition, or to their oppressors, the Romans.

As an illustration, let the reader consider t he following (I b. 2): regarding the Division of the Night; this surely was intended to describe the sorrowful condition of Israel in exile as is explained in the note therein. Thus will be understood the manner in which the Talmud deals with the heathens of its age. It is not necessary to enumerate here all the persecutions which prevailed during the Talmudic period, for the details of such persecutions may be found in Jewish history.

Wherever the reader shall come to a subject which he thinks is dealt with severity, or whenever he finds a subject which he cannot entirely comprehend, let him not forget for a moment the suffering of the Jewish people, subject to persecution and destruction for no other crime but that they studied and adhered to the teachings of their Torah and the tenets of their religion. It is sufficient but to mention the inhuman and brutal persecutions of the scholar Rabbi Akiba and his colleagues (Ib. 94) and that of Rabbi Simon b. Jochai (Ib. 136).

There is no doubt that whoever will read this translation carefully will find in it an expression of the highest standard of humanity; he will find that thousands of years ago Israel performed its charitable, social and philanthropical duties by reason of God’s commandment and was therefore bound to such duties even more so than the civilizations of the twentieth century. The reader will find that the character of the Talmudists was pure and noble, as befitted such great scholars, and thus he may be prompted to follow their teachings; this, by the way, is the only desire of the Author, for the Talmud says (Aboth 1, 17) “Not the learning but the deed is the chief thing.”

As long as Israel will study the Torah, it will endure and flourish and survive all persecutions; it will weather all storms and remain the same model for all the world until its influence will penetrate through the dense curtain of darkness which envelops to some degree modern civilization; then the universe shall, without prejudice, acknowledge Israel and its Torah as the true banner and Godly pillar of light.

In conclusion I must acknowledge myself deeply indebted to Messrs. S. C. Sugarman and A. M. Sugarman, my brothers-in-law respectively, and to my nephew A. L. Geilich, for their valuable assistance cordially rendered in the preparation of this work. Also to the Rev. Dr. B. Revel, for many of his beneficent suggestions. Credit is also acknowledged to those who aided financially, whose valuable assistance was an important factor in making this work possible.

THE AUTHOR.

New York, Elul, 5676.