Becom­ing the Peo­ple of the Tal­mud: Oral Torah as Writ­ten Tra­di­tion in Medieval Jew­ish Cultures

Talya Fish­man
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
This ambi­tious book strives to tell the sto­ry of rab­binic cul­ture from the end of the Tal­mu­dic peri­od up to the begin­ning of moder­ni­ty, from Baby­lo­nia to Ger­many, through the prism of one issue: tex­tu­al­iza­tion. Much recent schol­ar­ship has been informed by the real­iza­tion that the Tal­mud did not always exist in writ­ten form, and in fact was prob­a­bly pre­served for hun­dreds of years by sages who com­mit­ted the entire cor­pus to mem­o­ry. Talya Fish­man explains that it is not sim­ply a ques­tion of whether the Tal­mud was writ­ten (or, to use her term, inscribed), but rather of the larg­er cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance that was giv­en to the Tal­mud in its writ­ten form. Is Tal­mud, and by exten­sion all of Jew­ish law, found with­in books, or is it deter­mined by com­plex inter­ac­tions between writ­ten sources, tra­di­tions, local cus­toms, and more? Fishman’s sweep of rab­binic his­to­ry is based upon sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions of Israeli schol­ar­ship, much of which has nev­er appeared in Eng­lish. Pre­sent­ing that Hebrew schol­ar­ship to an Anglo­phon­ic audi­ence and bring­ing it into dia­logue with wider his­to­ri­o­graph­ic debates is a major ser­vice that makes Becom­ing the Peo­ple of the Tal­mud a vital addi­tion to any Jew­ish stud­ies library in America. 

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