The Palestinian Talmud (“Talmud Yerushalmi” in Hebrew; henceforth PT), is a rabbinic compendium of Palestinian provenance from Late Antiquity on the Mishnah. PT is far more than a commentary since it contains independent discussions of Jewish law and thought, stories about rabbis and other types of narrative, and biblical exegesis of various sorts. PT serves as an important tool for scholarly analysis of the more familiar and widely studied Babylonian Talmud (BT); the traditions preserved in PT are often less subject to various types of editorial reworking than their BT counterparts and, as such, can be very helpful for studying the development of their BT parallels. Likewise, PT serves as an important source of information about the Palestinian rabbinic world in Late Antiquity. In traditional settings, PT played a certain role in the interpretation of BT and in the development of Jewish law during the medieval period, in addition to serving as an object of study in its own right, although its study was largely neglected due to textual and interpretative difficulties, which problematized its study both for academic scholars and traditional students. This article accordingly begins by surveying the principal tools for the study of PT and continues with a survey of text-critical and exegetical issues, followed by a survey of various redactional aspects of PT. (Most of this material is in Hebrew, and much of it is highly technical, so it may prove unsuitable for beginners.) The focus here is of course on PT per se, although responsible scholarship on PT necessitates analysis of the work in a number of broader contexts, such as the study of Jewish history in Late Antiquity and rabbinic literature in general; hence, the student of PT is advised to consult surveys of these topics as well.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive, up-to-date introduction to PT, although several works provide helpful, if dated, introductions of various sorts. Beginning with Hebrew introductions, the most comprehensive is Frankel 1870; a briefer introduction that summarizes previous scholarship is found in Melamed 1973; the most up to date and probably best for beginners is Assis 2018. Important Hebrew introductions that focus on more-specific aspects of PT (post-redactional transmission and redactional issues, respectively) are Ginzberg 1941 and Epstein 1963. The most up-to-date English introduction is Strack and Stemberger 1996; a briefer and older and perhaps more user-friendly work is Goldberg 1987, while the most comprehensive introduction, which has a bibliographical focus, is Bokser 1981. Moscovitz 2006 provides a brief but very helpful introduction to issues pertaining to the formation and character of PT.
Assis, Moshe. “Talmud Yerushalmi.” In Sifrut Hazal Ha-Eretz Yisre’elit—Mevo’ot U-Mehqarim. Vol. 1. Edited by Menahem Kahana, Vered Noam, Menahem Kister, and David Rosenthal, 225–259. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 2018.
Arguably the best introduction to PT in any language—clear, concise, comprehensive, and authoritative, written by one of the premier modern scholars of PT.
Bokser, Baruch M. “An Annotated Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Palestinian Talmud.” In The Study of Ancient Judaism. Vol. 2, The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. Edited by Jacob Neusner, 1–119. New York: Ktav, 1981.
An extraordinarily detailed bibliographical guide to all aspects of PT and, at times, tangentially related fields, classified topically. The introductions to each section are actually miniature surveys of the field. The author’s notes on the surveyed works can be helpful, but sometimes problematic. Originally published in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part 2, Vol. 19.2, edited by Wolfgang Haase (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1979), pp. 139–256.
Epstein, Jacob N. Mevo’ot Le-Sifrut Ha-Amora’im. Edited by E. Z. Melamed. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1963.
Prepared posthumously for publication by Epstein’s student Ezra Zion Melamed. Extremely detailed, technical, and at times difficult to follow. Epstein focuses on issues such as the dating of PT redaction and the relationship between PT and internal and external parallels.
Frankel, Zacharias. Mevo Ha-Yerushalmi. Breslau, Poland: Schlatter, 1870.
The most comprehensive introduction to PT available. Every conceivable aspect of PT is surveyed here (the work even includes biographies of the majority of PT sages). Despite its age, numerous parts of the work are of enduring value, although some parts of the book are obviously in need of updating. Available for free download online.
Ginzberg, Levi (Louis). Perushim Ve-Hiddushim Ba-Yerushalmi. Vol. 1. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1941.
The Hebrew introduction to Ginzberg’s multivolume commentary on the first five chapters of the first tractate of PT, with a focus on transmissional aspects of the Talmud, both textual issues and aspects of the medieval and post-medieval transmission, study, and exegesis of PT.
Goldberg, Abraham. “The Palestinian Talmud.” In The Literature of the Sages. Vol. 1. Edited by Shmuel Safrai, 303–322. Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum. Assen, The Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum, 1987.
The chapter on PT in a comprehensive survey of rabbinic literature. While this introduction offers virtually nothing in terms of independent scholarship, it might well be the most convenient starting point for the beginning English-language student of PT.
Melamed, Ezra Zion. Pirqei Mavo Le-Sifrut Ha-Talmud. Jerusalem: n.p., 1973.
A readable Hebrew summary of earlier scholarship on PT, citing numerous examples of the phenomena discussed. The majority of this work is based on the writings of Frankel, Epstein, and Ginzberg, as well as relevant comments of Saul Lieberman, the latter otherwise often inaccessible since his comments are scattered throughout different books and articles by him.
Moscovitz, Leib. “The Formation and Character of the Jerusalem Talmud.” In The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period. Edited by Steven T. Katz, 663–677. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Presents a concise introduction to most aspects of PT during the redactional and pre-redactional periods but does not deal with issues related to the fate of PT during the post-redactional period, such as its exegesis and textual tradition.
Strack, Hermann L., and Günter Stemberger. Introduction to Talmud and Midrash. 2d ed. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
The classic English (and German) introduction to rabbinic literature, with comprehensive bibliography and consideration of the various scholarly views about the topics surveyed. The ninth, revised German edition, by Stemberger, includes an updated bibliography: Einleitung in Talmud und Midrasch (Munich: Beck, 2011).
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