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The Essential Talmud

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  462 ratings  ·  42 reviews
A masterful introduction to the to the great repository of Jewish wisdom, the Talmud
In The Essential Talmud, the renowned Israeli scholar and teacher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz succinctly describes the history, structure, and methodology of the sacred text by which the Jewish people have lived and survived through the ages. Rabbi Steinsaltz summarizes the Talmud's main
Paperback, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, 327 pages
Published September 12th 2006 by Basic Books (first published July 27th 1976)
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Michael Doyle
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaica
A surprisingly easy read, especially since it's in translation from the original Hebrew. This is a friendly yet detailed introduction to the Talmud, including the history through several eras of those who wrote it, how the Talmud is laid out, and examples of the themes and types of argument that the Talmud contains. That might not sound like enough to fill a few hundred pages but it is. When you're done, you'll understand much better what the Talmud is and how it came to be. You won't however, ...more
Lisa Feld
I was frustrated in reading this, in part because I wasn't sure who the audience was. The book gives a rough overview of the history of the compilation of the Talmud, its contents, and its internal logic, but there are massive gaps in each of these (and problems with the book's overall organization) that make it a very flawed introduction from any standpoint. The history of compilation doesn't mention, for example, any clear historical context for the first group of sages, and while Steinsaltz ...more
Sep 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Great book to give the historical background and context for the Talmud. Some ideas were completely new to me, though they become obvious once you think about it. For example, the idea that the Talmud is not really a book of law, but rather a book of "truth" or a slice of life of the sages and what they spoke about/taught (which happens to include legal discussions they had, and law classes they taught).

The reason I would not give this a full five stars is because the author sometimes speaks
Joel Weinberger
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book was a solid intro to the structure and thought process of the Talmud. I started reading this because I've started doing "Daf Yomi," reading a page of Talmud a day, and this has been a good jump start in understanding what I'm reading. A lot of the really good stuff is the contextual information about the Talmud. While the tractates themselves are fairly straightforward as to their content, "The Essential Talmud" gives a great historical and religious context for what the Talmud is, ...more
Leiah Moser
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: judaism
A fairly useful introduction to the Talmud, but somewhat flawed in organization. The chapters dealing with the history of the text are somewhat confusing, with a tendency to bounce back and forth chronologically when dealing with parallel developments in the Palestinian and Babylonian academies.

Once the book begins to talk about the organization and content of the Talmud, it gets better. A few of the chapters dealing with laws relating to the Sabbath, liturgy and festival days will seem rather
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daniel Frank
Sep 18, 2016 rated it liked it
A great book about our history and who we are.
Skylar Burris
Jul 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: judaism
This is an informative introduction/overview of the Talmud.
Robert Eisenman
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Let me start with the bad, of which there's little. One flaw I spotted was that at times (namely the historical section) used certain terms without clarifying their meaning (the terms for various generations of sages come to mind), seeming to assume the reader already knew what they meant. For my part this wasn't a problem as I did know their meaning, but I can see it being confusing the uninitiated. Additionally, I noticed Steinsaltz didn't cite sources, which is sensible for the sections on ...more
Jera Em
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some excellent information on the Talmud in here. It really puts how important these writings were for the Jewish people and how much it did to keep the community together. I liked the author's writing style quite a bit and I feel a lot more informed than I was previously. Given how extensive the Talmud is, there's only so much the book could cover, but all the major subjects are addressed.

I really enjoy the emphasis placed on scholars and how lively debates could become and that they could be
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: judaism
This is a very clearly written guide to the Talmud: its history, the material it covers, and methods of interpretation.

R' Steinsaltz is an Orthodox rabbi who has made it his life's work to open up the Talmud, and is writing from that perspective rather than a secular academic one, but he acknowledges historical sources and credits them when they contradict certain details in the Talmud itself. I'd say it's best for someone who wants this specific perspective, but it's a useful one.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
It's pretty dry and listening to the audiobook was a bad idea because the narrator's voice puts me to sleep. It's a good basic overview of what the Talmud is and where it came from, but the Talmud itself is way more interesting.
Abi (The Knights Who Say Book)
I might come back to this some day but now that I'm in a Rabbinic literature class I think I can pass on it for now.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaica
A very readable translation of a book originally written in Hebrew. It's a good foundation before actually picking up any volume of Talmud.
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of the History of the Talmud, it is the 1000ft view.
Aleksandr Shnäzeroth
Interesting description of Judaism to someone who doesn't know too much. Too often it says "this is a complex topic" and calls it a day.
Melvin Marsh, M.S.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Summary of some of the more important parts of the Talmud. I wish there was more information about the Talmud itself although it is quite large.
Bob T
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really useful insight into the development, structure and importance of the Talmud. Great reference.
Kristen (belles_bookshelves)
"Those who are insulted but do not insult, hear their shame but do not reply, act out of love and rejoice in suffering, of them it was written, “And those who love Him, will be as the sun in its splendor.”"


Another religious text for me, trying to make my way through all the major religions. I've previously read The Holy Bible: English Standard Version and later this year I plan on reading Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures. I like to have gaps in between the long ones because, not only are they longer
Simcha Wood
May 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rabbi Steinsaltz's The Essential Talmud provides a broad introduction to what may well be the most fascinating, sacred, enigmatic, and downright weird text of western civilization.

The book is divided into three sections which provide the reader with a general history of the Talmud, a description of the structure and content of the Talmud, and a broad discussion of how to approach the Talmud. At the same time, however, Rabbi Steinsaltz repeatedly reminds the reader that to know Talmud ultimately
Apr 24, 2012 added it
Shelves: judaica
Steinsaltz is very good at enlivening the history and breaking down the contents of this vital Jewish text. Although, actually studying the Talmud is a lot more exciting than reading this intro. This book gives an overview and a little history of its unique structure. The Talmud is a living dialogue between ancient teachers and contemporary students. One highlight for me was the distinction of Rabbis who rule on the side of "peace", usually compromise between disputing parties, or on the side of ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Adin Steinsaltz is my modern-day intellectual hero. So far, I have not read anything by him that I did not love!

This is a great overview of the Talmud--history, structure, and content. The "Method" section lost me a little bit but that didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I would recommend this for anyone who is interested in getting a bit of background on the Talmud before delving into the text itself!
Mar 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Very comprehensive in scope, the book gives history of the Talmud, summaries of different topics, an examinations of the methodoly used within the Talmud, etc. I think I was looking for more on the summary side, so maybe I'll try Everyman's Talmud.
Jerry Brown
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
This book needs to be read more than once! Parts are a bit redundant but it is packed with information from the leading Talmud scholar of our day. A good introduction -if a bit complex- to the Talmud, it's history, contents, and methods of study.
Matt West
May 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
DENSE. This book is dense. Don't let the 300 paperback-binded pages fool you- this guy doesn't waste words. Everything word is important, which can make for exhausting reading. However, if you want a really good overview of the Talmud, this is an excellent start.
Don Gubler
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religious
Some good insights but also lots of gnats and molehills.
Andy Mitchell
There's no way to start learning about Talmud without diving into the middle of ancient conversations.

Highly recommended, but be prepared for an intellectual challenge.
May 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jews
Shelves: religion
A concise, but thorough (and tactful) description of the Talmud, its history, and its contents. Part 3 gets a little difficult to follow, though.
Jane Mendelsohn
Jun 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A little hard to read at first, but it got easier as you got into the book. Explained the importance of The Talmud.
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
An excellent book as an introduction / overview of the Talmud, and of Judaic law and customs. Another book to read sections of, put down and ponder what you've read.
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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Hebrew: עדין שטיינזלץ) or Adin Even Yisrael (Hebrew: עדין אבן ישראל) is internationally regarded as one of the leading rabbis of this century. The author of many books, he is best known for his monumental translation of and commentary on the Talmud. Rabbi Steinsaltz founded the Israel Institute for Talmudic Publications. Under its aegis, he has published to date 58 books on ...more