Photo Credit: Jewish Press

According to the Talmud, the Aramaic word Gemara refers to oral traditions (Avodah Zara 19a), and study (Bava Metzia 33a-b). Rashi (Sukkah 28a) explains that it connotes the teachings provided by later sages to elucidate and clarify the words of earlier sages; elsewhere he explains (Bava Metzia 31a) that it refers to the principles and underlying reasoning of the Mishnah and halacha, and how to resolve seeming contradictions in the Mishnah.

Rabbi Sherira Gaon (c. 906-1006) wrote in his famous epistle that during the generations of the Talmudic sages, when a teaching had become unclear due to the diminishing capacity of the students, they would establish the exact wording in carefully kept official oral records, called the gemara and later recorded as the written Talmud.

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As I study the pages of Gemara, the literature of Torah Sheb’al-Peh is transformed to a live discussion between Tannaim and Amoraim across generations, revealing fascinating transmissions of legal interpretation, homiletics, moral behavior and Jewish philosophy. I find myself singing “Moshe emet ve’torato emet” (Moshe is a true prophet and his words are true) as the law and lessons of Gemara continue to illuminate our lives today.

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Shani Taragin is educational director of Matan-Bellows Eshkolot Tanakh teachers’ programs and Mizrachi Olami Lapidot. Shani directs, leads tours, coordinates, and teaches Tanach, Talmud, Halacha and women’s health in numerous seminaries and adult education programs in Israel and worldwide. Shani lives with her family in Alon Shvut, Gush Etzion-Israel.