What is the "Revadim" Method?

by: Pinchas Zuriel Hayman

Reprinted here with permission.

Jewish schools in Israel and the Diaspora dedicate many hours and resources to study of Talmud, but more than seventy percent of all students are still unable to learn a page of Talmud on their own at the end of secondary school studies. Why?

Study of Talmud in our day is radically different than in the days of the Gaonim (7th – 10th centuries), and Rishonim (11th to 16th centuries). Our sages cautioned us not to transcribe Oral Tradition into writing (Gittin 60b), but persecutions and destructions eventually forced scholars to preserve the Talmud in texts. Today, we learn exclusively from texts – usually from the Vilna printing of 1880. The first full printing of the Babylonian Talmud was of the Catholic printer Daniel Bombergi of Venice, in 1520-1523. Before that, the Talmud was learned orally, or from manuscripts. As study moved from manuscripts to printings, the mentality of study changed. Manuscripts were fluid and informal – scholars even corrected manuscripts on their own authority. Printed texts turned the Oral Tradition into literature.

Manuscripts themselves were revolutionary. Talmud lessons given in the academies of the later Amoraim (5th century), Saboraim (6th century) and Gaonim (7th century on) included sources from the Tannaim (1st – 2nd centuries) and early Amoraim augmented by commentary and analysis of later teachers. Academy scribes preserved these lessons in written protocols, scholars and editors polished and edited the protocols, the result being the manuscripts we have today. These protocols recorded all the sources – Tannaim, Amoraim, and the words of the later teachers, as one continuous text. Editors of the protocols did not need to mark the various components, since scholars using the manuscript knew how to distinguish the various layers of text to learn the recorded lessons correctly. In our day, however, students of Talmud receive no training in layer disection, even though complete, proper understanding of the text is virtually impossible without it.

How does the “Revadim” method solve this problem? The method operates on a model of four stages of increasing complexity. The first stage is study of Mishnah with relevant skills. The second stage teaches skills for comparison of the Mishnah with Tosefta, beraitot, and midreshei halachah of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Yishmael, to arrive at a more complete picture of what the Tannaim taught. This comparison of Tannaitic sources is preparation for study of the Amoraim in the Talmud, who concentrated on resolution of contradictions in tannaitic sources. The third stage is study of amoraic literature, which includes learning the amoraic statements, called “memrot”, and the various forms of amoraic discussions, called “sugyot.” The final stage is study of the anonymous, aramaic-language text called by the Rishonim “gemara,” “talmud,” or “stama d’talmuda.”

LEARNING MISHNAH

These four stages – Mishnah, tannaitic literatue, amoraic literature and talmudic literature – are cumulative, and form a spiral of skills. Each individual skill is presented and explained through simple examples, then drilled in increasingly complex examples until mastered.

The first stage of Revadim is learning Mishnah. Compilation of the Mishnah is generally attributed to Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (death circa 220 CE), but it is more correct to say that he edited a text that underwent several earlier redactions. Mishnah also contains additions from the two generations after Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi.

Traditionally, Mishnah was learned by heart with ancient chants, but modern study adopted Western educational theories, devaluing rote learning. Revadim recommends return to the traditional practice of learning by heart with the aid of traditional chant melodies.

To understand Mishnah, the following skills are necessary:

1. Study of the Written Tradition in Preparation for Study of Mishnah: The first skill is learning of Written Tradition, including identifying the plain meaning of the verse according to context, separation of the verse into component ideas, and development of the ability to ask relevant questions about the meaning of the verse.

2. The Mishnah as Commentator on the Biblical Text: Mishnah often acts as a commentator on the Torah, defining, specifying, expanding or applying the Written Tradition.

These first two skills help us define what Mishnah is doing, and understand the “value added” by the Oral Tradition to the Written Tradition.

3. Nesiim, Tannaim, and Locations of Sanhedrin:Learning Mishnah requires knowing the dynasty of six Nesi’im from Hillel the Elder until RabbiYehudah HaNasi, and the locations of the Sanhedrin in their generations. Other leading Tannaim are then placed in historical context by attaching them to a given Nasi or Sanhedrin.

4. Layers in Mishnah:Once the names and places are known, we can identify layers in the Mishnah. The layers teach us about the evolving application of halachah in new circumstances from generation to generation. Layers may also be discerned by the way a later layer comments on an earlier one.

5. The Editing of Mishnah from Earlier SourcesMishnah is an anthology of many sources. Some mishnayot are terse, others expansive. Some are laws, others dialogues, precedental cases, or moralistic monologues. Some bring Biblical sources, most do not. By identifying the different sources, we can see how they were included into Mishnah, causing many topical and formal digressions. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi also used mneumonic devices to aid memorization of Mishnah.

LEARNING TORAT HATANNAIM

The second stage of the Revadim Method is comparing Mishnah to other tannaitic literature. Mishnah constitutes less than ten percent of the tannaitic literature which has survived! Understanding the Tannaim from study of Mishnah alone is like using only one hundred pieces of a one thousand piece puzzle.

There are three reservoirs of tannaitic sources outside Mishnah. The first includes the seven midreshei halachah which have survived to our day. Midreshei halachah are ordered according to the verses of the Torah, and they derive new halachah from Biblical verses or connect existing halachah to verses by allusion. Comparing Mishnah to midreshei halachah often clarifies the rationale of the law in Mishnah, and sometimes provides additional opinions not brought by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi at all. Tosefta, the second parallel tannaitic source, is almost twice the size of Mishnah. Since Mishnah and Tosefta share the same topical organizational structure of six orders and sixty-three tractates, location of parallel sources is relatively simple. The third and largest store of tannaitic sources parallel to Mishnah are the “beraitot” in the two Talmudim. “Beraitot” are terse quotations from tannaitic compilations which did not survive in their entirety, and their sheer quantity – some eighteen thousand in number as quoted in the two Talmudim, make them irreplaceable in understanding the Tannaim. Locating beraitot in the Talmud is not difficult, since every beraita appears after one of several code words reserved by the Talmud for their presentation.

Learning parallel tannaitic literature before study of the sugyot in the Talmud has a great plus: The amoraic and talmudic literatures often compared tannaitic sources for clarifying halachah. Learning all the parallel sources before learning Talmud is great preparation for learning amoraic and talmudic literature.

How does the student accomplish the study of Torat HaTannaim? First, we begin with comparison of Mishnah and Tosefta, asking questions like: what data, opinions, etc. are unique in the Mishnah, what is unique in the Tosefta, and how do the two sources amplify, complement or complete each other? Do the two sources reflect different generations or academies of Tannaim? Are their contradictions between the two sources, and what are the exact points of conflict? This process is then repeated, comparing the Mishnah and Tosefta to the Beraitot in the Talmudim, and finally, to the Midreshei Halachah. To facilitate this type of study, we have produced hundreds of Mishnah chapters with all the parallel sources already collected and sorted, ready for application.

LEARNING AMORAIC LITERATURE

Editing of tannaitic literature was completed within a generation of the death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (c. 220 CE). At the same time, the Amoraic Period began (“amora”= academy head or master, or scholar), and concluded in Israel five generations later (c. 375), and in Babylonia eight generations later (c. 500). Mishnah and the rest of tannaitic literature developed in only three or four academies, but amoraic literature developed in tens of academies in the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Amoraim interpret Mishnah, compare and contrast parallel tannaitic texts, add their own layers of commentary, opinion and discussion, and deal with matters untreated in tannaitic sources. However, amoraic literature does not exist on its own. It is part of the overall discussion in the talmudic text, which is very different than the amoraic sources themselves in form and language. For the student, correct identification and separation of amoraic literature from the talmudic landscape is an invaluable first step in learning the teachings of the Amoraim. How is this done?

The basic unit of amoraic literature is the “memra” (plural: “memrot”), or statement, of the amora. Although the spoken language at the time of the Amoraim was Aramaic, memrot are over eighty-five percent of the time in tannaitic Hebrew, signalling that they were edited for memorization. (This refers to the original kernel of the statement of the Amora, and excludes the linguistic polishing or explanations in Aramaic often added later to the statement, such as Akhah bemai askinan.) The remaining fifteen percent of amoraic literature contains conversational material, legal decisions preserved as originally rendered in Aramaic, narrative case studies or aggada (non-halachic sources). Whether in Hebrew or Aramaic, however, amoraic literature is recognized by its exact attribution of every edited amoraic statement to a given scholar. This enables consistent analysis of varying judicial trends or approaches. These two characteristics – consistent named attribution and predominately Hebrew language redaction – aid students in identifying amoraic memrot within the Talmud.

Next, the student advances from study of Individual memrot to study of amoraic sugyot (singular: sugyah), or discussions, surrounding given topics. In Talmud study, one comes across sugyot comprised of memrot from a single academy, muliple-academy sugyot, and sugyot combining memrot from Israel and Babylonia. Each type of sugyah has its own unique characteristics and challenges. In the Revadim method, students are trained how to scan a whole sugyah and diagnose the type and range of the sugyah before learning it for content. This helps the student identify the skills needed to study the sugyah, and strategize the steps of study in accordance with the steps of the sugyah itself.

LEARNING TALMUDIC LITERATURE ACCORDING TO REVADIM

The Babylonian Talmud is composed of three overall layers: tannaitic sources such as Mishnah and beraitot from up to approximately 240 CE, amoraic sources such as memrot and sugyot from up to approximately 500 CE, and a third layer which presents the tannaitic and amoraic sources, comments on them, and extrapolates from them to new cases and topics. This third layer is known to the rishonim by various names: “gemara,” “talmud,” “stama d’gemara,” “stama d’talmuda,” or simply “stama,” which means “anonymous.” How should a student approach this layer?

Some scholars place stress on the identification of the Stama d’Talmuda as late Amoraic or Saboraic. Although this is a fascinating question for learning and research, the issue has no halachic implications, for several reasons:

1. the people of Israel have accepted the Talmud in its entirety as the source for halachah

2. halachah is derived from Talmud, but fixed in later codes such as the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo (Safed, 16th century) which bind observant Israel, irrespective of the exact dating of any given source material

3. Saboraim are also part of the unbroken chain of tradition, just like the Amoraim before them and the Gaonim who follow them. A source dated from the saboraic period will be no less relevant halachically because it is post-amoraic.

For the Revadim Project, the stress is on the functional question of how the third, stama layer is to be learned. It is clear that the talmudic layer of the sugyah functions differently than the amoraic traditions. It presents, comments, interprets, generalizes, conceptualizes, and extrapolates tannaitic and amoraic traditions. The talmudic layer also develops sugyot of its own to investigate issues not dealt with in earlier sources, and it utilizes very specific, highly sophisticated, and frequently recurring patterns of logic, discussion and argumentation which rarely if ever occur in Amoraic discussions. Since talmudic literature assumes learning and understanding of all the earlier sources on which it is based, it should be learned only after study of all the earlier teachings in any given sugyah.

Learning the talmudic layer subdivides into three steps: the functions of this layer within the amoraic sugyot learned in the previous stage, the form and style of sugyot that are entirely of Talmudic origin, and the study of Talmudic dialectical patterns. Each function or pattern is defined, described, exemplified, and then additional, increasingly complex examples are presented to the student until independent capability is achieved.

LEARNING WITH REVADIM TEXTS AS AN AIDE TO VILNA

1. Numbering of sugyot – every chapter is divided into individual sugyot and the sugyot are numbered consecutively. Thus, one may refer to a given sugyah, not only to a given page of Talmud, and the reference becomes more exact.

2. Numbering of sugyah components – every sugyah is sub-divided into steps of discussion in order of the textual appearance of the sugyah in Vilna. These steps are organized in primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and every line is printed with one idea only. In this manner, reading of the sugyah is much easier, and the student may be referred not only to a given sugyah by number, but to a specific step within the sugyah, to the exactitude of a given line.

3. Fonts and colors – The four levels of Biblical quotations, Tannaitic sources, Amoraic sources, and Talmudic sources are given different fonts and colors.The fonts and colors enable the student to immediately “map” the contents of the sugyah, and thereby to know what sections relate to what other sections.

4. Indentations – in sugyot from the Amoraic period in which the basic structure of the sugyah is the series of amoraic memrot, the talmudic additions onto the amoraic frame are indented. This sets the talmudic additions as commentary on the amoraic statements which, of course, is their intended function. The student who scans the text can immediately learn the sources on the right margin first, and afterwards the talmudic additions.

Attached, an example of how a sugyah is displayed for learning according to this method. This material would be utilized only after the student has learned the relevant Mishnah, tannaitic and amoraic sources first.

Further information on the Revadim method can be obtained on the Revadim site: www.talmud-revadim.co.il