The Talmud: A Biography

Written by Harry Freedman
Review by Barry Webb

By “Talmud,” the author means the so-called Babylonian Talmud rather than the Jerusalem Talmud since it is the former that has had the most widespread use throughout history.  This book is essentially an abridged history of the Talmud.  It begins with how the Talmud began in the 3rd century, why there was a need, and takes the reader through all the ups and downs of its evolution through the centuries up until modern times.

In that sense it is also an abridged history of the Jewish people because, as their fortunes waxed, so did the Talmud; when their fortunes waned, the Talmud was often banned and burned.  In the process, the author graces the reader with historical gems about the Jewish people that should be of interest to gentile, as well as Jewish, historians–such as the author’s belief that the Talmud and Islamic Shari’a were Siamese twins since they both developed in the same cultural milieu and heavily influenced each other.   For the most part well-researched, the book is written in a narrative non-fiction style that often forced this reviewer to keep turning the pages.  Recommended.