For the first time in history, an alphabetical index has been compiled for one of Judaism’s most sacred writings: the Talmud. The index is the work of American immigration lawyer, Daniel Retter, who has created a tool that “allows you to navigate the entire length and breadth of the Talmud and locate specific source material with ease,” the publishing house said.
The Talmud consists of 63 volumes of discussions among rabbis. According to the Babylonian Talmud’s (Talmud Bavli) publisher, the text has been lacking an alphabetical index for 1,500 years, rendering this latest work a pioneer “literary achievement”. The Talmud was intended for oral transmission and has no paragraphs or punctuation. There are online websites, electronic tools and methods to help readers navigate through this labyrinth-like work, but most of them are very expensive o rather difficult to use. As previously mentioned, the author is not a rabbi but a 63-year-old lawyer, who arrived in New York as a child after World War II. He worked on the index, entitled The Key (HaMafteach) for seven years “I don’t understand why the Talmud didn’t have an index… I am a lawyer and if I need to look up something about a law, I use the index,” he stated recently. “So many volumes, so many topics, so many Sages” were needed in order to find one’s way through the “sea of the Talmud,” the index’s publisher Feldheim Publishers said. HaMateach has almost 6,600 major subject entries, 27,000 sub-entries, and 42,000 Talmudic references. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Babylon Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud, both ultimately compiled around the 6 AD. The first print edition appeared in Europe in the 16th Century.
Vatican Insider only just picked up the story, but The New York Times covered it back in December. This fascinates me, since I had no idea there was no exhaustive index of the Talmud. I’ve been spending some time with the Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), which is a compilation of non-legalistic literature from the Mishnah, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and the Midrash literature. Aggadah has a lot of folklore, homiletic material, advice, and illustrations, and makes for fascinating reading.
h/t Jonathan Sullivan, via Twitter