The Jerusalem Talmud on Yom Kippur

The greatest miracle in the history of the Jewish people is that we survived so many centuries living in exile, despite often dire circumstances.

September 22, 2015 13:04
4 minute read.
Australian yeshiva students

Yeshiva students pray in a synagogue in the Sydney suburb of Bondi. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) contains fascinating treasures of faith and spirit, and the Yerushalmi Institute believes that it provides educational guidance that is vital for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

The greatest miracle in the history of the Jewish people is that we survived so many centuries living in exile, despite often dire circumstances. What made this possible was divine assistance and our disposition toward self-preservation. However, this orientation is not necessarily most appropriate to life in Israel; our task in the Holy Land is no less than to rectify the world and bring blessing upon all humankind.

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The main goal of the Yerushalmi Institute, a seminary in Jerusalem dedicated to advanced Talmud study and research, is to guide and to revitalize our spiritual direction during this period of national revival. The institute focuses on how the Jerusalem Talmud, distinct from the more commonly studied Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) strengthens values such as freedom, responsibility, respect and equality. It promotes public, social, national and universal ideals. It takes into consideration the world of action, combines materialism and spirituality, and emphasizes the importance of prayer and serving God with emotion. In essence, the institute is developing a field that can be called the philosophy of the Talmud Yerushalmi.

Since the Talmud Yerushalmi has not been intensely studied for centuries, the general perception is that its Aramaic, which differs somewhat from that of the Babylonian Talmud, is difficult. In addition, a tradition of commentaries is lacking, deterring some people from even opening the book. To make the Yerushalmi accessible to the public, the institute offers user-friendly commentary on it, and publishes pamphlets, articles and books.

The Yerushalmi is full of fascinating pieces that deal with the Jewish holidays. For example, in contrast to the portrayal of Rosh Hashana in the Babylonian Talmud as a day of awe, the Yerushalmi portrays the Jewish New Year as a day filled with joy.

HOW, YOU might ask, does the Yerushalmi portray Yom Kippur? The first point the Yerushalmi makes is that people are responsible for their actions.

For example, in tractate Yoma, there’s a section dealing with Yom Kippur that claims that anyone who runs to ask his rabbi whether he should violate the laws Shabbat in order to save a man who is trapped under rubble (instead of acting immediately to save the man) is considered a murderer, even though he might claim that he was never taught that he needs to save the person.

Another section claims that any generation that does not actively work to rebuild the Holy Temple, it’s as if they were responsible for its destruction.

A second difference between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud is the importance of maintaining mental and physical health.

One of the most special commandments in Judaism is fasting on Yom Kippur. This commandment to fast on Yom Kippur shows us how we can keep our mental and physical health balanced. Even though it is extremely important to fast on Yom Kippur, however, this is absolutely not to be at the expense of our health. When it comes to a sick person who might die, the Yerushalmi is extremely lenient.

Another example that it harshly condemns is a person who is not sure which day Yom Kippur falls on and so fasts two days. And if a person is told by his doctor that he shouldn’t fast, then he is forbidden from fasting even if he is absolutely sure that he is able.

The Yerushalmi gives an example of a person who carries out an action that is harmful to his health under the assumption that it will not be a problem since the following day is Yom Kippur and therefore he is going to fast and pray to God. Another passage says that although Yom Kippur is a spiritual day of fasting in which we are encouraged to lose ourselves in prayer, we must not forget to feed our little ones, since this takes precedence.

A third point demonstrating differences between the two different Talmuds is how they deal with offenses that people commit against their fellow men. The Yerushalmi claims that these offenses are more severe than offenses people make against God.

A fourth point is the connection between the preciousness of the Jewish people and atonement. It goes as far as to say that even if a person doesn’t want Yom Kippur to atone for his sins, the power of the holiness of the day and the inherent holiness of the person as part of the people of Israel atones for his sins against his will.

The Yerushalmi Institute – The Talmud of the Land of Israel began 2000. It is headed by Rabbi Avraham Blas with Rabbi She’ar Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa, as its president.

The institute is based in Jerusalem and is entirely funded by private donations. It has published five tractates in understandable Hebrew as well as books on the Jerusalem Talmud and conducts shabbatons (sabbath retreats), conferences and classes across the country.  Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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