Introduction to Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli continued . . .

The Talmud of the land of Israel, called the Yerushalmi, appears to have been redacted in the early fifth century. One of the Yerushalmi's most distinctive features is its paucity of midrashic material, that is, stories and biblical exegesis, when compared with the Babylonian Talmud (the Bavli), even though the bulk of midrashim we possess originated in the land of Israel. Approximately one-sixth of the Yerushalmi is aggadah (stories), while in the Bavli the proportion is approximately one-third (Goldberg 1987, 306). This is almost certainly because much of the midrashic material of the schools that produced the Yerushalmi were compiled in independent collections. Another feature that distinguishes the Yerushalmi from the Bavli is the relatively less rigorous and elaborate editing process it has undergone.

Up to this point, all the rabbinic materials mentioned were generated in the land of Israel. The commentary to the Mishnah-that is, the Gemara of the Babylonian Talmud, also known as the Bavli-may have been completed as early as 427-520, according to one scholar (Halivni 1986, 76), or as late as the mid-seventh century, as proposed by another (Kraemer 1988, 288). As its name suggests, it is a product of the land of Babylonia. The Bavli has a character all its own, reflecting its genesis in a decentralized Jewish community characterized more by pluralism than by strong rabbinic leadership (Kraemer 1990, 199). Like the Yerushalmi, it is a commentary to the Mishnah. It uses all the sources previously composed by the sages in its commentary: Tosefta, tannaitic teachings not included in the Mishnah (baraitot), and passages from the Yerushalmi and the midrash collections. The Bavli also adds its own materials to the mix: stories and sayings of the sages, as well as detailed analyses of earlier materials, often characterized by "argumentation": that is, the purposeful presentation of multiple points of view in the late, anonymous layer of the Bavli's composition that is the product of stamma (the compositor[s]) and is called stammaitic material (Kraemer 1990, 89-90). A concept or ruling may be justified by appeals to logic, Scripture, or actual experience. Often all three sorts of justifications are used.

The roots of the Bavli's emphasis on argumentation are political, literary, and philosophical in nature. Kraemer (1990, 43) and others (e.g., Cohen 1990, 149) suggest that the sages were trying to impose their will on the resistant ancient Jewish community of Babylonia and therefore had to compose a document that "sold" more than it "told" its point of view. This, in turn, changed the form of their literary creation, making argumentation more desirable. (6) The medium and the message become one, in the Bavli: the study of Torah, in its broadest sense, convinces one to study more and to perform its dictates as interpreted by the sages.

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