Why This Digitized, Searchable Talmud Is a Big Deal

The foundation of Rabbinic Judaism, just a click away.
February 9, 2017, 11:00am
Image: Wikimedia Commons

For the first time, the Talmud, an ancient Jewish text just went fully digital.

The Talmud, a body of religious civil and ceremonial law central to Rabbinic Judaism, takes nearly seven years to read in its entirety. The dense compendium is filled with commentaries, debates, and references outside the text itself. It's incredibly complex and functions as the basis for medieval and modern Jewish scholarship and theology.

Within the religious world, making the Talmud digital, searchable, and replete with hyperlinks will revolutionize religious study.

This is a huge deal because it means any person can study the Talmud. While there are other versions online already, they're just images that the student cannot interact with. With the entire text online, however, no longer will students need to buy copies of the Talmud (anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the edition) since digitizing it makes it accessible in both English and Hebrew.

The digital Talmud is a project of Sefaria, a nonprofit organization that puts Jewish texts online. In a blog post titled "Setting the Talmud Free," Sefaria announced on Monday the release of the William Davidson Talmud, a "free, digital edition of the Babylonian Talmud with parallel translations, interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts." The open source Talmud was translated by Jerusalem-based Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Yisrael, described by Time Magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."

The first 22 tractates, or sections, of the Talmud have already been posted in English, while the rest, including translation in modern Hebrew, will go up throughout 2017. Nonetheless, it will still be very difficult for an unlearned person to just dive in and tackle it. Anyone who reads the Talmud will still need to know what the commentaries mean and why they're important.