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Northwestern University

The Talmud: A Methodological Introduction

Northwestern University via Coursera


The Talmud is one of the richest and most complicated works of literature the world has ever known. Since being composed around 1500 years ago it has inspired not only religious reverence but significant intellectual engagement. In this course learners will be introduced to the unique characteristics of this text and the challenges that inhere in studying it while studying a chapter of the Talmud. Students of the course can expect to develop an appreciation for how the Talmud works and why it continues to inspire religious and intellectual devotion. They will be challenged to employ critical reading skills and to analyze legal and historical concepts.


  • Introducing the Talmud
    • The Talmud is a canonical work of Jewish literature that collects the ideas and arguments of rabbis who lived between the first and eighth centuries CE. This module explains the basics of how the Talmud was composed, why the Talmud matters and how it is accessed today.
  • False Testimony From Bible to Rabbis
    • The Talmud relies heavily on the authority and substance of its canonical predecessor, the Hebrew Bible. This module charts a trajectory from the biblical origins of the treatment of false testimony in Deuteronomy through its treatment within the second temple apocryphal book Susannah and the early Rabbinic law code, the Mishnah.
  • Reading the Bible & Rabbinic Logic
    • Interpretation is a major component of Rabbinic literature and the Talmud. This module introduces the specific features of Rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Bible—its assumptions and its reading tools.
  • Redaction & Textual Witnesses
    • Textual Criticism is a form of reading that looks to explain the meaning of a text by figuring out aspects of its composition history. This module will show how Talmudic passages are typically constructed and what scholars can do to figure out the original meaning of a text.
  • The Stam as Reader and Writer
    • The historical range of the different centuries of rabbinic literature makes it possible to take note of changes in the ways the different rabbis thought about the Bible and law. This module will demonstrate how later rabbis have a more abstract way of thinking about law while simultaneously having a more restrictive way of reading the Bible.
  • Tosefta, Tannaitic Midrash and Palestinian Talmud
    • Rabbinic literature consists of multiple works in three genres—Midrash, Mishnah and Talmud. This module introduces each of these different genres with a comparative analysis of texts related to false testimony in works of each type.
  • Narrative and History
    • The Talmud contains many stories that feature historical figures from the rabbinic period. In this module we will demonstrate the difficulty of reading these stories as history and model the use of literary tools for reading such materials.
  • Conclusion
    • While some of the material we have studied is unsettling, we need to bear in mind that much of it is rabbinic idealization or fantasy. This module goes through both the fantasy of rabbinic power and the realities of the importance of the Talmud in the post-Talmudic age.

Taught by

Barry Scott Wimpfheimer


3.7 rating, based on 3 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 280 ratings

Start your review of The Talmud: A Methodological Introduction

  • This course was an excellent introduction and overview to the very complicated text that forms the foundation of Jewish law. To truly study the Talmud takes seven years of daily study. This class took one aspect of the law, the law pertaining to false witnesses. One might think this is straightforward but it is anything but. The instructors brought a wealth of knowledge to the topic and an excellent guide to how the Talmud came to be. The materials, except for the written transcriptions which were fraught with typographical errors, are valuable resources. I definitely learned a lot and have an even greater respect for the rabbis who spent years and years interpreting the Torah, and for those who devote themselves to studying it today.
  • This course really meant a lot to me. All my life, I've wondered about the Talmud's content and what studying it would entail. Yet, not being Jewish, I thought I had no way to explore my curiosity. The course provides the tools to analyze and appreciate the Talmud; it also provides a clear path for continued study. I wish this professor offered other MOOCs whatever the subject.

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