When it comes to Rabbinic Judaism’s central text, the Talmud, scholars and religious leaders have two options: the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.
The latter text enjoys greater influence due to the thriving Jewish community that produced it and its sophisticated editing. But the Times of Israel reports that thanks to some hard work by nonprofit Sefaria, the entirety of the Jerusalem Talmud is available for free online — in English and French.
It’s arguably the best way for laypeople and experts alike to experience the text, too. The online version brings together all 17 volumes, matching the translation with the original Aramaic. Inquisitive minds can also take advantage of linked references, translations, and additional information sources. Sefaria also includes accessibility features, meaning just about anyone with a computer can absorb the historic religious text.
“We’re in the middle of this transition which has already altered our perception, and it’s hard to get perspective on this,” Lev Israel, Chief Data Officer for Sefaria, told the Times of Israel. “The digital text is malleable. If you have low visibility, you can increase the size. If you’re blind, you can have the computer read it aloud. The Jerusalem Talmud amps this up: We’re increasing access for people who had access. It’s a radical accentuation of what we’ve been doing all along.”
As Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan points out to the Times, the wide accessibility of the Jerusalem Talmud may add clarity to a text often considered dense and difficult. But it’s also an example of the internet used for its most elevated purposes. In an age when the web too often brings out the worst impulses of humanity, it’s always refreshing to organizations like Sefaria doing their utmost to embrace a higher calling.
“From an oral tradition to handwritten scrolls to a vast corpus of printed books, each new medium democratized knowledge, and brought more people into the great Jewish conversation,” Sefaria states on its website. “We are the generation charged with shepherding our texts from print to digital in a way that can expand their reach and impact in new and unprecedented ways.”