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Why Is the Talmud in Aramaic?



Since the Talmud is such a fundamental work in Judaism, why wasn’t it written in Hebrew, like the Bible and the Mishnah? Isn’t Hebrew considered “the holy tongue”?


Before we get into why the Talmud was written in Aramaic, a brief overview of the history of the language is in order.

Aramaic is an ancient language that has been around for over 3,000 years. It was the official language of the first Aramean states, and later became the common language, or lingua franca, of the Assyrian and Persian empires.

There is even a sprinkling of Aramaic in the Bible. One example is the phraseyegar sahaduta, spoken by Laban the Aramean (Genesis 31:47).

In fact, the Jerusalem Talmud1 notes that Aramaic is found in all three sections of the Bible: the Torah (five books of Moses),2 Nevi’im (prophets)3and Ketuvim (writings).4

Eventually, during the Middle Aramaic period (approximately 200 BCE–200 CE), Aramaic began to split into two major groups of dialects, the Eastern and Western Aramaic languages.5

The Western Aramaic languages were used largely in the area that was under Roman (and later Byzantine) rule. The Jerusalem Talmud, composed inIsrael, is written in a Western Aramaic dialect. The Eastern Aramaic languages flourished in the Persian Empire, and as a result the Babylonian Talmud, written in Persian-dominated Babylon, is in an Eastern Aramaic dialect. 6

During the Mishnaic era, the translations of the Bible known as Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan were written in Western Aramaic. According to some, these Aramaic translations of the Torah (targumim) were originally part of the oral tradition going all the way back to Moses at Mount Sinai.7

When the Jews returned to Israel from the Babylonian exile and rebuilt the Second Temple, they spoke mostly Aramaic. Hebrew, the “holy tongue,” was reserved for holy matters, such as prayer, and was not used for ordinary social and commercial activities.8 The Talmud was written in Aramaic, the language of the masses, so that it would be accessible to all. After all, the goal of study is to understand what has been learned so that it can be incorporated into our lives.

From Aramaic to Arabic

Later, during the Islamic conquests, Aramaic


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