As Roman Catholic apologists like to point out, the RCC is not guided only by the Sacred Scriptures, but also by Holy Tradition. Like so many other aspects of the Catholic Religion, this unwillingness to accept God’s Word as sufficient shares many characteristics with those other religions and cults which the Roman church absorbed in order to gain control over their devotees.
In the Book of Exodus, we read the account of Moses’ mountaintop encounter with the Lord God Almighty. When Moses came down the mountain with the tablets containing the Decalogue, Ten Commandments, this was the beginning of the process Jews call Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.
All in all, there are 613 laws in Torah. Why did God write but ten “utterances” on the stone tablets? Rabbis and biblical scholars tell us that the Ten Commandments are but general headings and that each of the other 603 laws can be assigned to one of these ten categories. The laws God provided, if kept in the spirit, were adequate to cover all aspects of community and personal living. God is all-wise. Surely He provided the perfect number of perfectly written rules to protect and guide His chosen people.
Originally, the Law was in the hands of the prophets (nevi’im) and the priests (Levites). This changed under Persian rule, when Ezra returned to the Jewish homeland. From this time on, religious teaching and leadership was in the hands of scholars, who were referred to as scribes (soferim). You know what happens when lawyers or academicians get their hands on anything.
It is not in man’s nature, apparently, to leave perfection alone. Priests and scribes began adding to God’s perfect collection of laws. It was not plain enough that God commanded against eating blood (Leviticus 17:11); these deep thinkers determined it was necessary to supplement God’s law with a complex set of rules for slaughtering animals and preparing food in the “kosher” manner. Over the centuries, hundreds, nay! Thousands, of rules, comments, codicils, interpretations, etc., were added to the growing collecting of oral “tradition” concerning the Law given by God in Torah
In the rabbinical era, folks began gathering all this multitude of “traditions” into some semblance of order. And thus were born the six orders of the Mishna. Today, Orthodox Jews are guided by Torah and tradition. And here it can get really confusing
The Gemara is an addition to the Mishna. The gemara do not adhere closely to the text, but offer instead an enormous amount of addition material only loosely connected to the Mishna. They supplement the Mishna with Jewish literature and exposition of Scripture. As such, they are excelient historical references
Actually, though there is but one Mishna, there are two Gemaras, each developed by rabbis over centuries. The gemara developed in Israel is called the Yerushalmi and the one that came out of Babylon is the Bavli. The gemara are NEVER printed alone, but always with the Mishna. Thus, if you have the Israeli gemara and the Mishna bound together, you have the Yerushalmi Talmud. The combination of Babylonian Gemara and Mishna is known as the Bavri Talmud
The Talmud, supreme sourcebook of Jewish Law, sometimes is referred to as the Shas. The word Shas is a shortened form of Shisha Sedarim (six orders), which is a reference to the six orders of the Mishna. Actually, there are two distinct versions of the Talmud: the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem) Talmud and the Bavli (Babylonian) Talmud. Of the two, the Bavli Talmud enjoys greater popularity and authority, and it is to this version the generic term Talmud refers
Orthodox rabbis may devote a lifetime to studying the Talmud, which describes how to apply the laws in Torah to different life situations. Talmud is not a legal code, but it provides the material used to decide all issues of Jewish law (Halakha).
Conservative Rabbis also consider the Halakha as binding, but they do not accept the most recent and strict opinions as absolutely binding. Instead, they use the Talmud as did the rabbis of old, which is also a rarely used option for the Orthodox
The more liberal Reformed and Reconstructionist Jews don’t even teach Talmud in their Hebrew schools, though it still is taught in seminary. They refer to Torah in their research on points of Torah law, but also consider the times and parallels in other societies
Since the closing of the Talmud, Jews have continued to develop the Law in areas of practical application, though always honoring the opinions of the Talmudic rabbis. Modern rabbis are free to interpret, but never to contradict the findings of those who developed the Talmud