The Invention of the Ban against Writing Oral Torah in the Babylonian Talmud

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The ban against writing Oral Torah stands at the heart of rabbinic study culture. Scholars have suggested that the ban was formulated during the third century in Palestine in an attempt to preserve the oral nature of rabbinic study. At the same time, despite the overt orality of rabbinic practice, multiple talmudic anecdotes point to a complex reality that does not align with what seems to be an explicit prohibition. In this article I argue that the key for solving this long-standing crux is to distinguish between the two book cultures among the rabbis in Palestine and in Babylonia. Although the Bavli directly relies on Palestinian clusters of traditions, it transforms their meaning. While Palestinian sources forbid inappropriate writing of scriptural texts, fearing the physical obliteration of scriptural material, the Bavli reinterprets these prohibitions as securing the original division between the oral and the written forms of Torah.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-150
Number of pages20
JournalAJS Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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