|Introduction to Seder Zera‘im by the Editor
|Introduction to Berakoth by the Translator
|Index of Scriptural References
|Transliteration of Hebrew Letters
[page xxvii] The Tractate Berakoth (‘Benedictions’) consists of nine chapters of which only the last four are concerned with benedictions proper. The first three contain the rules for the recital of the shema‘ (Chapter one, Chapter two, Chapter three), the next two those for the recital of the tefillah (Chapter four, Chapter five). The Tractate first lays down the hours within which the shema‘ must be recited first in the evening and then in the morning — preferably in the synagogue — and then specifies a number of conditions for its recital and the persons who are exempt from reciting it. Incidentally the conditions under which the Torah may be studied and the tefillin worn are also discussed. The recital of the tefillah is then dealt with on similar lines and its wording is discussed. Chapter six first enunciates the principle that before partaking of any kind of food one must recite a benediction, and then lays down the form of blessing for various kinds of foodstuffs. Chapter seven deals specifically with grace before and after meals, and table etiquette generally, particularly zimmun or the invitation to join in the grace. Chapter eight lays down the rules for the washing of the hands in connection with a meal, grace over the wine-cup, and the habdalah on the termination of the Sabbath. Chapter nine formulates the benedictions to be uttered on a large number of special occasions.
Berakoth contains more Aggada in proportion to its length than any other tractate. The long Chapter nine is mostly aggadic, and is notable for a lenghty excursus on the interpretation of dreams. Another striking piece of Aggada is the account of the quarrel between Rabban Gamaliel and R. Joshua in Chapter four. Chapter six throws great light on the dietary of the Jews in Babylon, while Chapter eight shows that the table customs of Jews in Palestine were largely modelled on those of the Romans.
For some reason which is not obvious Berakoth is included in the 'Order' of Zera'im, or Seeds. In complete editions of the Talmud it has always been placed first in the sequence of tractates. The reason for this is no doubt — as suggested by Maimonides — that the precepts with which it deals — the recital of the shema‘ and the tefillah [page xxviii] and the benedictions — are among the first which claim the attention of the Jew in his daily life, and are also among the first taught to the Jewish child. Containing as it does few passages of legal casuistry, Berakoth is among the easiest of the tractates, and on this account and because of its wealth of Aggada it is perhaps the most suitable with which to commence the study of the Talmud.
The indices of this Tractate have been compiled by Judah J. Slotki, M.A.
PREFATORY NOTE BY THE EDITOR
The Editor desires to state that the translation of the several Tractates, and the notes thereon, are the work of the individual contributors and that he has not attempted to secure general uniformity in style or mode of rendering. He has, nevertheless, revised and supplemented, at his own discretion, their interpretation and elucidation of the original text, and has himself added the notes in square brackets containing alternative explanations and matter of historical and geographical interest.