Part of a Babylonian Talmud


A codex of the Talmud, produced in the 12th or 13th century.

What is the Talmud?

The Talmud (meaning ‘learning’) is the largest corpus of Oral Law (or Oral Torah) and rabbinic lore in Judaism. It is the body of Jewish knowledge, teachings and traditions, accumulated over many centuries. Its two major components are: a) the Mishnah (‘repetition’ or ‘redaction’, written in Hebrew), the earliest body of oral law which was set down by Judah ha-Nasi around 200 CE; b) the Gemara (‘completion’, written in Aramaic) which is a collection of discussions and debates on the Oral Law by the Amora’im (early Jewish scholars). Apart from the Mishnah and Gemara, the Talmud also includes the Baraita, a compilation of external works not mentioned in the Mishnah but which had been recorded around the same time. The Baraita’s major subdivisions are the Tosefta (literally ‘supplement’), an additional legal compendium similar to the Mishnah, and the Midrash, which comprises the critical interpretation to the biblical text.

The development of the Gemara occurred in two major centres of Jewish scholarship: Babylonia and Palestine. This ultimately led to the redaction of two talmudic compilations. The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud, completed around 350 CE, and the Babylonian Talmud that although committed to writing around 500 CE, continued to be edited for close to two centuries afterwards. Of the two compendia, the Babylonian Talmud is the more complete and the more authoritative. The Talmud served as the basis for all codes of rabbinic law, and is frequently quoted in rabbinic texts.

The manuscript

Written on parchment, this fragmentary talmudic codex contains only eight tractates of Seder Mo’ed (denoting ‘Order of festivals’). This order deals with the laws relating to the Jewish observance of the Sabbath and holidays. Penned by several scribes in Sephardic square script (originally from the Iberian Peninsula), the text differs from the standard printed editions of the Babylonian Talmud. The marginal notes added in some parts of the manuscript provide different, and, occasionally fuller, readings. Owing to its incomplete condition, the manuscript lacks a colophon, thus nothing is known about its original patron, scribes and exact place of production.

The manuscript takes its name after its last owners Robert and Edward Harley, 1st and 2nd Earls of Oxford and Mortimer, bibliophiles and patrons of the arts, whose vast manuscript collection was sold to the nation in 1753.

View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Babylonian Talmud (Seder Moʿed)
1100–1299, Spain
Hebrew / Ancient Greek
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Harley MS 5508

Full catalogue details

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