The name of the first treatise of Seder Zeraim, the first Order of the Talmud. By the term "Berakot" a special form of prayer is understood, that begins with the words "Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe." The treatise consists of Mishnah andGemara; the latter in two forms, the Babylonian (Babli) and the Palestinian or Western (Di-Bene Ma'araba), better known by the name "Yerushalmi."The Mishnah.
The Mishnah, without any introductory remarks, without any previous statement that the Law demands the reading of the Shema' in the evening, begins with the question, "From what time is it allowed to read the evening Shema'?" By adopting this method the author or compiler of the Mishnah, Judah ha-Nasi, clearly reflects the general opinion of the Talmudic teachers that the Torah with its traditional interpretation is the undisputed basis of the oral law. Another important principle is implied in this question; namely, that the religious day is reckoned by the Law from evening to evening, and that the reading of the Shema' of the evening is therefore the first religious duty of the day. The Mishnah Berakot treats of the three elements of the ritual: (a) Shema' (), (b) prayer (), and (c) blessings (). Of the nine chapters of the treatise the first three are devoted to the Shema', the next two to prayer, and the last four to blessings, as follows:
- Chapter i.: Determines the time and the manner of the reading of Shema' ("Keriat Shema'") in the evening and in the morning, and the number of blessings which precede and follow the reading.
- Chapter ii.: On "kawwanah" (intention and attention); intention to fulfil a divine command ("miẓwah"), and attention to the words read.
- Chapter iii.: On verses of total or partial exemption from this duty.
- Chapter iv.: On the prayer ("Tefillah," "'Amidah," or "Shemoneh 'Esreh") of the daily and the additional services ("musaf ").
- Chapter v.: On the necessity of preparing for prayer and guarding against error, especially with regard to additions to or deviations from the ordinary form of the prayer.
- Chapter vi.: Blessings before and after partaking of any kind of food.
- Chapter vii.: Form of grace for a company consisting of three members or more.
- Chapter viii.: On various differences between the schools of Shammai and Hillel with regard to certain regulations at meals.
- Chapter ix.: Blessings relating to events which cause awe, joy, or grief.
In a few places, such as ib. ii. 6, 7, and ix. 5, these subjects have been interrupted by apparently foreign matter. In reality, however, there is always a certain relation between these interpolations and the principal theme of the chapter. The interpolations are original, like the rest of the Mishnah, and do not necessarily belong to a later period. Z. Frankel, however, is of the opinion that ii. 5-8 was added by later authorities; but his argument is not conclusive (see preface to Talmud Yerushalmi, ed. Z. Frankel, Vienna, 1874, and his "Darke ha-Mishnah," p. 264). The treatise fitly concludes with the following two regulations: (1) the name of God to be employed in ordinary greetings, in order to emphasize the belief in the existence of God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe; (2) in the responses the phrase "from world to world" to be substituted for the phrase "from [the beginning] of the world," in order to emphasize the belief in the existence of another world or life beyond the present one. The present division of the treatises into chapters and the order of the chapters seem to be the same as fixed by Judah ha-Nasi, since with few exceptions the Palestinian and the Babylonian recensions of the Talmud have the same division and order. Hence the rule, "there is a fixed order of the Mishnah" (), is a principle adopted in the Talmud. As regards the treatise Berakot, Rashi seems to have had in his copy of the Talmud the order of ch. iii. and iv. inverted (see Tos. to Bab. Talm. 17b, beginning ). The subdivision of the chapters into paragraphs or Mishnahs does not seem to have ever been fixed (Z. Frankel, "Darke ha-Mishnah," p. 265).
The Mishnah contains but a few semi-haggadic elements (i. 5, ii. 2, v. 5, and ix. 5); and noteworthy are the midrashic remarks on Deut. vi. 5; Ps. cxix. 126; and Prov. xxiii. 22.The Tosefta.
The Tosefta Berakot has the same order as the Mishnah. Following the division of chapters in the edition of Zuckermandel, ch. i. corresponds to ch. i. of the Mishnah; ch. ii. to ch. ii.-iii.; ch. iii. to ch. iv.-v.; ch. iv. to ch. vi.-vii.; ch. vi. to ch. viii.; ch. vii. to ch. ix. There remains only ch. v., which does not correspond to any chapter in the Mishnah; it contains regulations with regard to the "ḳiddush" (sanctification) on Friday evening, in case the meal commences in the afternoon, and rules for the guidance of guests at a banquet. The Tosefta includes more haggadic elements than the Mishnah (compare end of ch. i.; ch. iv. 14-16). The Palestinian Gemara seems to expound the Tosefta as well as the Mishnah, as is illustrated by the following instance: "In Mishnah i. 4, 'in the morning two blessings are recited before the Shema', a long one and a short one . . .' Where they [the sages] ordained a long one, it must not be shortened; and, vice versa, a short one must not be replaced by a long one. Where a blessing with a concluding formula has been ordained, that formula must not be omitted; and where it has not been ordained it must not be added." This Mishnah is duly expounded in both the Babylonian and the Palestinian Gemaras. The Tosefta (i. 5) adds: "Where they ordained to bow down, this must not be neglected; and the bowing down must not take place where they have not ordained it." This paragraph is not noticed in the Babylonian Gemara, but is fully discussed in the Palestinian (Yer. i. 3c et seq.). (See Adoration.) Another instance is the paragraph on the blessings before the performance of a divine command (miẓwah) in ch. vii. of the Tosefta and the corresponding section on the same subject in ch. ix. of the Palestinian Gemara (Yer. ix. 14a).The Gemara.
The Gemara supplements and fully discusses the laws (Halakot) mentioned in the Mishnah, and employs to a much wider extent the method of introducing extraneous matter whenever the subject under discussion gives occasion for such interruptions by a text quoted, a name mentioned, or a lesson taught. This characteristic of the Gemara is more apparent in the Babylonian than in the Palestinian recension.
Of the haggadic topics thus interpolated in the Babylonian Gemara the following may be mentioned:
- (1) On the divine sympathy with Israel (p. 3a).
- (2) On sufferings, which are divided into those sent as punishment, and undeserved sufferings sent as trials, termed "sufferings of love" ("yesurin shel ahabah") (5a).
- (3) On invisible evil agents ("mazziḳin") (6a).
- (4) On the method of divine retribution (7a).
- (5) On the relation between God and Israel, based on mutual love. Israel expresses this feeling by communing with God in prayer and by wearing the Tefillin containing the declaration of God's unity and sovereignty. Accordingly the idea of God's love toward Israel is figuratively described in the dictum, "God prays—desires to show mercy—and lays tefillin, containing declarations of Israel's distinction" (6a, 7a).
- (6) On the status of the dead, and their intercourse with the living (18b).
- (7) The temporary deposition of the nasi Rabban Gamaliel in Jamnia (p. 27).
- (8) Midrashic account of the prayer of Hannah, and the intercession of Moses for Israel (31a, b).
- (9) King Alexander Jannæus and Simon ben Sheṭaḥ (48a).
- (10) Midrashic account of Og, king of Bashan (54b).
- (11) A legendary illustration of the dictum, "All dreams follow the interpretation given to them" (55a, b).
- (12) Death of R. Akiba (61b).
- (13) On hospitality (63b).
With regard to the text of the Bible, remarks are met with on the dots over each letter of the word , Ps. xxvii. 13 (4a); on the absence of a verse beginning with the letter "nun" in Ps. cxlv. (p. 4b); on the division of the Psalms (9b). Texts wrongly quoted are: Gen. vii. 23, , instead of (p. 61a); and , instead of , I Sam. ii. 11. Here probably the words "to Ramah to his house" are taken as identical with the phrase "after his house." Besides the Bible, other books are mentioned in the Babylonian Gemara: A Book of Haggadot (), 23a; "Hilkot Derek Ereẓ" (Rules of Good Manners), 22a, and "Sefer Refu'ot" (Book of Remedies), 10b.The Palestinian Gemara.
The Palestinian Gemara includes a short account of the temporary deposition of the nasi Rabban Gamaliel (iv. 7c et seq.; somewhat differentlynarrated in Bab. 27b); the legend of Menahem ben Hezekiah (the predestined Messiah) and his mother (ii. 5a); the meeting of King Jannæus and Simon ben Sheṭaḥ (vii. 11b; paralleled in Bab. 48a), on which incident the Palestinian Talmud (vii. 11b) quotes from the Book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), ("exalt her, and she will raise thee and give thee a place between princes"), where Bab. (Ber. 48a) quotes from Proverbs (iv. 8); the controversy between R. Simlai and the Minim on the use of the plural in the phrase "Let us make" (Gen. i. 26) (Yer. Ber. viii. 12d); and the death of R. Akiba (ix. 14b et seq., parallel to Bab. 61b).
Both Gemaras include a goodly number of original prayers, most of which have found a place in the daily prayer-book. It is noteworthy that in the Yerushalmi the form for (blessings preceding the performance of divine precepts, "miẓwot") is given, but is omitted in the Babylonian Gemara. The prayers do not differ essentially in the two Gemaras, either in form or in substance (compare Wiesner, "Gib'at Yerushalayim," pp. 7 et seq.). Each Gemara closes with the dictum, "Scholars increase peace in the world," etc.
As to the Halakah, the dictates of the Mishnah seem to have been followed in Palestine more rigidly than in Babylonia. Thus with regard to the reading of the evening Shema', which, according to the Mishnah (i. 1), must not take place before the commencement of actual night, if it have been read before that time, it must, according to the Yerushalmi, be repeated at the proper time (Yer. Ber. i., beginning); no indication of this is given in the Babylonian Gemara (see Rashi on Ber., beginning).
There are no signs in the treatises of later interpolations. Wiesner, however ("Gibeat Yerushalayim," p. 8, Vienna, 1871), suspects Karaite interpolations in the Yerushalmi (ii. 5a) for the purpose of revealing the Rabbinites in a bad light, as praying without devotion. If his argument be correct, a passage in the Babylonian Gemara (p. 6), in which certain pious acts seem to be ridiculed as resulting in no good, may likewise be suspected as of Karaite origin. See Benediction.
- Z. Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah (Hodogetica in Mischnam), Leipsic, 1859;
- idem, (Introductio in Talm. Hierosolymitanum), 1870;
- , ed. Z. Frankel, with commentary, 1874;
- J. E. Wiesner, , 1871;
- The Mishnah: Eighteen Treatises, translated by D. A. De Sola and M. J. Raphall, London, 1845;
- Berakot, with German translation and commentary by E. M. Pinner, Berlin, 1842 et seq.;
- Prospectus and Specimen of an English Translation of the Mishnah, by S. S. Kohn, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.;
- Berakot, translated into German by I. J. Rabe, Halle, 1777;
- (Titulus Talmudicus in quo Agitur de Benedictionibus, etc., Adjecta Versione Latina, Oxford, 1690);
- I. H. Weiss, , Vienna, 1864;
- Liḳḳuṭe Masektot, containing Berakot, Peah, and Abot, Reggio, 1809;
- , with commentary by Solomon Sirilio, ed. M. Lehman, Mayence, 1875;
- B. Ratner, Ahabat Ẓion we-Yerushalayimt," Wilna, 1901.