Quotes From the Talmud

Interpreting the Law
On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward all of the arguments in the world [in favor of his position on a certain matter of ritual cleanliness], but they [his colleagues] did not accept them from him.  He said to them: “If the law agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it.”  The carob-tree leaped a hundred cubits from its place in the garden.  The sages replied:  “No proof can be brought from a carob-tree.”  He said to them:  “If the law agrees with me, let this stream of water prove it.”  The stream of water began to flow backwards.  The sages replied:  “No proof can be brought from a stream of water.”  Again he said to them:  “If the law agrees with me, let the walls of this schoolhouse prove it.”  The walls began to shake and incline to fall.  Rabbi Joshua leaped up and rebuked the walls saying:  “When disciples of sages engage in legal dispute what is your relevance?”  In honor of Rabbi Joshua the walls did not tumble.  In honor or Rabbi Eliezer they did not right themselves, and are still inclined even to this day.  Again Rabbi Eliezer said to the sages:  “If the law agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven.”  A divine voice came forth and said:  “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, for in all matters the law agrees with him!”  But Rabbi Joshua rose to his feet again and exclaimed:  “It is not in heaven” [Deut. 30:12; implying that the divine law is now in human hands and open to human interpretation regardless of God’s position].  Some time later, Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah and asked him:  “What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do when rebuked by Rabbi Joshua?”  Elijah replied:  “He laughed with joy saying ‘My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me.’” [Crawford, World Religions and Global Ethics, p. 166; Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 59a-b.]

The Golden Rule
Upon his conversion of a gentile to Judaism, the famous Rabbi Hillel provided the following summary of the essentials of Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.  That is the whole of the Torah, all the rest is commentary; now go and study it (i.e. put it into practice).” [Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat, 31a.]

The Sanctity of Life
“My judical decisions you should carry out, and my statutes you should keep as to walk in them...” and “you must keep my statutes and my judical decisions, which if a man will do, he must also live by means of them.” [Leviticus, 18:4-5]
-The definitive interpretation of these verses is found in a famous passage from the Talmud which says “live by means of them, not die by means of them.” [Yoma, 85a-b]  The implication is that the preservation of life (and in many cases health, physiological and/or pychological) takes precedence over God's commandments.  For example, in a life or death emergency you can drive on the Sabbath.

Other Principles From the Talmud
1:2 Simeon the Just was on of the last members of the Great Assembly.  He used to say:  “Upon three things the world stands—on the Torah, on the Temple service, and on acts of kindness.”

1:12 Hillel and Shammai received Torah from them.  Hillel says: “Be one of Aaron’s disciples, loving peace and pursuing it, loving mankind and bringing them near to the Torah.”

1:14 He used to say: “If I am not for myself, who then will be for me?  And if I am for myself alone, what am I?  And if not now, when?”

1:18 Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says: “On three things the world stands: on justice, on truth, and on peace, as it is written, “Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates.”

Israel's Role Amongst the Nations
Rabbi Jeremiah said: ‘Whence can you know that the gentile that practices the law is equal to the high priest?  Because it is said, “which, if a man do, he shall live through them” [Leviticus, 18:5].  And it says, “This is the Torah of man” [2 Samuel 7:19].  It does not say, “the law of the priests, Levites, Israelites,” but “This is the law of man, O Lord God.”  And it does not say, “Open the gates and let the priests and Levites and Israel enter,” but it says:  “Open the gates that the righteous may enter” [Isaiah 26:2].  And it says, “This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter it.”  It does not say, “The priests and the Levites and Israel shall enter it” [Psalm 118:20].  And it does not say, “Rejoice ye, priests, Levites, and Israelites,” but it says, “Rejoice ye righteous” [Psalm 33:1].  And it does not say, “Do good, O Lord, to the priests and the Levites and the Israelites,” but it says “Do good, O Lord, to the good” [Psalm 124:4].  So even a gentile, if he practices the Torah, is equal to the high priest. [Sifra 86b; b Baba Kamma 38a]