Talmud and its Shape

Here is the first page of the Babylonian Talmud, as it appears in the standard Vilna edition. The standardized pagination folows that of the third Bomberg edition, Venice, 1548. Pages are numbered by folio. This page is Berakhoth 2a (that is, the first side of folio 2 in the tractate Berakhoth, "Blessings").

Considered from the standpoint of typography alone, the printed page of the Talmud is an amazingly complex text with many intertextual connections representing fifteen centuries of discussion.

Let's color-code the layout so that we can distinguish the various layers more easily.

Mishnah (Palestine, about 220 CE)
Gemara (Babylonia, about 500 CE)
Comments of Rashi (Northern France, 1040-1105 CE)
Comments of the Tosafists (France and Germany, 12th-13th centuries)
Comments of R. Nissim ben Jacob (Tunisia, 11th century)
Notes by R. Aqiva Eger (Prussia, 1761-1837)
Anonymous comment (printers?)
Key to scriptural quotations
Cross-references to medieval codes of Jewish law
Cross-references to other passages in Talmud
A textual emendation from the Proofs of Joel Sirkes (Poland, 1561-1640)

The text of the Talmud itself is in the middle, written in square Hebrew letters. This text is surrounded by commentaries and marginal notes.

Rashi (Rabbi Solomon bar Isaac) is the most important commentary and he is always found on the side of the page closest to the binding. The Tosafists are found just on the other side of the Talmud. The Tosaphists provided a "super-commentary," a commentary on Rashi's commentary. The first Tosafists were Rashi's sons-in-law and grandsons. Rashi and the Tosafists appear in a special, round "Rashi" script.

For another view, see A Page from the Babylonian Talmud by Eliezer Segal

Here is the first page of the first printed edition of the Jerusalem Talmud, printed 1523 in Venice, by Jacob M. Lowy (Collection, National Library of Canada).