So, what exactly is the Talmud?
The Talmud is a multi-volume set of books. It is a combination of three important elements: Mishnah, Gemara, and commentary on either or both.
The Mishnah is a compilation of statements, rulings, laws, and so forth. It is usually in Hebrew. The Mishnah is published and used separately. The Talmud, however, revolves around the Mishnah.
The Mishnah is divided into six sidrei (plural of seder, meaning “order” or “arrangement”), which are: Zera’im, Mo’ed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, and Tohoros. Each seder deals with a certain area (agriculture, marriage, the Temple); each seder is comprised of masechtos (plural of masechah, meaning “tractate”), and each masechah usually deals with a specific issue (marriage, slaves, property). However, a seder could contain information or rulings completely unrelated to the original seder, and same within a masechah.
The masechtos of each seder are:
Of Seder Zera’im: Berakhos, Pe’ah, Dema’i, Kilayim, Shevi’is, Terumos, Ma’aseros, Ma’aser Sheni, Challah, Orlah, Bikkurim
Of Seder Mo’ed: Shabbos, Eruvin, Pesachim, Shekalim, Yoma, Sukkah, Beitzah, Rosh HaShanah, Ta’anis, Megillah, Mo’ed Qatan, Chagigah
Of Seder Nashim: Yevamos, Ketubos, Nedarim, Nazir, Sotah, Hittin, Kiddushin
Of Seder Nezikin: Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, Bava Batra, Sanhedrin, Makkos, Shevu’os, Eduyos, Avodah Zarah, Avos, Horayos
Of Seder Kodashim: Zevachim, Menahos, Chullin, Bekhoros, Arakhin, Temurah, Keritos, Me’ilah, Tamid, Middos, Kinnim
Of Seder Tohoros: Keilim, Oholos, Nega’im, Parah, Tohoros, Mikva’os, Niddah, Makhshirin, Zuvim, Tevul Yom, Yadayim, Utzkim
The Gemara is the Rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah. Certain Rabbinic figures, usually referred to as “sages” (although not all sages were such Rabbinic figures), issued commentary, rulings, and clarification on what the Mishnah said. Many of these sages held extensive debates on how one came with a ruling, what rules applied in what cases. In many cases, there’s quite a bit of disagreement. One Rabbi says one thing, another counters with another. In many cases, there is not resilution, so the Talmud ends the discussion with “teiku”, which means that it’s unresolved.
So what the Talmud has is a quote from the Mishnah (usually in Hebrew) followed by the Gemara, which is commentary or discussion (usually in Aramaic). These comprise the core text of the Talmud.
Around (literally) this core text are other commentaries (significantly, by Rashi and his disciples), cross-references to other parts of the Talmud, cross-references to the Hebrew Bible, and other notation.
The core text of the Talmud is written in a very terse style. It’s not written in whole sentences, and what makes it more complicated is that there is very little punctuation. Certain oft-used phrases are abbreviated. A lot of the commentaries are simply expositions on what the core text is talking about, filling in the words, phrases, and references the text leaves out.
The Talmud edition I have, Artscroll’s Schottenstein Talmud is a translation of the core text of the Talmud into English. It does not contain a translation of the text surrounding the core text for two reasons:
1. Space. It already takes many volumes (73) to translate just the core text; it would have to be hundreds of volumes if all of the commentaries were also translated.
2. Most of the commentaries are included in the translation. Because a literal translation would make no sense, the translation includes the explanations and clarifications provided by the commentaries. Thus, most of the commentaries are already included in the translation without having to translate the commentaries separately.