Translated from the so-called nidpas edition.
And therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, established two academies (yeshivot) for Israel (i.e., Sura and Pumbedita, both in Mesopotamia) where they study Torah both day and night, and they meet together twice a year in the months Adar and Ellul (with scholars) from every place and engage in debates about disputes over the Torah … and introducing evidence from Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud so that Israel might not come to grief (lit. ‘stumble’) by following erroneous precepts. For Scripture states: ‘great welfare belongs to those who love Your Torah; nothing causes them to stumble’ (Ps 119:165), and ‘the Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace’ (Ps 29:11). Those two academies have never experienced captivity or destruction or looting, and neither Greece nor Edom (i.e., Rome or Christianity) have ever wielded imperial authority over them. The Holy One, blessed be He, removed them twelve years before the destruction of Jerusalem with their learning (lit. ‘their Torah’) and their teaching(s) (lit. ‘their Talmud’), for thus it is written: ‘he carried off all of Jerusalem, and all the officials, and all the mighty soldiers—ten thousand exiles, and all the artisans and smiths. No one remained except for the impoverished people of the land’ (2 Kgs 24:14). What sort of ‘might’ can there be among a people who are led off into captivity?!? Rather, the word ‘mighty’ refers to those who are proficient (lit. ‘mighty’) in Torah … The Holy One, blessed be He, acted properly for the sake of Israel when He caused the exile of Jehoiachin to precede that of Zedekiah: this was done in order that the Oral Torah not be forgotten by them. They have dwelt there in Babylonia with their learning (lit. ‘their Torah’) from that time up to the present day, and they have not experienced the rule of Edom or of Greece, and they have not been subject to decrees of annihilation. Even at the time of the Messiah they will not experience the ‘messianic birth-pangs,’ for Scripture states: ‘O Zion, escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon!’ (Zech 2:11). [‘Escape’ from what?] From Edom, Greece, and their imperial decrees. It is written: ‘Writhe and thrust, O daughter of Zion, like a woman giving birth; for now you will depart the city and dwell in the field … you will come to Babylon: there you will be delivered, there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies’ (Mic 4:10). ‘There’? This teaches you that the final redemption will begin there (i.e., in Babylonia).