Mishnah

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The Mishnah or Mishna (Hebrew: מִשְׁנָה, "study by repetition"), from the verb shanah שנה, or "to study and review", also "secondary;"[1] is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature.[2][3]

The Mishnah was redacted between 180 and 220 CE by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten. The majority of the Mishnah is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are Aramaic.

The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. "web"), 63 in total, and further subdivided into chapters and paragraphs or verses.

The word Mishnah can also indicate a single paragraph or a verse of the work itself, i.e. the smallest unit of structure in the Mishnah. For this reason the whole work is sometimes called by the plural, Mishnayot.

Structure[edit]

The term "Mishnah" originally referred to a method of teaching by presenting topics in a systematic order, as contrasted with Midrash, which meant teaching by following the order of the Bible. The Mishnah as a written compilation accordingly orders its content by subject matter, instead of by biblical context as the Midrashim do. Likewise it includes a much broader selection of halakhic subjects, and discusses individual subjects more thoroughly, than the Midrashim.

The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. "web"), 63 in total. Each masechet is divided into chapters (peraqim, singular pereq) and then paragraphs (mishnayot, singular Mishnah). In this last context, the word mishnah means a single paragraph of the work, i.e. the smallest unit of structure, leading to the use of the plural, "Mishnayot", for the whole work.

Because of the division into six orders, the Mishnah is sometimes called Shas (an acronym for Shisha Sedarim – the "six orders"), though that term is more often used for the Talmud as a whole.

The six orders are:

In each order (with the exception of Zeraim), tractates are arranged from biggest (in number of chapters) to smallest. A popular mnemonic consists of the acronym "Z'MaN NaKaT."[4]

The Babylonian Talmud (Hagiga 14a) states that there were either six hundred or seven hundred orders of the Mishnah. Hillel the Elder organized them into six orders to make it easier to remember. The historical accuracy of this tradition is disputed. There is also a tradition that Ezra the scribe dictated from memory not only the 24 books of the Tanakh but 60 esoteric books. It is not known whether this is a reference to the Mishnah, but there is a case for saying that the Mishnah does consist of 60 tractates. (The current total is 63, but Makkot was originally part of Sanhedrin, and Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia and Bava Batra may be regarded as subdivisions of a single tractate Nezikin.)

Interestingly, Reuvein Margolies (1889–1971) posited that there were originally seven orders of Mishnah, citing a Gaonic tradition on the existence of a seventh order containing the laws of Sta"m (scribal practice) and Berachot (blessings).

Omissions[edit]

A number of important laws are not elaborated upon in the Mishnah. These include the laws of tzitzit, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzot, the holiday of Hanukkah, and the laws of gerim (converts). These were later discussed in the minor tractates.

Rabbi Nissim Gaon in his Hakdamah Le'mafteach Hatalmud writes that many of these laws were so well known that it was unnecessary for Rabbi Judah to discuss them. Reuvein Margolies suggests that as the Mishnah was redacted after the Bar Kochba revolt, Rabbi Judah could not have included discussion of Hanukkah which commemorates the Jewish revolt against the Syrian-Greeks (the Romans would not have tolerated this overt nationalism). Similarly, there were then several decrees in place aimed at suppressing outward signs of national identity, including decrees against wearing tefillin and tzitzit; as Conversion to Judaism was against Roman law, Rabbi Judah would not have discussed this.[5]

David Zvi Hoffman suggests that there existed ancient texts in the form of the present day Shulchan Aruch that discussed the basic laws of day to day living and it was therefore not necessary to focus on these laws in the Mishnah.

Mishnah, Gemara and Talmud[edit]

Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah from the next four centuries, done in the land of Israel and in Babylonia, were eventually redacted and compiled as well. In themselves they are known as Gemara. The books which recite the Mishnah in its original structure, together with the associated Gemara, are known as Talmuds. Two Talmuds were compiled, Babylonian Talmud (to which the term "Talmud" normally refers) and Jerusalem Talmud. Unlike the Hebrew Mishnah, the Gemara is written primarily in Aramaic.

Content and purpose[edit]

The Mishnah teaches the oral traditions by example, presenting actual cases being brought to judgment, usually along with the debate on the matter and the judgment that was given by a wise and notable rabbi based on the halacha, mitzvot, and spirit of the teaching ("Torah") that guided his sentencing. In this way, it brings to everyday reality the practice of the mitzvot as presented in the Bible, and aims to cover all aspects of human living, serve as an example for future judgments, and, most important, demonstrate pragmatic exercise of the Biblical laws, which was much needed since the time when the Second Temple was destroyed (70 CE). The Mishnah does not claim to be the development of new laws, but rather the collection of existing traditions.[citation needed]

The term "Mishnah" is related to the verb "shanah", to teach or repeat, and to the adjectives "sheni" and "mishneh", meaning "second". It is thus named for being both the one written authority (codex) secondary (only) to the Tanakh as a basis for the passing of judgment, a source and a tool for creating laws, and the first of many books to complement the Bible in certain aspects.

Oral law[edit]

Main article: Oral Torah

Before the publication of the Mishnah, Jewish scholarship and judgement were predominantly oral, as it was not permitted to write them down.[citation needed] The earliest recorded oral law may have been of the midrashic form, in which halakhic discussion is structured as exegetical commentary on the Torah.[citation needed] Rabbis expounded on and debated the Tanakh (Hebrew: תַּנַ"ךְ), the Hebrew Bible, without the benefit of written works (other than the Biblical books themselves), though some may have made private notes (Hebrew: מגילות סתרים‎, megillot setarim), for example of court decisions. The oral traditions were far from monolithic, and varied among various schools, the most famous of which were the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel.

After First Jewish–Roman War in 70 AD, with the end of the Second Temple Jewish center in Jerusalem, Jewish social and legal norms were in upheaval. The Rabbis were faced with the new reality of Judaism without a Temple (to serve as the center of teaching and study) and Judea without autonomy. It is during this period that Rabbinic discourse began to be recorded in writing.[6][7] The possibility was felt that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten, so the justification was found to have these oral laws transcribed.[citation needed][8]

Over time, different traditions of the Oral Law came into being, raising problems of interpretation. According to the Mevo Hatalmud many rulings were given in a specific context, but would be taken out of it; or a ruling was revisited but the second ruling would not become popularly known. To correct this, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi took up the redaction of the Mishnah. If a point was of no conflict, he kept its language; where there was conflict, he reordered the opinions and ruled; and he clarified where context was not given. The idea was not to use his own discretion, but rather to examine the tradition as far back as he could, and only supplement as required.[citation needed]

The Mishnah and the Hebrew Bible[edit]

According to Rabbinical Judaism, the Oral Torah (Hebrew: תורה שבעל-פה‎, Torah she-be'al-peh) was given to Moses with the Torah at Mount Sinai, as an exposition to the latter. The accumulated traditions of the Oral Law, expounded by scholars in each generation from Moses onward, is considered as the necessary basis for the interpretation, and often for the reading, of the Written Law. Jews refer to this as the Masorah (Hebrew: מסורה‎), roughly translated as tradition. The resulting Jewish law and custom is called halakha (Hebrew: הלכה).

Notably, the Mishnah does not cite a written scriptural basis for its laws: the Oral Law codified in the Mishnah does not derive directly from the Written Law of the Torah. This is in contrast with the Midrash halakha, works in which the sources of the traditionally received laws are identified in the Tanakh, often by linking a verse to a halakha. These Midrashim often predate the Mishnah.

The Mishnah also quotes the Torah for principles not associated with law, but just as practical advice, even at times for humor or as guidance for understanding historical debates.

Authorship[edit]

Main article: Tannaim

The rabbis who contributed to the Mishnah are known as the Tannaim,[9][10] of whom approximately 120 are known. The period during which the Mishnah was assembled spanned about 130 years, or five generations, in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Yehudah haNasi is credited with the final redaction and publication of the Mishnah,[11] though there have been a few additions since his time:[12] those passages that cite him or his grandson, Rabbi Yehuda Nesi'ah, and the end of Tractate Sotah, which refers to the period after Rabbi's death. One must also note that in addition to redacting the Mishnah, Rabbi and his court also ruled on which opinions should be followed, though the rulings do not always appear in the text.

Most of the Mishnah is related without attribution (stam). This usually indicates that many sages taught so, or that Yehudah HaNasi (often called simply "Rabbi") ruled so. The halakhic ruling usually follows that view. Sometimes, however, it appears to be the opinion of a single sage, and the view of the sages collectively (Hebrew: חכמים‎, hachamim) is given separately.

As Yehuda haNasi went through the tractates, the Mishnah was set forth, but throughout his life some parts were updated as new information came to light. Because of the proliferation of earlier versions, it was deemed too hard to retract anything already released, and therefore a second version of certain laws were released. The Talmud refers to these differing versions as Mishnah Rishonah ("First Mishnah") and Mishnah Acharonah ("Last Mishnah"). David Zvi Hoffman suggests that Mishnah Rishonah actually refers to texts from earlier Sages upon which Rabbi based his Mishnah.

The Talmud records a tradition that unattributed statements of the law represent the views of Rabbi Meir (Sanhedrin 86a), which supports the theory (recorded by Sherira Gaon in his famous Iggeret) that he was the author of an earlier collection. For this reason, the few passages that actually say "this is the view of Rabbi Meir" represent cases where the author intended to present Rabbi Meir's view as a "minority opinion" not representing the accepted law.

There are also references to the "Mishnah of Rabbi Akiva", suggesting a still earlier collection;[13] on the other hand, these references may simply mean his teachings in general. Another possibility is that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir established the divisions and order of subjects in the Mishnah, making them the authors of a school curriculum rather than of a book.

Authorities are divided on whether Rabbi recorded the Mishnah in writing or established it as an oral text for memorisation. The most important early account of its composition, the Epistle of Sherira Gaon, is ambiguous on the point, though the "Spanish" recension leans to the theory that the Mishnah was written. However, the Talmud records that, in every study session, there was a person called the tanna appointed to recite the Mishnah passage under discussion. This may indicate that, even if the Mishnah was reduced to writing, it was not available on general distribution.

Acceptance[edit]

Main article: Karaite Judaism

Some Jews did not accept the written codification of the oral law at all; known as Karaites, they comprised a significant portion of the world Jewish population in the 10th and 11th centuries CE, and remain extant, although they currently number in the thousands.

Mishnah Study[edit]

Textual variants[edit]

Manuscripts[edit]

Printed editions[edit]

The first printed edition of the Mishnah was published in Napoli. There have been many subsequent editions, including the late 19th century Vilna edition, which is the basis of the editions now used by the religious public.

As well as being printed on its own, the Mishnah is included in all editions of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. Each paragraph is printed on its own, and followed by the relevant Gemara discussion. However, that discussion itself often cites the Mishnah line by line. While the text printed in paragraph form has generally been standardized to follow the Vilna edition, the text cited line by line often preserves important variants, which sometimes reflect the readings of older manuscripts.

The nearest approach to a critical edition is that of Hanoch Albeck. There is also an edition by Yosef Qafiḥ of the Mishnah together with the commentary of Maimonides, which compares the base text used by Maimonides with the Napoli and Vilna editions and other sources.

Oral traditions and pronunciation[edit]

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A traditional setting of the last passage of the first tractate, Berakhot, which describes how scholars of the Talmud create peace in the world. Performed by Cantor Meyer Kanewsky in 1919 for Edison Records.

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The Mishnah was and still is traditionally studied through recitation (out loud). Many medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah are vowelized, and some of these contain partial Tiberian cantillation. Jewish communities around the world preserved local melodies for chanting the Mishnah, and distinctive ways of pronouncing its words.

Most vowelized editions of the Mishnah today reflect standard Ashkenazic vowelization, and often contain mistakes. The Albeck edition of the Mishnah was vowelized by Hanokh Yellin, who made careful eclectic use of both medieval manuscripts and current oral traditions of pronunciation from Jewish communities all over the world. The Albeck edition includes an introduction by Yellin detailing his eclectic method.

Two institutes at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have collected major oral archives which hold (among other things) extensive recordings of Jews chanting the Mishnah using a variety of melodies and many different kinds of pronunciation. These institutes are the Jewish Oral Traditions Research Center and the National Voice Archives (the Phonoteca at the Jewish National and University Library). See below for external links.

Commentaries[edit]

As a historical source[edit]

Both the Mishnah and Talmud contain little serious biographical studies of the people discussed therein, and the same tractate will conflate the points of view of many different people. Yet, sketchy biographies of the Mishnaic sages can often be constructed with historical detail from Talmudic and Midrashic sources.

Many modern historical scholars have focused on the timing and the formation of the Mishnah. A vital question is whether it is composed of sources which date from its editor's lifetime, and to what extent is it composed of earlier, or later sources. Are Mishnaic disputes distinguishable along theological or communal lines, and in what ways do different sections derive from different schools of thought within early Judaism? Can these early sources be identified, and if so, how? In response to these questions, modern scholars have adopted a number of different approaches.

Cultural references[edit]

The most notable literary work on the composition of the Mishnah is probably Milton Steinberg's novel As a Driven Leaf.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In the Greek language, the name Deuterosis means "repetition."
  2. ^ The list of joyful days known as Megillat Taanit is older, but according to the Talmud it is no longer in force.
  3. ^ "Commentary on Tractate Avot with an Introduction (Shemona perakim)". World Digital Library. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Ronald L. Eisenberg, "Rabbinic Literature," in The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), pp. 499–500.
  5. ^ Yesod Hamishna Va'arichatah pp. 25–28 (Hebrew text PDF)
  6. ^ See, Strack, Hermann, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Jewish Publication Society, 1945. pp. 11–12. "[The Oral Law] was handed down by word of mouth during a long period. ... The first attempts to write down the traditional matter, there is reason to believe, date from the first half of the second post-Christian century." Strack theorizes that the growth of a Christian canon (the New Testament) was a factor that influenced the Rabbis to record the oral law in writing.
  7. ^ The theory that the destruction of the Temple and subsequent upheaval led to the committing of Oral Law into writing was first explained in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon and often repeated. See, for example, Grayzel, A History of the Jews, Penguin Books, 1984, p. 193.
  8. ^ Though as shown below, there is some disagreement about whether the Mishnah was originally put in writing.
  9. ^ Outhwaite, Ben. "Mishnah". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
  10. ^ The plural term (singular tanna) for the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah; from the Aramaic root tanna (תנא) equivalent for the Hebrew root shanah (שנה), as in Mishnah.
  11. ^ Abraham ben David calculated the date 189 CE. Seder Ha-Kabbalah Leharavad, Jerusalem 1971, p.16 (Hebrew)
  12. ^ According to the Epistle (Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon.
  13. ^ This theory was held by David Zvi Hoffman, and is repeated in the introduction to Herbert Danby's Mishnah translation.
  14. ^ Daat.ac.il
  15. ^ Daat.ac.il Maimonides' introduction (Hebrew)
  16. ^ [1]

References[edit]

English translations[edit]

Historical study[edit]

Recitation[edit]

External links[edit]

Wikimedia projects[edit]

Wikisource's Open Mishna Project is developing Mishnah texts, commentaries, and translations. The project is currently available in four languages: Hebrew (the largest collection), English, French and Portuguese.

Digitised manuscripts[edit]

Other electronic texts[edit]

Mishnah study and the daily Mishnah[edit]

Audio lectures[edit]

Oral traditions and pronunciation[edit]