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The Mishnah (Hebrew, "Repetition") is the core of rabbinic Judaism's religious texts. It is the first recording of the oral law of the Jewish people, as championed by the Pharisees. It was redacted by Judah haNasi around the year 200 CE. It is considered the first work of Rabbinic Judaism.

The Mishnah is noteworthy in Rabbinic literature for its depiction of a religious universe in which the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed a century earlier, still retains a central place. Laws concerning the Temple service constitute one of the Mishnah's six divisions.

Also noteworthy is the Mishnah's lack of citation of a scriptural basis for its laws. Connecting the Mishnaic law with the Torah law was a major enterprise of the later Midrash and Talmuds.

The Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded therein are called Tannaim, the plural of Tanna; Tanna is an Aramaic term for the Hebrew word shana, which also is the root-word of Mishnah. The verb shanah (שנה) literally means 'to repeat [what one was taught]' and is used to mean 'to learn'. The term 'Mishna' basically means the entire body of Jewish religious law that was passed down and developed before 200 CE, when it was finally redacted by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi (Judah the Prince). He is usually simply referred to as 'Rabbi'.

The word mishna can also indicate a paragraph, i.e., the smallest unit of structure in the Mishna. The plural is mishnayot. Thus, a number of mishnayot make up a perek (chapter), a number of perakim (chapters) make up a masechet (tractate), a number of masechtot (tractates) make up a seder (order) and the Shas (acronym for Shisha Sedarim - the six orders) make up the Mishna (or alternatively the Talmud if discussing the Gemara.)

Table of contents
1 Relation between the Bible and the Mishnah
2 The writing of the Mishnah
3 The structure of the Mishna
4 The generations of the Mishnah sages
5 Important Manuscripts and Editions
6 Oral Traditions and Pronunciation
7 Commentaries
8 See also:
9 External Links:

Relation between the Bible and the Mishnah

Rabinical Judaism holds that the books of the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) have always been transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. Two guides to laws were given to Moses at Mount Sinai: the first, known as Torah she-bi-khtav, or the "Written Law" is the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) as we know it today; the second, known as Torah she-ba'al peh, is the exposition of the Written Law as relayed by the scholarly and other religious leaders of each generation. The Oral Law is, in some sense, the more authoritative of the two: the traditions of the Oral Law are considered as the basis for the interpretation, and often for the reading, of the Written Law.

By the time of Judah Ha-Nasi (200 CE) much of the Oral Law was edited together into the Mishnah; see below. Over the next four centuries this material underwent analysis and debate, known as Gemara (completion), in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in the land of Israel and Babylon). These eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the Talmud. Jewish law and custom thus is not based on a literal reading of the Torah, or the rest of the Tanakh, but on the combined oral and written tradition.

The writing of the Mishnah

Prior to the time of Rabbi, Jewish Law was transmitted orally; It was forbidden to write and publish the Oral Law, as any writing would be incomplete and subject to misinterpretation and abuse. However, after great debate, this restriction was lifted when it became apparent that it was the only way to ensure that the law could be preserved. To prevent the material from being lost, Rabbi took up the redaction of the Mishna. He did not do this at his own discretion, but rather examined the tradition all the way back to the Great Assembly. Some of tractates preceded him; These he merely supplemented.

The structure of the Mishna

The Mishna consists of six orders (sedarim). This explains the traditional name for the Talmud as Shas, which is an abbreviation of shishah sedarim, "six orders". Each of the six orders contains between 7 and 12 tractates, called masechtot. Each masechet is divided into smaller units called mishnayot.(mishna - singular)

Most of the Mishnah is related stam, i.e. without any name attributed to it. This usually indicates that many sages taught so, and the halakhic ruling usually follows that view. Sometimes, however, it is the opinion of a single sage whom Rabbi Judah haNasi favored and sought to establish the ruling accordingly.

The generations of the Mishnah sages

First Generation: Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai's generation (circa 40-80 CE).
Second Generation: Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua's generation, the teachers of Rabbi Akiva.
Third Generation: The generation of Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.
Fourth Generation: The generation of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda and their colleagues.
Fifth Generation: Rabbi Judah haNasi's generation.
Sixth Generation: The interim generation between the Mishnah and the Talmud: Rabbis Shimon ben Judah HaNasi and Yehoshua ben Levi, etc.

Important Manuscripts and Editions

Oral Traditions and Pronunciation

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 Hannokh 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 entire volume 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.


Maimonides was probably the first to author a comprehensive commentary on the Mishna. He condenses the associated Talmudical debates, and offers his conclusion in a number of undecided issues.

Rabbi Samson of Sens (France) was, apart from Maimonides, one of the few rabbis of the early medieval era to compose a Mishna commentary. It is printed in many editions of the Mishna.

Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham of Bertinoro (15th century) wrote one of the most popular Mishna commentaries. While he draws on Maimonides' work, he offers more Talmudical material, making his work an occasional but useful work of reference in Talmud study.

After the Maharal of Prague had initiated organised Mishna study (Chevrath ha-Mishnayoth), his pupil Yomtov Lipman Heller wrote a commentary which resembles that of the Tosafists on the Talmud, and is therefore called Tosafoth Yom Tov. He offers brief insights into the Mishna and Bartenura's work. In many compact Mishna printings, a condensed version of his commentary, titled Ikar Tosafoth Yom Tov, is featured.

Other Acharonim who have written Mishna commentaries:

A prominent commentary from the 19th century is Tifereth Yisrael by Rabbi Yisrael Lipschutz. It is subdivided into two parts, one more general and the other more analytical, titled Yachin and Boaz respectively (after two large pillars in the Temple in Jerusalem). Lipschutz has not been completely without controversy, partially because he refers on occasion to scientific findings.

See also:

Talmud, Tosefta, Minor Tractates, Judaism

External Links: