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Primary text Codes of Jewish LawType: Text

Type: Code of Law


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The Mishnah


The Hebrew root "ShNH" means "to repeat," and refers to memorization by repetition. "Mishnah" therefore has the sense of "that which is memorized by rote," as distinct from the Rabbinic designation for the Bible: "Miqra,"that which is read and recited from a written text.

Thus, Mishnah can refer in a general way to the full tradition of the Oral Torah, as formulated by the Rabbis in the first centuries of the Common Era. These traditions could not be written down, but had to be transmitted and learned by word of mouth. This restriction was observed quite scrupulously throughout the eras of the Mishnah and Talmud.

In some contexts "Mishnah" is contrasted with "Midrash." The latter term denotes Rabbinic teachings that are attached to the text of the Bible, whereas the former term refers to teachings that are organized or formulated independently of Scipture.

In its most narrow sense, as it is employed here, "the Mishnah" refers to a specific work of Rabbinic literature that embodies the features outlined above.

The Jewish sages whose statements are quoted in the Mishnah are known as Tanna'im (singular: "Tanna"), derived from the Aramaic root related to the Hebrew "ShNH". The era in which the Mishnah was developed is therefore referred to as the "Tanna'itic" era.
The term "Tanna" was originally applied to the functionary in the later Talmudic academies whose job it was to memorize and recite the oral traditions of the Tanna'itic era, serving as a sort of "living book." By extension it came to be applied to the actual Rabbis whose opinions make up the Mishnah and its contemporary works.

With a very few exception (e.g., quotations from Aramaic legal documents), the Mishnah is composed entirely in Hebrew, in a dialect that appears to reflect the spoken vernacular of Judea.

The Mishnah was composed entirely in the Land of Israel, and all the sages quoted there, even if they resided originally in other places (Babylonia, Rome, etc.), were active in the Holy Land.

On the Talmud page, the passages from the Mishnah (for which the Talmud serves as a commentary) are introduced with the abbreviation "MTNY'," short for the Aramaic"Matnitin," "our mishnah." It is customary for the Babylonian Talmud to refer to "our Mishnah" (or: We learned), to distinguish it from other, "external," mishnahs, referred to in Aramaic as "baraita." At the beginnings of chapters or tractates no introductory formula is required, since all chapters in the Talmud must begin with a Mishnah citation.