The Mishnah

What is the Mishnah in Judaism?

The Talmud comprises two elements, the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the oral law as it was known up to the end of the second century A.D. The Gemara is the interpretation of the oral law which the scholars of Babylon and of Jerusalem produced between the beginning of the third century A.D. and the end of the fifth century.

The Mishnah was an early form of the Jewish oral law or tradition. It was gradually compiled into written form between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. This oral law became known as the "fence" or "hedge" (Hebrew, gdr) around the written law. The Jews developed this complex system of oral laws as a safeguard to make certain the strict observance to the written law and thus to prevent future punishment and exile at the hands of their enemies for failure to keep God's commandments. The Pharisees were the great observers of the oral tradition.

The Mishnah, in Judaism, was a codified collection of Oral Law—legal interpretations of portions of the Biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and other legal material. Together with the Gemara, or Amoraic commentary on the Mishnah, it comprises the Talmud. Next to the Scriptures the Mishna is the basic textbook of Jewish life and thought, and is traditionally considered to be an integral part of the Torah revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The sifting and recording of the body of oral interpretations of Biblical law was the work of the Tannaim, the final compilation being made during the rule of Judah ha-Nasi. The Mishnah is divided into six Orders:

The Tractates of the Mishnah

The Pharisaic rabbis spent much time making oral comments on the Law. Those made in the first two centuries AD were compiled by Judah Hanasi about AD 200 to form the important collection known as the Mishnah. These rabbis were known as the 'Tannaim' (Teachers) and were chiefly concerned with decisions about regulations. A less important collection of their comments is known as the 'Tosefta' (enlargement).

The later expositions on the Mishnah by the 'Amoraim' (Expositors ) of Palestine and of Babylonia were known collectively as the Gemara (Completion). The combined text of the Mishnah and the related Gemara is known as the Talmud. These Pharisaic traditions form the basis of orthodox Judaism today.

Sermons commenting on the scriptures, known as 'Midrashim' were also compiled. The earlier Tannaitic Midrashim were mainly concerned with regulations They included commentaries on Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The later Amoraic Midrashim include much folklore and legendary materials. The greatest collection, the 'Midrash Rabbah' was not compiled until the sixth or seventh century AD. It includes commentaries on both the five books of the Law (the Pentateuch) and the five 'scrolls' of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther.