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What is the Mishnah?

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Definition:

The Mishnah is the first written recording of the Oral Torah of the Jewish people.

Before the Mishnah - Oral Tradition

Before the Mishnah was compiled, Judaism consisted of the written Torah and an oral tradition which clarified the written Torah. Both the written and oral tradition were believed to have been given to Moses by God.

The Mishnah

Around the year 200 CE, following the loss of many Jewish teachers in the failed Great Revolt and Bar-Kokhba rebellion, Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi decided to secure Judaism's Oral Law by codifying it into 63 tractates called the Mishnah. The Mishnah is considered the first work of Rabbinic Judaism. The rabbis whose views are cited in the Mishnah are known as Tanna'im (teachers).

The Mishnah consists of six sedarim (orders), which each contain 7-12 masechtot (tractates), which are each divided into mishnayot (verses).

The Six Orders of the Mishnah (Shisha Sidrei Mishnah):
  1. Zeraim (Seeds)
    agricultural laws and prayers
  2. Moed (Festival)
    Jewish holidays and Sabbath
  3. Nashim (Women)
    marriage and divorce
  4. Nezikin (Damages)
    civil and criminal law
  5. Kodashim (Holy Things)
    sacrificial rites, the Temple, dietary laws
  6. Tohorot (Purities)
    laws of purity and impurity
After the Mishnah - The Talmud

Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah between 200-500 CE were compiled as the Gemara. While the term Gemara refers to the rabbinic discussions about the Mishah, the Talmud contains both the Mishnah law and its associated Gemara commentary. Today, however, the terms Gemara and Talmud are generally used interchangeably.

Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) was edited in approximately 400 CE by rabbis living in Palestine. More than a century later, leading Babylonian rabbis compiled their discussions on the Mishnah into Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud). Since Talmud Bavli was more extensive, it became the more popularly used source and known as "the Talmud."

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