Mishnah

A description of Judaism's primary book of Jewish legal theory.

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This is because the Mishnah is not a code of Jewish law; it is a study book of law. As the Mishnah itself describes, in a rare self-reflective comment: Why are the opinions of the minority included with the opinions of the majority even though the law is not like them? So that a later court can examine their words and rely upon them? (Mishnah Eduyot 1:3). While one could determine law based upon the Mishnah, its intention was to train the sages in thinking through the legal issues that inform the halakhah.

In editing the Mishnah, Rabbi Judah the Patriarch worked with a variety of materials. Some halakhot of the Tannaim, the sages from the time of the Mishnah, had been transmitted to him organized around a particular sage, some around particular verses, and others according to certain formal characteristics. Signs of these pre-existing collections are still apparent in the Mishnah. On the other hand, it is also clear that Rabbi was not simply a collector. He selected his sources from a larger pool of available material, and he modified his sources, combining and editing materials to facilitate memorization and to clarify the points of dispute between the different sages.

The Mishnah is divided into six orders; each order is divided into tractates; each tractate is divided into chapters, and each chapter has a number of halakhot.  This structure became the template for all of subsequent Talmudic literature. The first document to follow the Mishnah's structure was the Tosefta (supplement), which included many of the materials that Rabbi left out. Collectively, the Tosefta, as well as materials in works of Midrash (Scripture interpretation), and materials preserved orally until their appearance in the Talmud are called Baraitot (excluded materials). The terms Tosefta and Baraitot, which implicitly refer to the Mishnah, serve to emphasize the significance and centrality of the Mishnah in Jewish culture.

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