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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 3.9:
What is the Mishna?

Answer:

The Hebrew verb 'shanah' 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'.

Prior to the time of Rabbi, all Jewish Law was transmitted orally; It was expressly 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 insure 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.

During this time period (around 200 CE) the Mishna, as such, was never published. Instead the main study of Jewish law was conducted in memorized form, except for private letters and notes.

The Mishna consists of six orders (sedarim). This explains the traditional name for the Talmud as 'Shas'. 'Shas' is simply an abbreviation of shishah sedarim, six orders'. Each of the six orders contains between 7 and 12 tractates, called 'masekhot'. Each masekhot is divided into smaller units called 'mishnayot'.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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