You may wonder if the Mishnah is as important as the text of the Torah. Indeed, it has a similar degree of authority. The written Torah comprises the first five volumes of the Hebrew Bible, the prophecy of Moses. On the other hand, the Mishnah is the chronicle of Moses’ oral teachings and serves as a framework for the Torah. Thus, the oral Torah precedes the written Torah. The written Torah is a creation for you to learn the oral Torah without prophecy.
Ideally, you should familiarize yourself deeply with the Mishnah in institutions with competent teachers like Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah / The Society for Mishnah Study. In this way, you will learn that there is no passage in the Mishnah that does not advocate a single point of view. Every seemingly contradictory position is a debate over a different interpretation of the rules in a particular situation.
1. The Torah
The name Torah means “instruction” and implies some instruction for life. However, when Jews speak of the “Torah,” they usually mean the five books of Moses, which form the cornerstone of all Jewish education and instruction. They can also be referred to as Chumash, meaning “five,” similar to the not-so-Jewish and older term Pentateuch, derived from the Greek word Penta, meaning “five.”
When someone speaks of a “Torah,” they usually mean a scroll containing the five books of Moses that are kept in the synagogue and brought out for readings during prayers. The Five Books of Moses are one part of a set of texts known as the Torah or Tanakh.
Tanakh is an abbreviation for the following words:
- Torah: Five Books of Moses (Chumash) – as mentioned earlier.
- Prophets (Nevi’im)
- Ketuvim includes writings such as Lamentations, Proverbs, or Psalms.
Nevertheless, there is a difference.
Even though all the books of the Torah are holy works, the Chumash occupies a special place. Moses created the Chumash, which occupies a special place in the pantheon of heavenly works. The truth of Moses’ prophecy relies on a profound national experience – an event at Mount Sinai where the entire population experienced God speaking to them.
Before this, the Israelites could not know with certainty that what Moses communicated to them came directly from God. Apart from his divine intervention, they had no objective evidence – but what do miraculous events point to? Only to the ability to do supernatural things; they do not evidence that God communicated with you or anyone else. As a result, many do not put aside their reservations until they see and hear it firsthand.
2. The Mishnah
The Mishnah is a work written towards the end of the second century CE. It is also a revised version of the extensive collection of information known as the Oral Torah, which was handed down after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, or Rabbi Judah the Prince, took responsibility for compiling and editing a scholarly version of these halachot (rules) to preserve information. Although the Temple was destroyed 130 years before publication, the Temple nevertheless remains in the world depicted by the Mishnah, and the rules that governed it are also formulated as current.
While the Talmud, i.e., a compilation of Gemara and Mishnah that examines and reflects the Mishnah, recounts the Bar Kochba revolt and the Roman victory, the Mishnah alone lacks the events of the Roman conquest of Israel. The Mishnah outlines a sanctified life where the Temple rites are modified to incorporate the community into society without a Temple, a society impervious to trials and tribulations.
The Anatomy Of The Mishnah
The Mishnah is divided into six orders, which are divided into tractates. From there, they are divided into chapters, each containing a specific number of halachot. This framework served as a model for all later Talmudic writings. The supplement (Tosefta), which includes many of the points omitted by Rabbi Judah, was the first work to conform to the format of the Mishnah. Until the appearance of the Talmud, articles in writings on biblical interpretation (midrash) and orally transmitted contents were Baraitot (excluded sources). Baraitot and Tosefta allude to the Mishnah to emphasize its importance and relevance in Jewish culture.
The Mishnah And The Torah: Differences
The word “Torah” is used in rabbinic Judaism to refer to all unwritten and written rules and customs. In the context of the entire Tanakh, “Torah” refers to the textual revelations contributed by the prophets, Moses, and the Writings. On the other hand, Mishnah refers to a body of teaching that probably originated with Moses and was transmitted orally through the rabbis and Joshua to the present.
These orally transmitted teachings were later translated into written form and are considered the Mishnah. The Mishnah, together with the Gemara, form the Talmud. You could argue that Orthodox and Rabbinic Judaism are more closely associated with the Talmud than with the Torah and the Tanakh.
That said, you cannot overlook institutions’ role in helping you learn more about Mishnah. Do your research and find an ideal teacher or institution that matches what piques your interest.