What Is Mishnah?

Text by Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields
Learn more about Listen, Pray, Think: A Journey through Mishnah Berakhot and register here!

Why is Women’s League for Conservative Judaism hosting the new program Listen, Pray, Think: A Journey through Mishnah Berakhot?

Looking for ways to immerse yourself in Jewish study and text? Women’s League for Conservative Judaism is excited to introduce a new program to enhance, enrich, and engage our Conservative Jewish Women in the 21st Century: Listen, Pray, Think: A Journey through Mishnah Berakhot, an 18-month study of the entire Tractate, or Masechet, of Mishnah Berakhot. This course will consist of ten live Zoom videoconferencing sessions taught by female scholars and rabbis, which will be recorded and posted on the Women’s League website. Materials will also be available on our website prior to each session for individual study, b’chavruta study with a partner, or as a group study with your Sisterhood. Instructors will include Rabbi Amy Levin, Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Rabbi Gail Labovitz, Rabbi Pamela Barmash and Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields. No previous study will be needed to join the Zoom calls, just prior registration. Call-in information will be sent upon registering.

Where did WLCJ come up with this idea?

After WL Reads read the book If All The Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan, which is a memoir of Kurshan’s seven-and-half year journey to study the entire Talmud one page at a time in a process called Daf Yomi, we decided that it would be great for our international WLCJ community to study a tractate of Mishnah, which is a little less daunting than an entire tractate of Talmud together: The Tractate of Berakhot, blessings, is the first Tractate found in the Mishnah, and it consists of nine chapters.

Read the full Mishnah Berakhot text here!

What is Mishnah?

The Mishnah is an edited record of the complex body of material known as the Oral Torah, which was transmitted in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Mishnah is the first major work of Rabbinic literature that describes a life of sanctification, in which the rituals of the Temple are adapted for communal participation in a world that has no Temple. The Gemara interprets and comments on the Mishnah, and together the Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud. The Mishnah contains disputes between different rabbinic sages, and includes various opinions of the different rabbis. The Mishnah is not a code of law; but, rather, a study book of law.

Who wrote the Mishnah?

Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, also known as Rabbi Judah the Prince or Yehudah HaNasi, undertook to collect and edit a study edition of these halachot (laws) so that the learning would not vanish. According to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten; therefore, Yehudah HaNasi took on the task of redacting the Mishnah.

When was the Mishnah written?

The Mishah was published at the end of the Second Century CE.

How is the Mishnah arranged?

Most of the Mishnah is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are written in Aramaic. The Mishnah consists of six orders, sedarim, singular seder, each containing 7–12 tractates, masechtot, singular masechet. There are 63 tractates in total. Each Tractate is then divided into a chapter, or perek, and then each chapter is divided into a paragraph – which can be seen as a teaching, or, more technically, a mishnah. Therefore, the whole work is sometimes called its plural, Mishnayot. The Mishnah is sometimes called ‘Shas,‘ an acronym for Shisha Sedarim – the “six orders,” though that term is more often used for the Talmud as a whole.

The six orders are:

Zeraim (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes, and agricultural laws (11 tractates);

Moed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates);

Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths, and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates);

Nezikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts, and oaths (10 tractates);

Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary laws (11 tractates);

and Tohorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of food purity, and bodily purity (12 tractates).

In each order (with the exception of Zeraim), tractates are arranged from biggest (in number of chapters) to smallest. A popular mnemonic consists of the acronym “Z’MaN NaKaT.”

We will host a live videoconference introducing the study of Talmud on Sunday, March 17, at 1:00 p.m., EST, but the recording will be made available at www.wlcj.org afterward. Every other month we will have another female rabbi and scholar teach another chapter of Mishnah Berakhot, until we finish the entire Tractate in July 2020. Read more about each individual course and register to study here!

Study guides will also be available on www.wlcj.org before each Zoom, so that members can study before each call.  If you have any questions about this incredible opportunity to study with these incredible female rabbis and scholars, and your WLCJ sisters, please contact Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields at ewolintz-fields@wlcj.org.