—— Tannaitic ——
—— 400–600 ——
—— 650–900 ——
—— 900–1000 ——
—— 1000–1200 ——
—— Later ——
—— Torah ——
—— Nevi'im ——
—— Ketuvim ——
The Mishnah or Mishna (; Hebrew: מִשְׁנָה, "study by repetition"), from the verb shanah שנה, or "to study and review", also "secondary," is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic literature.
The Mishnah was Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are Aramaic.
The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. "web"), 63 in total, and further subdivided into chapters and paragraphs or verses.
The word Mishnah can also indicate a single paragraph or a verse of the work itself, i.e. the smallest unit of structure in the Mishnah. For this reason the whole work is sometimes called by the plural, Mishnayot.
- Omissions 1.1
- Mishnah, Gemara and Talmud 1.2
Content and purpose 2
- Oral law 2.1
- The Mishnah and the Hebrew Bible 2.2
- Authorship 3
- Acceptance 4
Mishnah studies 5
- Textual variants 5.1
- Manuscripts 5.2
- Printed editions 5.3
- Oral traditions and pronunciation 5.4
- Commentaries 5.5
- As a historical source 5.6
- Cultural references 6
- See also 7
- Notes 8
- English translations 9.1
- Historical study 9.2
- Recitation 9.3
External links 10
- Wikimedia projects 10.1
- Digitised manuscripts 10.2
- Other electronic texts 10.3
- Mishnah study and the daily Mishnah 10.4
- Audio lectures 10.5
- Oral traditions and pronunciation 10.6
The term "Mishnah" originally referred to a method of teaching by presenting topics in a systematic order, as contrasted with Midrash, which meant teaching by following the order of the Bible. The Mishnah as a written compilation accordingly orders its content by subject matter, instead of by biblical context as the Midrashim do. Likewise it includes a much broader selection of halakhic subjects, and discusses individual subjects more thoroughly, than the Midrashim.
The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. "web"), 63 in total. Each masechet is divided into chapters (peraqim, singular pereq) and then paragraphs (mishnayot, singular Mishnah). In this last context, the word mishnah means a single paragraph of the work, i.e. the smallest unit of structure, leading to the use of the plural, "Mishnayot", for the whole work.
Because of the division into six orders, 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:
- Zera'im ("Seeds"), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)
- Mo'ed ("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
- Tehorot ("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).
The Ezra the scribe dictated from memory not only the 24 books of the Tanakh but 60 esoteric books. It is not known whether this is a reference to the Mishnah, but there is a case for saying that the Mishnah does consist of 60 tractates. (The current total is 63, but Makkot was originally part of Sanhedrin, and Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia and Bava Batra may be regarded as subdivisions of a single tractate Nezikin.)
Interestingly, Reuvein Margolies (1889–1971) posited that there were originally seven orders of Mishnah, citing a Gaonic tradition on the existence of a seventh order containing the laws of Sta"m (scribal practice) and Berachot (blessings).
A number of important laws are not elaborated upon in the Mishnah. These include the laws of tzitzit, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzot, the holiday of Hanukkah, and the laws of gerim (converts). These were later discussed in the minor tractates.
Rabbi Nissim Gaon in his Hakdamah Le'mafteach Hatalmud writes that many of these laws were so well known that it was unnecessary for Rabbi Judah to discuss them. Reuvein Margolies suggests that as the Mishnah was redacted after the Bar Kochba revolt, Rabbi Judah could not have included discussion of Hanukkah which commemorates the Jewish revolt against the Syrian-Greeks (the Romans would not have tolerated this overt nationalism). Similarly, there were then several decrees in place aimed at suppressing outward signs of national identity, including decrees against wearing tefillin and tzitzit; as Conversion to Judaism was against Roman law, Rabbi Judah would not have discussed this.
David Zvi Hoffman suggests that there existed ancient texts in the form of the present day Shulchan Aruch that discussed the basic laws of day to day living and it was therefore not necessary to focus on these laws in the Mishnah.
Mishnah, Gemara and Talmud
Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah from the next four centuries, done in the land of Israel and in Babylonia, were eventually redacted and compiled as well. In themselves they are known as Gemara. The books which set out the Mishnah in its original structure, together with the associated Gemara, are known as Talmuds. Two Talmuds were compiled, Babylonian Talmud (to which the term "Talmud" normally refers) and Jerusalem Talmud. Unlike the Hebrew Mishnah, the Gemara is written primarily in Aramaic.
Content and purpose
The Mishnah teaches the oral traditions by example, presenting actual cases being brought to judgment, usually along with the debate on the matter and the judgment that was given by a notable rabbi based on the halacha, mitzvot, and spirit of the teaching ("Torah") that guided his decision. In this way, it brings to everyday reality the practice of the mitzvot as presented in the Bible, and aims to cover all aspects of human living, serve as an example for future judgments, and, most important, demonstrate pragmatic exercise of the Biblical laws, which was much needed since the time when the Second Temple was destroyed (70 CE). The Mishnah does not claim to be the development of new laws, but rather the collection of existing traditions.
The term "Mishnah" is related to the verb "shanah", to teach or repeat, and to the adjectives "sheni" and "mishneh", meaning "second". It is thus named for being both the one written authority (codex) secondary (only) to the Tanakh as a basis for the passing of judgment, a source and a tool for creating laws, and the first of many books to complement the Bible in certain aspects.
Before the publication of the Mishnah, Jewish scholarship and judgement were predominantly oral, as it was not permitted to write them down. The earliest recorded oral law may have been of the midrashic form, in which halakhic discussion is structured as exegetical commentary on the Torah. Rabbis expounded on and debated the Tanakh (Hebrew: תַּנַ"ךְ), the Hebrew Bible, without the benefit of written works (other than the Biblical books themselves), though some may have made private notes (Hebrew: מגילות סתרים, megillot setarim), for example of court decisions. The oral traditions were far from monolithic, and varied among various schools, the most famous of which were the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel.
- The National Sound Archives at the Hebrew University (catalogue not currently online).
- Tradition and Relevance - Recordings of Seder Zera'im in Syrian tradition
Oral traditions and pronunciation
- The "Master Torah" Mishnah Ba'al Peh Program by Rabbi Meir Pogrow.
- Rav Avraham Kosman – Slabodka on the Mishnah and Talmud in English – Produced in Israel
- Mishna Audio – given by Rabbi Chaim Brown in English
- Rav Grossman on the Mishna in English produced in Los Angeles
- Download all 6 tractates of Mishnah for Free on TorahDownloads.com
- Aaron Ahrend, "Mishna Study and Study Groups in Modern Times" in JSIJ 3: 2004 (Hebrew). Available online here (Word & PDF).
- Mishna Yomit – One Mishnah per day. (Note: this study-cycle follows a different schedule than the regular one; contains extensive archives in English).
- Mishnah Yomit – MishnahYomit.com hosts a weekly publication complementing the learning of people studying the regular program. It include articles, review questions and learning aids.
- Kehati Mishna at the Wayback Machine (archived June 25, 2003) a program of two Mishnayot per day. Currently inactive, but archives contain the complete text of Kehati in English for Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, and about half of Kodashim.
- Dafyomireview – custom learning and review programs for Mishnah.
- MishnaSdura – Popular edition of Hebrew text (with vowels), used in many schools, formatted to encourage review and aid memory. Tables summarizing content. Mishna songs and recordings. Wiki article in Hebrew Mishna Sdura
- Perek HaYomi – in Hebrew. Host to Shiurim, and learning and review according to the Perek HaYomi in Mishna instituted by the Maharal.
- 2 Mishnas A Day – A program of learning two mishnayos every day. Site include Hebrew and English together with a link for audio for each day.
Mishnah study and the daily Mishnah
- Learn Mishna in Someone's Memory – Create a Shloshim Mishnah list online
- Mechon Mamre – Hebrew text of the Mishnah according to Maimonides' version (based on the manuscript of his Mishnah commentary in his own handwriting).
- The Structured Mishnah – Hebrew text according to the Albeck edition (without vowels) with special formatting.
- Online Treasury of Talmudic Manuscripts, Jewish National and University Library in Hebrew.
- Codex Kaufmann of the Mishnah High resolution images of this important textual witness.
- emishnah English Translation & Commentary.
Other electronic texts
- Complete Mishnah manuscript (15th century CE), Cambridge Digital Library
- Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
- Works related to Mishnah at Wikisource
- Hebrew Wikisource has original text related to this article: משנה
- Wikisource's Open Mishna Project is developing Mishnah texts, commentaries, and translations. The project is currently available in four languages: Hebrew (the largest collection), English, French and Portuguese.
- Frank Alvarez-Pereyre, La Transmission Orale de la Mishna. Une methode d'analyse appliquee a la tradition d'Alep: Jerusalem 1990
- Shalom Carmy (Ed.) Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations Jason Aronson, Inc.
- Shaye J.D. Cohen, "Patriarchs and Scholarchs", Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 48 (1981), pp. 57–87
- Steven D. Fraade, "The Early Rabbinic Sage," in The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. John G. Gammie and Leo G. Perdue (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), pp. 417–23
- Robert Goldenberg The Sabbath-Law of Rabbi Meir (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1978)
- John W McGinley 'The Written' as the Vocation of Conceiving Jewishly ISBN 0-595-40488-X
- Jacob Neusner Making the Classics in Judaism (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), pp. 1–13 and 19–44
- Jacob Neusner Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 14–22.
- Gary Porton, The Traditions of Rabbi Ishmael (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1982), vol. 4, pp. 212–25
- Dov Zlotnick, The Iron Pillar Mishnah (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1988), pp. 8–9
- Reuvain Margolies, Yesod Ha-Mishnah V'Arichatah (Heb.)
- David Tzvi Hoffman, Mishnah Rishonah U'flugta D'tanna'e (Heb)
- Hanokh Yalon, Mavo le-nikud ha-Mishnah [Introduction to the vocalization of the Mishnah] (Jerusalem 1964) (Heb)
- Robert Brody, Mishna and Tosefta Studies (Jerusalem 2014)
- Philip Blackman. Mishnayoth. The Judaica Press, Ltd., 2000 (ISBN 0-910818-00-X). Online PDF at HebrewBooks: Zeraim, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Tehorot.
- Herbert Danby. The Mishnah. Oxford, 1933 (ISBN 0-19-815402-X).
- Jacob Neusner. The Mishnah: A New Translation. New Haven, reprint 1991 (ISBN 0-300-05022-4).
- Various editors. The Mishnah, a new translation with commentary Yad Avraham. New York: Mesorah publishers, since the 1980s.
- [Yoseph Milstein + Various editors.] The Mishnah, a new integrated translation and commentary based on Rabbeinu Ovadiah M'Bartenurah, Machon Yisrael Trust, available online at eMishnah.com.
- Mishnah is also called Deuterosis, which means "repetition" in Ancient Greek.
- The list of joyful days known as Megillat Taanit is older, but according to the Talmud it is no longer in force.
- "Commentary on Tractate Avot with an Introduction (Shemona perakim)".
- Ronald L. Eisenberg, "Rabbinic Literature," in The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004), pp. 499–500.
- Yesod Hamishna Va'arichatah pp. 25–28 ( PDF)
- Babylonian Talmud, Temurah 14b; Gittin 60a.
- See, Strack, Hermann, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Jewish Publication Society, 1945. pp. 11–12. "[The Oral Law] was handed down by word of mouth during a long period. ... The first attempts to write down the traditional matter, there is reason to believe, date from the first half of the second post-Christian century." Strack theorizes that the growth of a Christian canon (the New Testament) was a factor that influenced the Rabbis to record the oral law in writing.
- The theory that the destruction of the Temple and subsequent upheaval led to the committing of Oral Law into writing was first explained in the Epistle of Sherira Gaon and often repeated. See, for example, Grayzel, A History of the Jews, Penguin Books, 1984, p. 193.
- Though as shown below, there is some disagreement about whether the Mishnah was originally put in writing.
- Outhwaite, Ben. "Mishnah". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- The plural term (singular tanna) for the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah; from the Aramaic root tanna (תנא) equivalent for the Hebrew root shanah (שנה), as in Mishnah.
- Abraham ben David calculated the date 189 CE. Seder Ha-Kabbalah Leharavad, Jerusalem 1971, p.16 (Hebrew)
- According to the Epistle (Iggeret) of Sherira Gaon.
- This theory was held by David Zvi Hoffman, and is repeated in the introduction to Herbert Danby's Mishnah translation.
- Shelomo Morag, The Samaritan and Yemenite Tradition of Hebrew (published in: The Traditions of Hebrew and Aramaic of the Jews of Yemen - ed. Yosef Tobi), Tel-Aviv 2001, p. 183 (note 12)
- Daat.ac.il Maimonides' introduction (Hebrew)
- Some scholars hold that there has been extensive editorial reshaping of the stories and statements within the Mishnah (and later, in the Talmud.) Lacking outside confirming texts, they hold that we cannot confirm the origin or date of most statements and laws, and that we can say little for certain about their authorship. In this view, the questions above are impossible to answer. See, for example, the works of Louis Jacobs, Baruch M. Bokser, Shaye J. D. Cohen, Steven D. Fraade.
- Some scholars hold that the Mishnah and Talmud have been extensively shaped by later editorial redaction, but that it contains sources which we can identify and describe with some level of reliability. In this view, sources can be identified to some extent because each era of history and each distinct geographical region has its own unique feature, which one can trace and analyze. Thus, the questions above may be analyzed. See, for example, the works of Goodblatt, Lee Levine, David C. Kraemer and Robert Goldenberg.
- Some scholars hold that many or most of the statements and events described in the Mishnah and Talmud usually occurred more or less as described, and that they can be used as serious sources of historical study. In this view, historians do their best to tease out later editorial additions (itself a very difficult task) and skeptically view accounts of miracles, leaving behind a reliable historical text. See, for example, the works of Saul Lieberman, David Weiss Halivni, Avraham Goldberg and Dov Zlotnick.
Many modern historical scholars have focused on the timing and the formation of the Mishnah. A vital question is whether it is composed of sources which date from its editor's lifetime, and to what extent is it composed of earlier, or later sources. Are Mishnaic disputes distinguishable along theological or communal lines, and in what ways do different sections derive from different schools of thought within early Judaism? Can these early sources be identified, and if so, how? In response to these questions, modern scholars have adopted a number of different approaches.
Both the Mishnah and Talmud contain little serious biographical studies of the people discussed therein, and the same tractate will conflate the points of view of many different people. Yet, sketchy biographies of the Mishnaic sages can often be constructed with historical detail from Talmudic and Midrashic sources.
As a historical source
- The two main commentaries on the Mishnah are the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. Neither work covers the whole Mishnah, but each work is on about 50–70% of the text. The reason that the Talmud is not usually viewed as a commentary on the Mishnah, is because it also has many other goals, and can get involved in long tangential discussions. However, the main purpose of the Talmud is as a commentary on the Mishnah.
- In 1168, Maimonides (Rambam) published a comprehensive commentary on the Mishnah. It was written in transliterated Judeo-Arabic (using Hebrew letters) and was one of the first commentaries of its kind. In it, Rambam condensed the associated Talmudical debates, and offered his conclusions in a number of undecided issues. Of particular significance are the various introductory sections – as well as the introduction to the work itself – these are widely quoted in other works on the Mishnah, and on the Oral law in general. Perhaps the most famous is his introduction to the tenth chapter of tractate Sanhedrin where he enumerates the thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism.
- Rabbi Samson of Sens (France) was, apart from Maimonides, one of the few rabbis of the early medieval era to compose a Mishnah commentary on some tractates. It is printed in many editions of the Mishnah. It is interwoven with his commentary on major parts of the Tosefta.
- The Rosh's commentary on some tractates
- The Meiri's commentary on most of the Mishnah
- Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham of Bertinoro (15th century) wrote one of the most popular Mishnah commentaries. He draws on Maimonides' work but also offers Talmudical material (in effect a summary of the Talmudic discussion) largely following the commentary of Rashi. In addition to its role as a commentary on the Mishnah, this work is often referenced by students of Talmud as a review-text, and is often referred to as "the Bartenura" or "the Ra'V".
- Yomtov Lipman Heller wrote a commentary called Tosafot Yom Tov. In the introduction Heller says that his aim is to make additions (tosafoth) to Bertinoro’s commentary. The glosses are sometimes quite detailed and analytic. That is why it is sometimes compared to the Tosafot – discussions of Babylonian gemara by French and German scholars of the 12th–13th centuries. In many compact Mishnah printings, a condensed version of his commentary, titled Ikar Tosafot Yom Tov, is featured.
Other Acharonim who have written Mishnah commentaries:
- The Melechet Shlomo (Rav Shelomo Adeni - early 17th century)
- The Vilna Gaon (Shenot Eliyahu on parts of the Mishnah, and glosses Eliyaho Rabba, Chidushei HaGra, Meoros HaGra)
- Rabbi Akiva Eiger (glosses, rather than a commentary)
- The Mishnah Rishonah on Zeraim and the Mishnah Acharonah on Tehorot (Rav Efrayim Yitzchok from Premishla)
- The Sidrei Tehorot on Kelim and Ohalot (the commentary on the rest of Tehorot and on Eduyot is lost) by Gershon Henoch Leiner, the Radziner Rebbe
- The Gulot Iliyot (Rav Dov Ber Lifshitz) on Mikvaot
- The Ahavat Eitan by Rav Avrohom Abba Krenitz (the great grandfather of Rav Malkiel Kotler)
- The Chazon Ish on Zeraim and Tehorot
- A prominent commentary from the 19th century is Tiferet Yisrael by Rabbi Israel Lipschitz. It is subdivided into two parts, one more general and the other more analytical, titled Yachin and Boaz respectively (after two large pillars in the Temple in Jerusalem). Although Rabbi Lipschutz has faced some controversy in certain Hasidic circles, he was greatly respected by such sages as Rabbi Akiva Eiger, whom he frequently cites, and is widely accepted in the Yeshiva world. The Tiferet Yaakov is an important gloss on the Tiferet Yisrael.
- Symcha Petrushka's commentary was written in Yiddish in 1946 (published in Montreal). Its vocalization is supposed to be of high quality.
- The commentary by Rabbi Pinhas Kehati, which is written in Modern Israeli Hebrew and based on classical and contemporary works, has become popular in the late 20th century. The commentary is designed to make the Mishnah accessible to a wide readership. Each tractate is introduced with an overview of its contents, including historical and legal background material, and each Mishnah is prefaced by a thematic introduction. The current version of this edition is printed with the Bartenura commentary as well as Kehati's.
- The encyclopedic editions put out by Mishnat Rav Aharon (Beis Medrosho Govoah, Lakewood) on Sheviit, Challah, and Yadayim.
- The above-mentioned edition edited by Hanokh Albeck and vocalized by Hanokh Yellin (1952–59) includes the former's extensive commentary on each Mishnah, as well as introductions to each tractate (Masekhet) and order (Seder). This commentary tends to focus on the meaning of the mishnayot themselves, without as much reliance on the Gemara's interpretation and is, therefore, considered valuable as a tool for the study of Mishnah as an independent work.
- Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ginsburg wrote a commentary on ethical issues, Musar HaMishnah. The commentary appears for the entire text except for Tehorot and Kodashim.
- Shmuel Safrai, Chana Safrai and Ze'ev Safrai have half completed a 45 volume socio-historic commentary "Mishnat Eretz Yisrael".
Two institutes at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have collected major oral archives which hold (among other things) extensive recordings of Jews chanting the Mishnah using a variety of melodies and many different kinds of pronunciation. These institutes are the Jewish Oral Traditions Research Center and the National Voice Archives (the Phonoteca at the Jewish National and University Library). See below for external links.
Most vowelized editions of the Mishnah today reflect standard Ashkenazic vowelization, and often contain mistakes. The Albeck edition of the Mishnah was vowelized by Hanokh Yalon, who made careful eclectic use of both medieval manuscripts and current oral traditions of pronunciation from Jewish communities all over the world. The Albeck edition includes an introduction by Yalon detailing his eclectic method.
The Mishnah was and still is traditionally studied through recitation (out loud). Many medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah are vowelized, and some of these contain partial Tiberian cantillation. Jewish communities around the world preserved local melodies for chanting the Mishnah, and distinctive ways of pronouncing its words.
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Oral traditions and pronunciation
The nearest approach to a critical edition is that of Hanoch Albeck. There is also an edition by Yosef Qafiḥ of the Mishnah together with the commentary of Maimonides, which compares the base text used by Maimonides with the Napoli and Vilna editions and other sources.
As well as being printed on its own, the Mishnah is included in all editions of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. Each paragraph is printed on its own, and followed by the relevant Gemara discussion. However, that discussion itself often cites the Mishnah line by line. While the text printed in paragraph form has generally been standardized to follow the Vilna edition, the text cited line by line often preserves important variants, which sometimes reflect the readings of older manuscripts.
The first printed edition of the Mishnah was published in Naples. There have been many subsequent editions, including the late 19th century Vilna edition, which is the basis of the editions now used by the religious public.
Robert Brody, in his Mishna and Tosefta Studies (Jerusalem 2014), warns against over-simplifying the picture by assuming that the Mishnah-only tradition is always the more authentic, or that it represents a "Palestinian" as against a "Babylonian" tradition. Manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza, or citations in other works, may support either type of reading or other readings altogether.
Very roughly, there are two traditions of Mishnah text. One is found in manuscripts and printed editions of the Mishnah on its own, or as part of the Jerusalem Talmud. The other is found in manuscripts and editions of the Babylonian Talmud; though there is sometimes a difference between the text of a whole paragraph printed at the beginning of a discussion (which may be edited to conform with the text of the Mishnah-only editions) and the line-by-line citations in the course of the discussion.
Some Jews did not accept the written codification of the oral law at all; known as Karaites, they comprised a significant portion of the world Jewish population in the 10th and 11th centuries CE, and remain extant, although they currently number in the thousands.
Authorities are divided on whether Rabbi recorded the Mishnah in writing or established it as an oral text for memorisation. The most important early account of its composition, the Epistle of Sherira Gaon, is ambiguous on the point, though the "Spanish" recension leans to the theory that the Mishnah was written. However, the Talmud records that, in every study session, there was a person called the tanna appointed to recite the Mishnah passage under discussion. This may indicate that, even if the Mishnah was reduced to writing, it was not available on general distribution.
There are also references to the "Mishnah of Rabbi Akiva", suggesting a still earlier collection; on the other hand, these references may simply mean his teachings in general. Another possibility is that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir established the divisions and order of subjects in the Mishnah, making them the authors of a school curriculum rather than of a book.
The Talmud records a tradition that unattributed statements of the law represent the views of Rabbi Meir (Sanhedrin 86a), which supports the theory (recorded by Sherira Gaon in his famous Iggeret) that he was the author of an earlier collection. For this reason, the few passages that actually say "this is the view of Rabbi Meir" represent cases where the author intended to present Rabbi Meir's view as a "minority opinion" not representing the accepted law.
As Yehuda haNasi went through the tractates, the Mishnah was set forth, but throughout his life some parts were updated as new information came to light. Because of the proliferation of earlier versions, it was deemed too hard to retract anything already released, and therefore a second version of certain laws were released. The Talmud refers to these differing versions as Mishnah Rishonah ("First Mishnah") and Mishnah Acharonah ("Last Mishnah"). David Zvi Hoffman suggests that Mishnah Rishonah actually refers to texts from earlier Sages upon which Rabbi based his Mishnah.
Most of the Mishnah is related without attribution (stam). This usually indicates that many sages taught so, or that Yehudah HaNasi (often called simply "Rabbi") ruled so. The halakhic ruling usually follows that view. Sometimes, however, it appears to be the opinion of a single sage, and the view of the sages collectively (Hebrew: חכמים, hachamim) is given separately.
The rabbis who contributed to the Mishnah are known as the Tannaim, of whom approximately 120 are known. The period during which the Mishnah was assembled spanned about 130 years, or five generations, in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. Yehudah haNasi is credited with the final redaction and publication of the Mishnah, though there have been a few additions since his time: those passages that cite him or his grandson, Rabbi Yehuda Nesi'ah, and the end of Tractate Sotah, which refers to the period after Rabbi's death. One must also note that in addition to redacting the Mishnah, Rabbi and his court also ruled on which opinions should be followed, though the rulings do not always appear in the text.
The Mishnah also quotes the Torah for principles not associated with law, but just as practical advice, even at times for humor or as guidance for understanding historical debates.
While most discussions in the Mishnah concern the correct way to carry out laws recorded in the Torah, it usually presents its conclusions without explicitly linking them to any scriptural passage, though scriptural quotations do occur. For this reason it is arranged in order of topics rather than in the form of a Biblical commentary. (In a very few cases, there is no scriptural source at all and the law is described as Halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, law to Moses from Sinai.) The Midrash halakha, by contrast, while presenting similar laws, does so in the form of a Biblical commentary and explicitly links its conclusions to details in the Biblical text. These Midrashim often predate the Mishnah.
According to Rabbinical Judaism, the Oral Torah (Hebrew: תורה שבעל-פה, Torah she-be'al-peh) was given to Moses with the Torah at Mount Sinai, as an exposition to the latter. The accumulated traditions of the Oral Law, expounded by scholars in each generation from Moses onward, is considered as the necessary basis for the interpretation, and often for the reading, of the Written Law. Jews sometimes refer to this as the Masorah (Hebrew: מסורה), roughly translated as tradition, though that word is often used in a narrower sense to mean traditions concerning the editing and reading of the Biblical text (see Masorah). The resulting Jewish law and custom is called halakha (Hebrew: הלכה).
The Mishnah and the Hebrew Bible
Over time, different traditions of the Oral Law came into being, raising problems of interpretation. According to the Mevo Hatalmud many rulings were given in a specific context, but would be taken out of it; or a ruling was revisited but the second ruling would not become popularly known. To correct this, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi took up the redaction of the Mishnah. If a point was of no conflict, he kept its language; where there was conflict, he reordered the opinions and ruled; and he clarified where context was not given. The idea was not to use his own discretion, but rather to examine the tradition as far back as he could, and only supplement as required.