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The Mishnah (Hebrew, "Repetition") is the core of rabbinic Judaism's religious texts. It is the first recording of the oral law of the Jewish people, as championed by the Pharisees. It was redacted by Judah haNasi around the year 200 CE. It is considered the first work of Rabbinic Judaism.

The Mishnah is noteworthy in Rabbinic literature for its depiction of a religious universe in which the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed a century earlier, still retains a central place. Laws concerning the Temple service constitute one of the Mishnah's six divisions.

Also noteworthy is the Mishnah's lack of citation of a scriptural basis for its laws. Connecting the Mishnaic law with the Torah law was a major enterprise of the later Midrash and Talmuds.

The Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded therein are called Tannaim, the plural of Tanna; Tanna is an Aramaic term for the Hebrew word shana, which also is the root-word of Mishnah. The verb shanah (שנה) 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'.

Relation between the Bible and the Mishnah

Rabinical Judaism holds that the books of the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament) have always been transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. Jews point to the text of the Torah, where many words are left undefined, and many procedures mentioned without explanation or instructions; this they argue means that the reader is assumed to be familiar with the details from other, oral, sources. This parallel set of material was originally transmitted orally, and came to be known as the oral law. However, by the time of Judah Ha-Nasi (200 CE) much of this material was edited together into the Mishnah. Over the next four centuries this law underwent discussion and debate in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in the land of Israel and Babylon), and the commentaries on the Mishnah from both of these communities eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the Talmud.

Halakha or Jewish law and custom thus is not based on a literal reading of the Torah or the rest of the Tanakh, but on the combined oral and written tradition, which includes the Tanakh, Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) and Talmud Yerushalmi (the Talmud of Jerusalem--something of a misnomer, since it was edited north of Jerusalem--also known as the Talmud of the Land of Israel or the Palestinian Talmud.)

Prior to the time of Rabbi, Jewish Law was transmitted orally; It was 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 ensure 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.

The Mishna consists of six orders (sedarim). This explains the traditional name for the Talmud as Shas, which is 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.

Most of the Mishnah is related stam, i.e. without any name attributed to it. This usually indicates that many sages taught so, and the halkahic ruling usually follows that view. Sometimes, however, it is the opinion of a single sage whom Rabbi Judah haNasi favoured and sought to establish the ruling accordingly.

The generations of the Mishnah sages

First Generation: Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai's generation (circa 40-80 CE).
Second Generation: Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua's generation, the teachers of Rabbi Akiva.
Third Generation: The generation of Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.
Fourth Generation: The generation of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda and their colleagues.
Fifth Generation: Rabbi Judah haNasi's generation.
Sixth Generation: The interim generation between the Mishnah and the Talmud: Rabbis Shimon ben Judah HaNasi and Yehoshua ben Levi, etc.

See also: Judaism, Tosefta, Talmud