Mishnah by the Numbers

Posted by Elisheva Malomet on

The word “Mishnah” comes from the Hebrew root ש.נ.ה (shin-nun-hey) which means “to repeat.” The preservation of our Oral Torah was a concerted effort of students memorizing the teachings of elders, thus securing wisdom for future generations. As the corpus grew, teachings were organized, often topically. The organization of the Mishnah as it stands presently is something we can count on.

So now we’ll count it out for you. There are six sedarim (seder singular) or ‘Orders’ that recount the main subjects of the corpus. Each seder contains between seven to twelve masechtot (masechet singular) that further subdivide the main focus of the seder. Every masechet then breaks down into perakim (perek singular) or ‘chapters’ There are between three and thirty perakim in each masechet. Each perek contains a selection of teachings and rabbinic statements. Each teaching can itself be referred to as a ‘mishnah’ or ‘mishnayot’ (plural). The Mishnah has 63 masechtot in total! The average number of masechtot in a seder is 10.5. Each masechta also has a special title! The masechtot in every seder (with the exception of Zeraim) are arranged from biggest to smallest in number of perakim (chapters).

This is the order of the sedarim and the number of masechtot within each.

Zeraim =11

Moed = 12

Nashim = 7

Nezikin = 10

Kodashim = 11

Taharot = 12

Since the Mishnah was studied as a written document it has been copied down by different scribes and many manuscripts have emerged. Some of the manuscripts have different iterations of chapters and statements, and sometimes even the wording is slightly different! In the standard and widespread Vilnius edition of the printed Mishnah there are 525 perakim and 4192 mishnayot.

The first masechet in Seder Taharot is Masechet Kelim and it is the largest in the whole Mishnah. Kelim has the most perkaim and mishnayot totaling 30 perakim and 254 mishnayot. The last Masechet in Seder Kedoshim is Masechet Kinnim: the smallest in the whole Mishnah! It has only three perakim and 15 mishnayot. Six other Masechetot also only have three perakim, they are Orlah (from Zeraim), Moed Kattan (from Moed), Chaggigah (from Moed), Makkot (from Nezikim), Horayot (from Nezikim), and Oktzim (from Taharot). So, if you’re looking to finish a whole masechet now you know where to start.

You can learn Mishnah, we are counting on you!

Now let’s break it down:

The Mishnah has six sedarim that contain different categories of laws pertaining to the everyday life of the postbibilcal, temple, and post-temple period. The sedarim are titled for the overarching theme they discuss.

The Mishnah begins with Seder Zeraim, or ‘Seeds,’ and includes laws and traditions regarding agriculture, including aspects of blessings, donations, and tithe rituals. Seder Moed, or ‘Holidays,’ follows and discusses the laws of Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, fast days and more. Seder Nashim, or ‘Women,’ investigates family life and provides discussions and laws regarding family life including marriage, vows, adultery, and divorce. Seder Nezikin, or ‘Damages,’ investigates cases of liability and compensation. It has more than a couple guidelines for navigating sticky interpersonal relationships with neighbors. Then Seder Kodashim, or Holies’ teaches the laws of sacrifices that occurred in the Temple, and detailing which sacrifice was brought when. Finally Seder Taharot, or ‘Purity,’ discusses the laws regarding the status of people, animals, foods, and objects in relation to ritual purity and impurity.

3, 2, 1 MISHNAH

3: There are 12 perakim that have only 3 mishnayot in them. These perakim appear in masechtot Shabbat (which has 3), Eduyot, Temurah, Keritot, Tamid (which has 2), Kelim, Ohalot, Negaim, and Zavim

2: Shabbat (in Moed), Nazir (in Nashim), and Chullin (in Kedoshim) all have perkaim that only have 2 mishnayot in them!

1: There is 1 full Mishnah! Go learn it!

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