So ‘The Mishnah,’ that grand cannon of Rabbinic reasoning. It’s likely that you’ve heard the term before if you’ve made it here (and if you haven’t then big props to you). I’d go even further to say that many people reading this post believe they have some sort of understanding of what the Mishnah is, and some probably think they’ve got a pretty good understanding. Among this circle of learners, however, we are abandoning previously held notions about what the Mishnah is, was, and has been to many people, in search of a new understanding of what that body of pithy rabbinic statements and stories can be. For those of you that haven’t learned about the Mishnah previously, you’re well positioned for this probing journey into one of the most influential, yet least talked about Jewish traditions.
Now hundreds, if not thousands of commentaries have been written on the subject matter recorded in the Mishnah, beginning famously with the Gemara (which will surely be discussed in more depth later on). Beyond this, word for word translations, glosses, and articles have been written on the Mishnah, often focusing on its composition, style, and content. Despite the work that has been done on the Mishnah, it remains a relatively unspoken relic of the Rabbinic Jewish past. Aside from a circle of academics and seventh grade Jewish day school teachers, few have given their time and energy to disseminate the teachings of the Mishnah as they stand, in concise, easy to recite formulas. My goal in the coming couple of blog posts is to open the question of the Mishnah, and highlight some of the reasons why this collection of Rabbinic wisdom is one that essentially deserves to be talked about, and not only talked about, but talked through, performed, explored, and explicated on.
From my own engagement with the Mishnah I can say I’ve gained a great deal. Having approached it through traditional methodologies, as well through a critical literary lens I’ve been able to continue shaping my understanding of Jewish history, religious wisdom, and virtuous living practices. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to share all of this with those who are interested and seeking. For those of you that hoped to emerge from this post with an all encompassing understanding of the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of the Mishnah, you’re just going to have to sit tight and keep your mind open.