Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be patient in justice, raise many disciples and make a fence around the Torah.” Avot 1:1

I'm aware of the fact that the Mishnaic tractates had originally no order, but they were eventually structured into SHAS as we know it today. I'd expect this Mishnah to be the opening sentence of the whole work as it explains the origin and the authority of the whole Mishnah. Yet it is buried amidst Sanhedrin.

In addition, I don't see a prohibition of duplicating this Mishna, so it could appear both at the beginning of Berachot AND Avot to assert that both Halachah and ethics were given at Sinai.

Why isn't this Mishna used as the introduction to the whole Oral Torah?

  • 2
    I would think because the mishnah is a book of laws not a history book (similar to the Torah). If anything the question is why does this mishnah in avos even exist.
    – robev
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 8:30
  • 2
    Ovadiah Bartenura says: "Since this tractate is not...like the rest of the tractates which are in the Mishna, but is rather wholly morals and principles, and whereas the sages of the (other) nations of the world have also composed books according to the fabrication of their hearts, concerning moral paths, how a person should behave with his fellow; therefore, in this tractate the tanna began "Moshe received Torah from Sinai," to tell you that the principles and morals which are in this tractate were not fabricated by the hearts of the Mishna’s sages; rather, they too were stated at Sinai."
    – Yosef
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 10:30
  • Cf rabenu yona.
    – kouty
    Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 4:02

1 Answer 1


It could not have reasonably been cut from Avot, since the purpose, in context, is to establish the chain of masorah. Each of the following Mishnayot follow with other leaders of the generation who received from them. It indeed adds extra meaning to Avot over other tractates.

As to why this did not start all of Oral Law in the Mishnah, different authors have different motivations. Had you authored or redacted the Mishnayot, you would have found this a compelling reason and either started with Avot or would have tacked this Mishnah on to the beginning of Berachot. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi apparently had other motivations.

For instance, the halachic day begins at night, so by discussing the time for Kriyat Shema of the night, we begin with the first available mitzvah of the day. Or, accepting the Yoke of Heaven, Ol Malchut Shamayim, is an essential aspect of Judaism, and so it is appropriate to begin there.

Rashi on Bereishit cites a similar question with regard to why the Torah Shebichtav begins with Bereishit and not with the first law commanded to the Israelites, Hachodesh Hazeh Lachem. There is an answer given there, but from the question, we can see that starting with some initial law is a good way to start.

  • Thank you. First, your second paragraph refers only to the first couple of Mishnayos, the rest is mixed. No line of transmission is seen in Avos, each Rabbi put forward his own ideas/ethics. Second, this is the only rough claim of the transmission, and it is only connected with ethics and not regular Halachic Mishnayos. All you say on this point is that "Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi apparently had other motivations." I don't think it suffices as an answer.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:17
  • @AlBerko what do you mean by "first couple"? Does couple == 2? Then how does e.g. Mishna 6 contain יהושע בן פרחיה ונתאי הארבלי קבלו מהם, that thus Zug received from them? Or Mishna 8 contain יהודה בן טבאי ושמעון בן שטח קבלו מהם., that this Zug received from them? Or Mishna 10 read שמעיה ואבטליון קבלו מהם, that this Zug received from them? It isn't mixed. It introduces a Zug and then positions from that Zug, throughout the entire first perek. Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:31
  • Meanwhile, in terms of ""Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi apparently had other motivations", yes, that is an answer, which is really that this isn't a real QUESTION in the first place. This question, like others of yours, are of the form "I think they should have done/said X, and they didn't, instead doing Y, so why didn't they adopt my specific idea". The answer for all of them is that this idea you came up with is not necessarily the only idea in the universe. Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:37
  • Well, right, not two or ten, but only in the beginning.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:52
  • To correct your view on my questions: I propose an idea that seems more plausible, logical, or common first and then ask why a specific verse deviates from this logic. This line of thinking perfectly mimics all known Biblical and Talmudic interpreters. In fact, nobody forces you to post an answer, but if you do, please address the question. Merely stating that that was R"Y's idea is not enough for an answer imho.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Mar 31, 2021 at 22:55

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