By the time of the Mishna, people speaking in Aramaic on a day-to-day basis. Nonetheless, R' Yehuda Hanasi wrote the Mishna in Hebrew. So were the Toseftas and the Braisos.


On the other hand, the Talmud Yerushalmi was written only a few generations later was written in Aramaic.

Why the change?

  • First, if you notice, the Mishnah is written in a Hebrew that sounds a bit Aramaic-y, and the Talmud Yerushalmi is written in an Aramaic that sounds a little bit Hebrew-y. It could mean (though not necessarily) that, although they were widely speaking Aramaic, the Aramaic they were speaking retained a lot of Hebrew influence, so it was not terribly difficult for people to learn Mishnah in Hebrew despite their Aramaic mother tongue. Second, the Mishnah was meant to be recited by heart and taught orally. Hence the emphasis on who said what. The point was to retain the Mesorah, not write new law. – Seth J Jan 12 '12 at 20:06
  • As a consequence, Rebi may have wanted to use Hebrew to make it sound more authentic, or else many of the quotations within the Mishnah may have been made generations prior and actually in Hebrew. It could be some combination of factors, including both of the above. – Seth J Jan 12 '12 at 20:08
  • Your "while the Gemara wasn't" and "Why the change" seem duplicate to your concurrent question. I suggest you combine the two questions into one. – msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 20:19
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    But here you're asking why the Mishna is in Hebrew: that was before the switch. If you really mean to ask why they switched, then that's asking why they later used Aramaic, which sounds very like the other question.... – msh210 Jan 12 '12 at 20:26
  • Shmuel, I agree with @msh210. I would like to see both questions remain open; can you reword it a bit to make them both distinctly meaningful? – Seth J Jan 12 '12 at 21:12

Aside from the excellent points that SethJ made in the comments here and to the other related question, we do find R. Yehudah Hanassi himself disparaging the use of Aramaic:

"Rebbi says: in the Land of Israel, why use Syriac [= Aramaic, see Rashi and Tosafos]? Either use the holy language, or Greek" (Sotah 49b and Bava Kamma 83a).

In the latter place, Rashi and Tosafos point out that the dialect of Aramaic spoken at the time in Eretz Yisrael was corrupt as compared to "purer" forms of it spoken elsewhere. So presumably R. Yehudah wouldn't have considered it a fit language for a major literary work.

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  • That corrupt aramaic was used to write the Talmud Yerushalmi.... – avi Jan 15 '12 at 20:21
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    @avi, of course. But perhaps if Rebbi was still around at the time, he would have urged them not to. (And anyway, you could say much the same about Yiddish, and for that matter American English, and various creole languages around the world: at one time or another they have all been derided as substandard "jargons," but then they were used to write literary works.) – Alex Jan 15 '12 at 22:29
  • Rashi and Tosefot were writing hundreds of years after the Yerushalmi was written. I think you are projecting this pure/corrupt attitude. As seen in the Talmud, Hebrew was spoken by Rebbi's maid servants while his students spoke in corrupt Aramaic. Rebbi was disparaging all Aramaic not just the "corrupt" kind. – avi Jan 16 '12 at 8:02
  • @avi, maybe you're right, but then we'd have expected him to call it לשון ארמי rather than לשון סורסי. It does sound like he objected only to the use of the local dialect of it. (Though it is interesting - maybe even ironic - that Rebbi himself elsewhere explains a word in the Torah (תכסו, Ex. 12:4) by reference to לשון סורסי.) – Alex Jan 16 '12 at 16:58
  • Come to think of it, too: we know that Hillel had come from Babylonia; even though he lived generations later, his descendant Rebbi still thought of himself as a Babylonian (see Kiddushin 71a). So it may indeed be that he indeed considered its dialect of Aramaic to be better than the one used in Eretz Yisrael. – Alex Jan 16 '12 at 17:04

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