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I get the impression from learning about Yoshiyahu HaMelech that the country as a whole almost entirely forgot about the Torah altogether in the previous generations, until he discovered the Sefer Torah and reinstituted keeping the Torah and serving Hashem. Is this correct, or am I misunderstanding? If so, how was Torah she be al peh transmitted from before these generations as Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi didn't write down the Mishna until a few hundred years later? Were there a core of people who continued to learn it? Was a lot lost? Do we know?

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    Imagine that "core of people" would have been the neviim as recorded in the Rambam's intro to the Mishna Torah - sefaria.org.il/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Transmission_of_the_Oral_Law.6 - so since Yirmiyahu intersected with Yoshiyahu, we go backwards in time to Tzefania then Nachum, etc.
    – EraserX
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 15:02
  • @EraserX I should have thought of that! It doesn't entirely answer the whole thing though, but I should probably ask a separate question on how much of the oral law we lost down the chain of transmission before it was codified at various points Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 15:13
  • If anything it was the opposite. That generation primarily relied on Torah S’Baal Peh because Menashe had destroyed almost every extant Sefer Torah in the part of Eretz Yisroel that he ruled over.
    – Schmerel
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 21:34
  • @Schmerel is there a source for that - I thought there was general ignorance and idol worship? Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 22:00
  • . During the first thousand years of Jewish history Torah was almost completely learned orally with written books rarely consulted. How and why would Menashe destroying Sifrei Torah have any impact on that? Idol worship there was like any other Yetzer Hora or averos done.
    – Schmerel
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 22:13

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No, there was always a very special core, and not much was lost. It's all brought in sefer Avodat haKodesch by Ibn Gabbai, the entire transmission and in particular the oral and mystical.

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