The gemoro often reconciles the argument of a mishnah with other evidence by saying חסורי מיחסרא והכי קתני - there is something missing from the mishnah and this is how you must learn it. See for example Shabbos 37a at the top.

How do we understand this idea of something missing from the mishnah?

Could it mean

(a) “the mishnah is taught in a short form to make it easy to remember and if you examine it, it is obvious that something is lacking” or

(b) the mishnah is actually lacking a bit

or (c) some other explanation?

  • 3
    (a)sub1, the Gemara has a Mesorah of what was left out; (a)sub2, what was left out was lost, but the Gemara is deducing logically what that must have been; (b)sub1, The Gemara is now adding something that someone had as Mesorah; (b)sub2, the Gemara is deducing logically what the missing piece must have been
    – Seth J
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 14:28
  • here is a great article, highly recommend it, it goes through all the shittos of what chasurei michsara is, I skimmed the entire article, but have only just started reading it so no summary, asif.co.il/download/asif%202/asif%202%206/1%20(26).pdf Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 18:46

4 Answers 4

  1. The Meiri writes in his introduction to Avot that this is an example of the Ammoraim disagreeing with the Tannaim which they would occasionally do if the Sages of the generation agreed. So that would be option (c):

ועם כל זה נתמעטו הלבבות מרוב הצרות והוצרכו האחרונים לחבר אחריו דרך ביאור והרחבה ולפעמים דרך סתירה ותיקון כשהיו חכמי הדור מסכימים לכך ממה שרואים בו קושיא חזקה...וכן אמרו פרת חטאת אינה משנה...וכן תמיד איתמר חסורי מחסרא ...וכן הרבה כיוצא באלו כמו שנעשה היום אף אנחנו מראשינו וזקנינו הקודמים ועוברים לפנינו ועל ראשינו וכמ"ש דרך כלל מקום הניחו לנו כו' כלומר שאין השלימות נמצא בנבראים ואפי' במובחרים שבהם עד שלא יהיו אחרונים רשאין לחלוק עמהם בקצת דברים

Similarly, the P'at HaShulhan of R. Yisrael Shklover cites the Vilna Gaon as opining that it is a way of disagreeing with the Mishna. However, unlike Meiri he adds that this was in following a variant Tannaic view. However, he does not say that that view had to be expressed in a Mishna, nor does he say how they knew it was a Tannaic view. The book Kol Eliyahu, however, claims he did not say this, but rather that they explained the true intent of the Mishna (a variation of (a), see below for many who espouse this position).

  1. The opposite sentiment is expressed by Rabbenu Bahya (Exodus 34:27) who emphasises that the expression does not connote any shortcoming whatsoever with the Mishna. Rather, it indicates the Ammoraim's shortcoming in that they failed to properly understand the Mishna:

ומזה אמרו בתלמוד על המשנה: (ברכות יג ב) חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני, שאין הכוונה להיות המשנה חסרה כלל חלילה, אבל הכוונה שהיא חסרה אצלנו מפני חסרון שכלנו מפני שאין אנו מגיעים לעומק חכמת דור של חכמי המשנה, ולפיכך עשו רבינא ורב אשי פירוש על המשנה והוא התלמוד ובארו ספקות המשנה והאריכו לשונם על לשון המשנה העמוק והסתום

He makes no mention of (a), clearly eschews (b), and the Meiri's (c). Rather, he seems to be explaining a variation of (a); that people were lacking in their ability to understand the Mishna, until they finally understood it. (Not that the Mishna necessarily intended to be brief, to facilitate memorization, or for some other reason).

R. Yeshaya Horowitz writes very similarly in Klalei HaTalmud (10: Klal lamed: 205) in the name of the Sh'erit Yosef (Netiv HaMishna Klal 5) in the name of R. Mattityahu Hatsorfati.

  1. Similarly, Hida writes in Shut Tov Ayin (3: Note 10) that it is clear from the Zohar (Raaya Mehemna Parashat Tsav 207b) that the expression means that the author intended to be brief and included the full idea in less words, not that something was actually left out. This is basically (a). (Except that he makes no mention of memorization. This differs from R. Bahya, R. Horowitz, et al. in that he specifies that the Mishna itself intended this brevity).

Prof. David Weiss HaLivni writes similarly in Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law, page 92.

  1. Rabbenu Yeshua Halevi writes in Halikhot Olam (2:2:14) that one can only apply this to a small change not a big change, since a person would misremember a minor point, but not a major point:

חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני, ודוקא להוסיף אבל להחליף הדבר בהפכו לא...משום דאדם טועה בגירסא לחסר דבר על ידי שכחה אבל להחליף דבר בהפכו לא

This indicates (b). Specifically, the reference to טועה בגירסא indicates a transcription error, rather than an originally mistaken ruling.

Significantly, elsewhere (3:2:14) he contrasts חסורי מחסרא; which involves emending the text of the Mishna with other methods which merely explain the intent.

This is also clearly the view of the Hikrei Lev (Vol. I OH 12) who writes that this idea clearly indicates the the Mishna was not written down, since otherwise one could merely compare printed versions of the Mishna to resolve the textual issue.

  1. The Tifferet Yisrael to Arakhin (Boaz 4:1) writes that the Mishnayot were associated with tunes to facilitate their memorization. For this reason the Mishna would sometimes leave something out, or phrase something in a particular way, to match the tune. This is a variation of (a). (In that it is to facilitate memorization, but he says nothing about it being internally obvious that something is left out.)

  2. Another variation of (a) is that of R. Yosef Karo (Klalei Hag'mara to Halikhot Olam 2:2): that there was memorized Mishnaic literature that preceded the compilation of the Mishna. Some mistakes crept into the memorized texts. When R. Yehuda HaNassi compiled the Mishna, he left these corruptions, and relied on the readers to correct the mistakes. (This is basically (a) with the twist that originally it was a mistake (as in (b)), but by the time the Mishna was compiled, it was deliberate).

See Mevo L'nussah HaMishna (here) by Prof. Yaakov Nahum Epstein for a lengthy discussion and a survey of the classical views on the topic.

  • 1
    Note also the early Geonic work Seder Tannaim V'Ammorain (vol. 2: 64) which states: וכל היכא דאיכא חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני זה שכתוב אחר חסורי מחסרא אמרו חכמים חסר מן המשנה וכך היה ראוי במשנה לומר, הואיל ולא אמרה אותה המשנה תקנו החכמים בגמרא. This implies that the Mishna never wrote and, makes no mention of the idea that the Mishna deliberately omitted it. Perhaps it means the Meiri's explanation.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 21:22
  • this is one of the best answers I've seen on this site! +1 Commented May 13, 2020 at 14:43

The book Kol Eliyahu explains that the Gra held that "chasurei machsara" means that the gemara is saying that it initially appears that the mishnah is missing something, but at a closer look it really is not missing at all.

The Pe'as HaShulchan explains that the Gra held that it means that the gemara was really actually changing the intent of the mishnah, but it was basing it on a different mishnah (i.e. paskening like on tana over another).

Source: a discussion on Avodah

  • 1
    See Shu"t Melamed l'Hoeil 3:61 for more details on the overall concept and the Gra's view in particular.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 15:18

An explanation I heard from my teacher in Yeshiva, Rabbi Sholom Shpalter (he quoted it from somewhere, but I don't remember where):

The Mishna deliberately overly shortened concepts to keep the idea that there is an oral tradition to understanding Torah, and it is not all written down.

That works according to the opinions that the Mishna was written down by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and transmitted in writing. According to (I believe) Rashi, that the Mishna was kept oral for several hundred years, it is easily understandable as something that got lost in the attempt to keep it oral over those years.


In his work The Halahkah: Its Sources and Development professor Ephraim E. Urbach cites the work of professor J.N. Epstein (cited in passing in another answer) Introduction to the Text of the Mishnah (Hebrew) specifically the chapter entitled Hasurei Mehsara where Epstein cites the Pe'at HaShulhan (cited in another answer) that the Talmud is indicating that it is following a Tanna whose opinion differs from the one whom R' Yehuda HaNasi cited anonymously in the Mishna.

Importantly, Urbach continues (not found in other answers)

"In terms of literary criticism, what the Gaon of Vilna was saying is that R. Judah created each such mishnah out of two sources; he presented the one he agreed and which was not according to the precedent in an abstract formulation and then brought the other opinion from a literary source which presented precedents. The Talmud then completed the task and also gave the opinion inherent in the precedent an abstract formulation."

In the footnotes Urbach refers to N. Danzig's article Hisurei Mehasra, Signon ha-Savora'im where Danzig argues that the term Hisurei Mehasra can be attributed to the Savora'im.

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