The tractates of the Mishna are in approximately descending order. That is, in each Order, the longest tractates come first and the shortest ones are last (although there are a few exceptions).

In some cases, like Moed, this order makes sense, since there is a natural progression from Shabbat (most common) to the Biblical holidays in order of their occurrence, to the Rabbinical days. However, in other cases such as Nashim, having the tractates ordered by size creates an unusual sequence. Nashim starts with an unusual case, followed by the responsibilities of marriage, then laws tangentially related, another unusual case, divorce, and finally marriage (which ought to come first, as it does in the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch).

So why is having the tractates in descending order so important?

  • Not everyone has that order. See printed Yerushalmis for instance. – Double AA May 20 '14 at 16:10
  • I don't think that the descending page volume was intentionalm an dthat was the reason for the ordering. Ramba"m (don't recall where) does explain the reason for the placement of the tractates as well as many of their names. – DanF May 20 '14 at 16:50
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    Probably for the same reason that Midrashim have a bunch on the beginning of the parsha and much less later, Gemara's generally have a bunch on the first Mishna, and less later on. The beginning is where concepts get introduced, whereas later on they rely on what was said earlier. Not perfectly so, though (I am proposing a heuristic, not an algorithm). – Yishai May 20 '14 at 19:56
  • I heard\read that it's because of the way it was copied by scribes. They started with the longest ones first, since that would take up the most space on the scroll, and worked down in descending order, so that they could fit the smaller ones in the space that was left. – Shmuel May 21 '14 at 1:42
  • Another book that is written with the chapters ordered from longer to shorter is the Quran. ( According to them, the order was decided by God.) – Shmuel May 21 '14 at 1:47

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