I have always heard that Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi "compiled" the mishna. What were his roles in compiling it in the form that we currently have it? Specifically, did he perform any of these roles:

  • writing the text itself - all / most of it? Any specific parts he wrote vs. others?
  • editing what other wrote. Who else wrote?
  • leader / manager, i.e. - telling others what to write or include

The above is not an exhaustive list. There are probably other roles that I can't think of, now.

Along with this, what decisions determined what and who was included and what / who was excluded. After all, we have braitot, so a lot didn't make the "cut" for some reason. What decided it?

  • This came up in daf... The mishna operates not only as shorthand for halcha/talmud, but also for the known baraisos. The editing and compilation were done to increase the text to optimal "information density," as it were... – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 23 '15 at 15:40
  • @IsaacKotlicky Which "daf"? You mean your current D.Y. shiur? I get the "info density" concept. But, I still wonder what went into deciding WHAT info was useful. – DanF Jun 23 '15 at 15:56
  • see Rabbi Binyamin Lau The Sages Volume 3 where he treats this topic at length – rikitikitembo Jun 23 '15 at 23:56

R' Sherira Gaon in his Iggeres (p.7 and 9 here) writes that each sage had his own version of Mishnayos, and Rebbe gathered them and arranged them and decided which opinion to codify. (It is unclear if he actually re-formulated them or just arranged them.) R' Sherira writes that some Mishnayos were formulated earlier, as early as Hillel, and Rebbi himself was unsure about the correct text of a Mishna (eruvin 53a) (p. 10 of linked copy).

The Rambam in his introduction to the Yad seems to understand that Rebbi wrote the Mishnah, and then taught it orally to his students, who then wrote it themselves.

וכן היה הדבר תמיד עד רבינו הקדוש והוא קיבץ כל השמועות וכל הדינים וכל הביאורים והפירושים ששמעו ממשה רבינו ושלמדו בית דין שבכל דור ודור בכל התורה כולה וחיבר מהכל ספר המשנה. ושננו לחכמים ברבים ונגלה לכל ישראל וכתבוהו כולם

R' Chasdai Kraskas in the introduction to Ohr Hashem (p. ד {or 12} here) writes that Rebbi כתב ששה סדרי משנה - wrote them.

The Ran to Shabbos 137a says that some Mishnayos were from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu, and are worded as they were from that time.

  • You've listed an assortment of interesting opinions. If you can link some of them, that's helpful. If I'm inferring correctly, could there be different versions of the Mishnah even following Rav Yehuda's compilations? – DanF Jun 23 '15 at 20:03
  • @DanF There shouldn't be different versions post-Rebbi - his whole point was to create one unified version, and he wrote down the original copy himself. – Y     e     z Jun 23 '15 at 20:54
  • I think in numerous places, the Gemarah will say something to the effect, "there is a different version of the Mishnah". How does this correlate with your prev. comment? – DanF Jun 23 '15 at 20:59
  • @DanF I was very careful to say "shouldn't be" - there are occasionally disputes that fell into what the correct text should be, but there are not multiple versions such as there were before Rebbi which each had their own concurrent validity. – Y     e     z Jun 23 '15 at 21:05
  • @DanF some links added. – Y     e     z Jun 23 '15 at 21:23

Besides YEZ's good sources, see Bava Kamma 94b אמר רבי יוחנן בימי רבי נשנית משנה זו with Tosafos there, and see also the last Mishna in maseches Keilim with Tosafos Rabi Akiva Eiger. Both of these sources say that Rabeinu HaKadosh redacted an older version of the mishna that was already extent.

There is also a discussion in Bava Metzia 44a between Rabi Yehuda and his son Rabi Shimon where the latter asks the former why he changed his teaching in the mishna from as earlier version. So even Rebi had made changes at times.

There is an argument in the achronim if Rebi actually wrote the mishna, or just set it up and it was not written untill much later. See for instance Bava Metzia 85b the Mahartzach (found in the back of Moznayim print) on Rashi s.v. ומתנינא, where Rashi says R' Chanina taught the ששה סדרי משנה to those kids על פה, the Mahartzach says at that point (the times of R' Chiya) the mishna was still not written. He points as well to Rashi in Eiruvin 62b where Rashi says that even in the times of Abaye and Rava the mishna was still not written.

I'll try to get back with the opposeing source.

To extend Yetz's answer a bit:

Rambam in his Preface to Mishnah, chapter 5, writes explicitly that Rebbi made up the names of the Sdarim and the Traktates. Rambam also gives an explanation for why Rebbi ordered the Sdarim and Tractates in such a way. See. (This is far more elaborated that his Introduction to Yad)

The "Sridey Esh" in his Shu"T about the Mishnah (couldn't find online, saw it in a shul on Shabbos) writes extensively about the research in the field of the Mishnah and the writings of R' Sherira Hagaon and summarizes it in the following way:

  1. Before Ezra Hasofer the Mishnayot only existed as Midrashim on the written Torah (by Pesukim).

  2. Ezra started to codify some Halachot, especially assigning numbers (as the Gemmorah in Kiddushin 30, why they were called "the Sofrim" as they counted everything), for example, "4 Avot Nezikim").

  3. Till Hillel and Shammai every Rabbi kept his own books.

  4. Hillel and Shammai started to classify the Mishnayot, probably inventing the Sdarim and the Tractates.

  5. That structure got more and more elaborated with R' Akivah and R' Meir.

  6. Rebbi was one to "Make Bepatish" on the Mishnah - to choose the specific Halachot in every Tractate and their exact wording.


PS. This explains a lot to me:

  1. THere's no ad-hoc structure of the oral Law. This is why Rambam could make his own structure of the Mishne Torah, or haTur making the 4 Turim.

  2. The phrasing of the Mishnayot is so "wild" and inconsistent - sometimes questions are used, sometimes not, sometimes a dispute is presented and many times not, sometimes a Pasuk is brought in and many times not, some repeating Mishnayos etc.

  3. The fact that the Mishnah was not immediately and unanimously accepted, others wrote their own books (Tosefta, Safri etc) and the differences in Mishnah b/w he JT and the BT.

It still reminds a mystery why a lot of Mishnayos are seemingly misplaced (like "בְּהֵמָה גַסָּה נִקְנֵית בִּמְסִירָה" is learned in Kiddushin 1-4, not BM).

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