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Much has been written about the sequence of tractates in each mishnaic order. Perhaps most famously, Rambam (in his introduction to Commentary on Mishnayos) explained the position of each tractate based on specific reasons, such as order of scriptual verses, topic progression, halachic status, etc. However, there is an astonishing correlation between the sequence of tractates and number of chapters per tractate. In orders Moed, Nashim, Nezikin*, Kodshim and Taharos there is a perfect descending sequence based on chapter numbers. Zeraim is the only order that does not go in descending order, and even there it is only a three-tractate-sequence in the middle that does not follow the descending order.

While I have seen scholars mention this as a theory for the sequence of tractates in each order (e.g. here p. 8 and here p. xl) I have not found this idea in Rabbinic Literature.

The question is: Did the rishonim/acharonim simply not pick up on this pattern? Did they realize it but didn't care, preferring to give Torah-based explanations? Did they consider the couple of exceptions as refutations to the theory? Or are there actually sources in Rabbinic Literature that note this phenomenon?

A potential nafka minah of whether this is the true reason for the ordering would be whether there is any value to studying the tractates in the order they appear.

(This is in some ways the reverse of this question.)

Below is the sequence of tractates (according to Rambam) showing the number of chapters.

Zeraim

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Moed

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Nashim

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Nezikin

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Kodshim

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Taharos

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*Counting the three Bavas as one tractate and Sanhedrin/Makkos as one tractate (although Rambam disagrees that Sanhedrin/Makkos is one tractate, it is still clear why Makkos has to immediately follow Sanhedrin) and not counting the sixth chapter of Avos and the fourth chapter of Bikkurim because they are beraisaic addenda that Rambam does not have.

The pattern is especially obvious when reading from a Mishnah manuscript such as this one, which at the end of each order lists the tractate name with number of perakim in order.

  • he.wikipedia.org/wiki/מסכת see "סדר המסכתות" there which suggests that there were different orders in the Rishonim (I haven't checked) but if so, perhaps there were more exceptions. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 2:40
  • I based my question on the order delineated by the Rambam. He gave reasons for that specific order, so it is fair to ask based on that order. (Although it is perhaps disingenuous of me to count Sanhedrin and Makkos as one tractate because Rambam there explicitly states that such a view is mistaken.) – Alex Dec 27 '17 at 2:43
  • agreed about counting Sanhedrin and Makkos. Perhaps according to Rambam I could argue that this is not a question at all, because he understands that they were separated into Masechtos (and by his logic, probably sorted as well) before they were split into Perakim. Maybe. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 2:51
  • @רבותמחשבות Certainly a possibility, but then you would have to posit that the correlation is entirely coincidental. – Alex Dec 27 '17 at 3:07
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    books.google.ca/… is an overview of this discussion, but no sign of an answer there. Hmm. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 4:01
4

R. Reuven Margoliot in his work Yesod Hamishnah V'arichata (p. 26) does in fact explain the sequence of tractates based on size by number of chapters.

אולם המתבונן ימצא בכל סדר משנה סדר מלאכותי כי מה דאפשי מפרש ברישא [נדרים כ' ע"א] שהקדים רבי בכל סדר המסכתות הכוללות פרקים יותר לפני המסכתות הקטנות

However, one who contemplates will find in each mishnaic order a practical order, that that which is larger is explained first [Nedarim 20a], for in each order Rebbe placed the tractates with more chapters before the small tractates.

He goes on to speak about this at length and shows how this is the case in each order. However, this is still a pretty recent source as Rabbinic Literature goes (published within the last 100 years) and he does not attribute the idea to any earlier source, nor does he discuss why no earlier sources mentioned this.

  • "Rebbe placed the tractates with more chapters before the small tractates." I had understood that this was not a primary criteria. Rather, there was a more logical sequence. E.g. Shabbat precedes Eruvin b/c an understanding of Shabbat prohibitions is needed to understand why we need an Eruv. Gittin precedes Ketubot b/c we discuss the "cure" before the "problem". Granted there aren't rules for every ordering throughout Sha"s, but, most of them appear to be arranged in a logical subject sequence. – DanF Dec 27 '17 at 20:05
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    @DanF That is how the Rambam and others viewed it. My question was that the correlation between size and sequence seems to be to strong to be coincidental, yet I had been unable to find any rabbinic sources that note this, let alone accept it as the explanation of sequence. I then found that R. Reuven Margoliot gave exactly this explanation, hence this answer. – Alex Dec 27 '17 at 20:16
-2

It might be because some of the chapters in a tractate aren't directly connected to its main topic. Take Yevamos, for example: it has 16 chapters, which is more than any other one in Seder Nashim, but most of chapters 6-8 and 15-16 could easily have been placed in some other masechta (and if Yevamos weren't first in its Seder, they might have been).

edit: All right, apparently for the sake of those who have many thoughts and those who are searching, let me flesh out the answer.

The questions were, "Did the rishonim/acharonim simply not pick up on this pattern? Did they realize it but didn't care, preferring to give Torah-based explanations? Did they consider the couple of exceptions as refutations to the theory?"

And I say: what pattern? It doesn't exist in Zeraim. It doesn't necessarily exist in Nashim (because if Yevamos weren't first, some of its 16 chapters would probably have been placed in other masechtos). Already that cuts out 33% of the "pattern." Add other cases within the middle of a Seder, such as the 10th chapter of Eruvin (which ends up with the same number of chapters as Pesachim and therefore can go before it - but if that 10th chapter had been in Shabbos, where it better belongs, then Eruvin would have only 9), chapters 5-8 of Shekalim (same thing relative to Yoma), and the first 3 chapters of Shevuos (same thing relative to Eduyos), and the "pattern" largely falls apart. Much better to look for answers based on the main topics of the masechtos, which is what the Rishonim did.

And yet another edit:

Is the Number of Chapters Per Tractate Relevant?

No.

Did the rishonim/acharonim simply not pick up on this pattern?

No, because there is no such pattern.

Did they realize it but didn't care, preferring to give Torah-based explanations?

Yes, they must surely have realized that sometimes longer masechtos (in terms of content related directly to the topic) are before shorter ones. They didn't care, because there are at least as many exceptions as confirmations.

Did they consider the couple of exceptions as refutations to the theory?

Most likely yes. But unless we go back in time to ask them (or wait for techias hameisim), we won't know for sure.

  • ...What might be because some of the chapters aren't directly connected? – רבות מחשבות Dec 28 '17 at 19:52
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    And try applying that logic to the majority of Masechtas - it doesn't work. – רבות מחשבות Dec 28 '17 at 19:56
  • I'm confused about your point that some chapters didn't have to be in the tractates that they are. Are you saying that they were only added to those tractates in order to make the tractates appear in descending order of size? – Alex Dec 29 '17 at 21:01
  • @Alex I think the claim (not that I necessarily believe it) is that there are extra chapters lying around in Nashim that don't belong anywhere in particular, and once Yevamoth was placed first, the extra ones just got lumped in with Yevamoth. Thus, it ends up being the longest, but incidentally. At least, that's as much as I can extract from this answer. – magicker72 Jul 4 '18 at 2:36

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