Mishna (mĭshˈnə) [key], in Judaism, codified collection of Oral Law—legal interpretations of portions of the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and other legal material. Together with the Gemara, or Amoraic commentary on the Mishna, it comprises the Talmud. Next to the Scriptures the Mishna is the basic textbook of Jewish life and thought, and is traditionally considered to be an integral part of the Torah revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The sifting and recording of the body of oral interpretations of biblical law was the work of the Tannaim, the final compilation being made during the rule of Judah ha-Nasi. The Mishna is divided into six Orders (Sedarim): Zeraim [seeds], laws pertaining to agriculture; Moed [seasons], laws concerning observation of the Sabbath and festivals; Nashim [women], laws regarding vows, marriage, and divorce; Nezikim [damages], laws concerning civil and criminal matters; Kodashim [holy things], laws regulating ritual slaughter, sacrifice, and holy objects; and Tohorot [purities], laws regarding ceremonial purity. Each Order is divided into tractates, which in turn are divided into chapters. These contain paragraphs called mishnayyot. The penultimate tractate of the fourth Order is called Avot or Pirke Avot [chapters of the fathers], and unlike much of the rest of the Mishna consists of general moral and religious sayings. In addition to those rulings accepted as law, the Mishna records contrary opinions and discussions among the rabbis.
See translation by H. Danby (1958); L. Ginzberg, Studies in the Origin of the Mishnah (1920); J. Neusner, A History of Mishnaic Law (1974) and Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah (1981).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.