Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Mishna as Teacher's Resource

The following is from the Rambam's introduction to the Mishne Torah. In this selection he discusses what R' Yehuda HaNasi did and why. I will paraphrase each halacha and make note of some of the significant ideas. (The paraphrases will be in blue; the notes in black)

יב רבנו הקדוש חיבר המשנה. ומימות משה ועד רבנו הקדוש, לא חיברו חיבור שמלמדין אותו ברבים בתורה שבעל פה; אלא בכל דור ודור, ראש בית דין או נביא שיהיה באותו הדור, כותב לעצמו זיכרון בשמועות ששמע מרבותיו, והוא מלמד על פה ברבים.

The Rambam explains that before Rabbeinu HaKadosh, R' Yehuda HaNasi, wrote the Mishna none of the ba'alei mesora wrote a chibur, a compilation, that they used to teach Torah Sh'ba'al Peh to the public. In every generation the ba'al mesora would write his own private notes to remember what he learned from his own teachers. He, then, would give oral instruction to the public - meaning, no "official" text was used when he delivered his lessons. [Note that the Rambam never construes the Mishna as a book that would simply be read. Rather, he refers to it as a compilation that would be published for public use, to serve as the basis for public lessons. In other words, the Mishna was never meant to be a written version of the Torah Sh'ba'al Peh.]

יג וכן כל אחד ואחד כותב לעצמו כפי כוחו, מביאור התורה ומהלכותיה כמו ששמע, ומדברים שנתחדשו בכל דור ודור, בדינים שלא למדום מפי השמועה אלא במידה משלוש עשרה מידות והסכימו עליהן בית דין הגדול. וכן היה הדבר תמיד, עד רבנו הקדוש.

And so, every single ba'al mesora would write his own notes recording the explanations of the Torah and the halachot that he learned, and any new laws that were derived using one of the 13 midot. This is the way it was until the time of Rabbeinu HaKadosh.

יד והוא קיבץ כל השמועות וכל הדינין וכל הביאורין והפירושין ששמעו ממשה רבנו, ושלמדו בית דין של כל דור ודור, בכל התורה כולה; וחיבר מהכול ספר המשנה. ושיננו ברבים, ונגלה לכל ישראל; וכתבוהו כולם, וריבצו בכל מקום, כדי שלא תשתכח תורה שבעל פה מישראל.

He gathered all of the traditions, laws and explanations that were heard from Moshe Rabbeinu and that each beit din taught in each generation. He taught publicly and revealed it to all of Israel (he published it). They all wrote it down and it spread to every place, such that the Torah Sh'ba'al Peh would not be forgotten.

I can not emphasize enough, that even though Rabbeinu HaKadosh published the Mishna he continued to teach. In brief:

The Mishna was never meant to be a stand alone text.

Is this a critique of the study of Mishna as an stand alone text? Yes.

Can the Mishna still be used in-line with Rabbeinu HaKadosh's original intent? I am not sure.

In another post, I will take up the next halakha in which the Rambam explains why Rabbeinu HaKadosh had to publish the Mishna.