By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Aparadox of Judaism is that it contains libraries of written books recording and elaborating the Oral Law, Torah Shebeal Peh. But oral means not written. This paradox dates back to the Mishnah, the first layer of Oral Law to be codified in written form, during the second century CE. Before the Mishnah, the Torah Shebeal Peh, originating at Sinai, was transmitted and developed orally from teacher to student. However, in the generations following the destruction of the Temple when many sages were killed and many more were scattered, Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi took it upon himself to write down the oral discussions in the form of the Mishnah, reasoning that otherwise the Oral Law could be lost altogether. Mishnah means teaching. The same word appears in the Shema, vshinantam lvanecha, You shall teach them to your children. It comes from the word shanah, meaning repetition the most basic mode of teaching. The sages of the Mishnah are known as Tanaim, meaning teachers in Aramaic. Shanah also means year, the eternally repeating cycle of time. There is an ancient tradition to study Mishnah at a shivah house. One reason for this is that the word Mishnah, comprises the same letters (mem, shin, nun, heh) as the word neshamah, soul. Studying Mishnah is a way of honouring the departed soul.

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 6 2009