The Mishnah is a foundational text of rabbinic Judaism, composed in the first centuries of the Common Era. The Mishnah is arranged in six Orders, each of which is further divided into tractates. While the Mishnah is studied by scholars of all backgrounds, it is particularly studied and revered by Orthodox Jews. In this post, we will explore the six Orders of the Mishnah and their respective tractates so that your Mishnah study will be more useful.
The Mishnah: an Exposition of the Six Orders
The Mishnah is the earliest rabbinic commentary on the Torah. The Mishnah is a compilation of the Oral Law, which was passed down from generation to generation until it was finally written down.
The Oral Law is the law that was not written in the Torah but rather was passed down orally from generation to generation. The Oral Law is considered to be just as authoritative as the Written Law, which is found in the Torah.
The Mishnah is divided into six orders: Zeraim (Seeds), Mo’ed (Festivals), Nashim (Women), Nezikin (Damages), Kodashim (Holy Things), and Taharot (Purifications). Each order contains a number of tractates, which are further divided into chapters and paragraphs.
The first order: Zeraim
The first order of the Mishnah is Zeraim, which means “seeds.” This order is mainly concerned with the laws of agriculture, as its name would suggest. While the Torah contains only a few verses about agriculture, the Mishnah goes into great detail on the subject. This is because agriculture was a central part of Jewish life in the ancient world. The laws in this order dictate everything from what type of crops can be grown to how to harvest them.
The second-order: Moed
The second order of the Mishnah is Moed, which is devoted to the laws of the Sabbath and holidays. There are 12 tractates in this order, and they deal with a variety of topics, including the Sabbath, the Festivals, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shavuot. One of the most famous tractates in this order is Pirkei Avot, which is known as the Ethics of the Fathers. This tractate is a compilation of teachings from ancient rabbis that offer guidance on how to live a righteous life. Another famous tractate in this order is Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, which is a collection of sayings from rabbis that date back to the second century CE.
The third order: Nashim
The third order of the Mishnah is Nashim, which literally means women. This order is focused on the laws pertaining to women, including marriage, divorce, and family life. One of the most well-known tractates in Nashim is Kiddushin, which contains the laws of marriage. In Kiddushin, the father of the bride gives her to the groom in a ceremony known as kiddushin. This ceremony creates a legal relationship between the husband and wife and gives the husband certain rights over his wife.
Other tractates in Nashim include Yebamoth, which discusses Divorce; Sotah, which discusses adultery; and Gittin, which discusses the get, or Jewish divorce decree.
The fourth-order: Nezikin
The fourth-order of the Mishnah is Nezikin, which deals with civil and criminal law. This order contains ten tractates, including the most well-known one, Baba Kamma, which discusses property damage and financial compensation. Other tractates in this order include Baba Mezia, which deals with theft and lost objects; Baba Bathra, which covers legal transactions such as buying and selling; and Sanhedrin, which is a comprehensive tractate on criminal law.
The fifth order: Kodashim
The fifth order of the Mishnah is Kodashim, which means “sacred things.” This order is mainly concerned with the laws of sacrificial rites and the Temple. The most well-known tractate in this order is Zevachim, which discusses the different types of sacrifices that were offered in the Temple. Other tractates in Kodashim include Menahot, which deals with the flour offerings; Tamid, which discusses the daily sacrifices; and Middot, which covers the measurements of the Temple.
The sixth order: Taharot
The sixth and final order of the Mishnah is Taharot, which contains the laws of ritual purity and impurity. This order includes eleven tractates, including Kelim, which discuss utensils that become ritually impure; Ohalot, which deals with houses that become impure; Negaim, which cover skin diseases that make a person impure; and Parah, which discuss the ashes of the red heifer, a ritually pure animal that is used for purification.
The Mishnah is an important work of rabbinic literature that has had a significant impact on Jewish life and thought. It is studied by Jews around the world and is a central text in the rabbinic tradition.