The Talmud Part One: The Mishnah
by DAN JUSTEROCTOBER 19, 2020
As a new leader in the Messianic Jewish world, 1972, I wanted to learn much more about Judaism. I began reading many books. One project still amazes me, and that was going through the Soncino English version of the Talmud. How deep was my understanding? I cannot evaluate it. I will say that such an exercise does give a person much more of a sense of Talmudic Judaism than many would think possible without years and years of study with Rabbis.
Some years later, I studied other books on Rabbinic Judaism and especially Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s large volumes summarizing Rabbinic literature. Neusner, in my view, was the greatest scholar of Rabbinic Judaism who was not an Orthodox Jew (he was Conservative). Then some months ago, I began to wonder if I needed a review of the original source and decided to go through the Mishnah. I wanted to refresh my memory. The English version can be read and is just over 800 pages.
The Mishnah is the first part of the Talmud. It was passed down orally until written down by Rabbi Judah the Prince at the end of the second century. It is amazing for us moderns to realize how much was memorized and passed down; This includes the second part of the Talmud as well. The second part of the Mishnah which covers more than 300 years after the Mishnah, is called the Gemara. It explains and expands on the content of the Mishnah.
The Mishnah is invaluable for describing both the Judaism of the first century Pharisees, but one has to be careful here and not read too much back into the first century. It also gives the consensus of practice from the end of the second century. It provides details on Israel’s Temple services, sacrifices, feast celebrations and practices, Sabbath laws, and the basic practices of Synagogue prayer from that time. It also gives us applications of Torah, the laws of Moses, and how the Rabbis of the time sought to apply the Torah including tort law, penalties, and capital offenses. Sometimes the applications are very wise and sometimes I scratch my head.
The largest amount of material in the Mishnah deals with laws of purity and holiness. This was a major emphasis of the Pharisees and sometimes was a source of conflict with Yeshua. The details of law upon law are stunning. It is building a fence around the Law so the law will not be violated, but t