The Rambam's Introduction1 to the Mishneh Torah
"The Torah" refers to the Written Law; "the mitzvah," to its explanation. [God] commanded us to fulfill "the Torah" according to [the instructions of] "the mitzvah."5 "The mitzvah" is called the Oral Law.
Moses, our teacher, personally transcribed the entire Torah before he died. He gave a Torah scroll to each tribe and placed another scroll in the ark as a testimonial, as [Deuteronomy 31:26] states: "Take this Torah scroll and place it [beside the ark…] and it will be there as a testimonial."
"The mitzvah" - i.e., the explanation of the Torah - he did not transcribe.6 Instead, he commanded it [verbally] to the elders, to Joshua, and to the totality of Israel,7 as [Deuteronomy 13:1] states: "Be careful to observe everything that I prescribe to you." For this reason, it is called the Oral Law.
Even though the Oral Law was not transcribed, Moses, our teacher, taught it in its entirety in his court to the seventy elders. Elazar, Pinchas, and Joshua received the tradition from Moses.
[In particular, Moses] transmitted the Oral Law to Joshua, who was his [primary] disciple, and instructed him regarding it.8
Similarly, throughout his life Joshua taught the Oral Law. Many elders received the tradition from him.9 Eli received the tradition from the elders and from Pinchas. Samuel received the tradition from Eli and his court. David received the tradition from Samuel and his court.
Achiah of Shiloh was one of those who experienced the exodus from Egypt.10 He was a Levite and heard [teachings] from Moses. He was, however, of low stature in Moses' age. Afterwards, he received the tradition from David and his court.
Elijah received the tradition from Achiah of Shiloh and his court. Elisha received the tradition from Elijah and his court.
Yehoyada, the priest, received the tradition from Elisha and his court. Zechariah received the tradition from Yehoyada and his court. Hoshea received the tradition from Zechariah and his court. Amos received the tradition from Hoshea and his court. Isaiah received the tradition from Amos and his court. Michah received the tradition from Isaiah and his court. Yoel received the tradition from Michah and his court. Nachum received the tradition from Yoel and his court. Chabbakuk received the tradition from Nachum and his court. Tzefaniah received the tradition from Chabbakuk and his court.
Jeremiah received the tradition from Tzefaniah and his court. Baruch ben Neriyah11 received the tradition from Jeremiah and his court. Ezra and his court received the tradition from Baruch and his court.
[The members of] Ezra's court are referred to as Anshei K'nesset Hagedolah (the men of the great assembly). They included Chaggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nechemiah ben Chakaliah, Mordechai the linguist, Zerubavel and many other sages - 120 elders in all.12
The last [surviving] member of this group was Shimon the Just. He was included among the 120 elders and received the Oral Law from all of them. He served as the High Priest after Ezra.
Antignos of Socho and his court received the tradition from Shimon the Just and his court.
Yosse ben Yo'ezer of Tzreidah and Yosef ben Yochanan of Jerusalem13 and their court received the tradition from Antignos and his court. Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court received the tradition from Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Perachiah and their court. Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach and their court received the tradition from Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court. Shemayah and Avtalion, who were righteous converts,14 and their court received the tradition from Yehudah and Shimon and their court.
Hillel and Shammai and their court received the tradition from Shemayah and Avtalion and their court. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Hillel the elder, received the tradition from Hillel [and Shammai] and his [their] court[s].15
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students [who were] great sages and received the tradition from him. They were: Rabbi Eleazar the great, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yosse the priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef received from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, his father, was a righteous convert.
Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Meir, a son of righteous converts, received the tradition from Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Meir and his colleagues also received the tradition from Rabbi Yishmael.
The colleagues of Rabbi Meir include Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosse, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Nechemiah, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, Rabbi Yochanan the shoemaker, Shimon ben Azzai, and Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion.16
Similarly, Rabbi Akiva's colleagues also received the tradition from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Rabbi Akiva's colleagues include Rabbi Tarfon - the teacher of Rabbi Yosse of the Galil - Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar, and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri.
Rabban Gamliel the elder received the tradition from Rabban Shimon, his father - the son of Hillel the elder. Rabban Shimon, his son, received the tradition from him. Rabban Gamliel, his son, received the tradition from him and Rabban Shimon, his son, received the tradition from him.
Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Rabban Shimon and referred to as Rabbenu Hakadosh ("our saintly teacher"),17 received the tradition from his father, from Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, and from Rabban Shimon and his colleagues.
Rabbenu Hakadosh composed the Mishnah. From the days of Moses, our teacher, until Rabbenu Hakadosh, no one had composed a text for the purpose of teaching the Oral Law in public. Instead, in each generation, the head of the court or the prophet of that generation would take notes of the teachings which he received from his masters for himself, and teach them verbally in public. Similarly, according to his own potential, each individual would write notes for himself of what he heard regarding the explanation of the Torah, its laws, and the new concepts that were deduced in each generation concerning laws that were not communicated by the oral tradition, but rather deduced using one of the thirteen principles of Biblical exegesis and accepted by the high court.
This situation continued until [the age of] Rabbenu Hakadosh. He collected all the teachings, all the laws, and all the explanations and commentaries that were heard from Moses, our teacher, and which were taught by the courts in each generation concerning the entire Torah. From all these, he composed the text of the Mishnah. He taught it to the Sages in public and revealed it to the Jewish people, who all wrote it down. They spread it in all places so that the Oral Law would not be forgotten by the Jewish people.
Why did Rabbenu Hakadosh make [such an innovation] instead of perpetuating the status quo? Because he saw the students becoming fewer, new difficulties constantly arising, the Roman Empire18 spreading itself throughout the world and becoming more powerful, and the Jewish people wandering and becoming dispersed to the far ends of the world. [Therefore,] he composed a single text that would be available to everyone, so that it could be studied quickly and would not be forgotten.19 Throughout his entire life, he and his court taught the Mishnah to the masses.
These are the great Sages who were part of the court of Rabbenu Hakadosh and who received the tradition from him: His sons, Shimon and Gamliel, Rabbi Effess, Rabbi Chanina ben Chama, Rabbi Chiyya, Rav, Rabbi Yannai, bar Kafra, Shemuel, Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Hoshaia. Thousands and myriads of other sages received the tradition from [Rabbenu Hakadosh] together with these great sages.
Rav Sherira Gaon
The days of Rabbi, 132 the son of Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel, were an opportune
time. 133 Rabbi arranged… 134 the Mishnah. The words of the Mishnah can be compared to
the words of the Almighty to Moses- they were like a sign and a wonder. 135 Rabbi did not
produce these words with his own mind; rather, they were the teachings of the early sages
who preceded him. How do we know this?
The Mishnah says, “It once happened that Ben Zakkai examined [witnesses] regarding
the stems of the fig.” 136 The Talmud suggests, 137 “This reference is probably to a different
Ben Zakkai; for if Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai were meant, would Rabbi have called
him merely ‘Ben Zakkai?’ [The Talmud now refutes the above statement by quoting a
baraita which parallels the mishnah and which includes the title, “Rabban”-] Yet has it
not been taught- “It once happened that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai examined witnesses
regarding the stems of the fig”?
The Talmud now finds a different way to reconcile the Mishnah and baraita- “He
[Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai] must therefore have been a disciple sitting before his
master 138 when he made this suggestion. His reasoning was so acceptable to his master
that he [the master] perpetuated [the incident] in his [the disciple’s] name.” 139 Thus, from
the time of Hillel and Shammai, our sages had already taught this mishnah with the plain
name “Ben Zakkai,” and Rabbi also taught it this way, without modifying it….
The Mishnah was even divided into tractates before the time of Rabbi; for Rabbi Meir
told Rabbi Nathan- “Let us ask Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel to open [his lectures] with
[Tractate] Uqzin, with which he is unfamiliar….” The story continues- “Rabbi Jacob ben
Karshai went and sat by the upper room where Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel was
studying, and he recited [Tractate] Uqzin again and again. Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel
thought- ‘Is someone asking questions about Uqzin?’ He turned his attention to it and
studied it.” 140
There are places where Rabbi added commentary. For example, the mishnah says-
“Boys may go out with garlands and royal children may go out with bells.” 141 This is the
way the mishnah was taught by the early sages. 142 Then Rabbi added the following
explanation- “Everyone else [likewise may go out with bells]; but the sages spoke in
terms of the usual situation.” 143
An exception is those things which were taught in his day 144 and in the days after him,
as we say- “This is [what is taught in] the early mishnah; but the later mishnah [on the
same subject] says…”
Likewise, Eduyot was established 145 on the day that Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was
inaugurated (as nasi), as we say- “Eduyot was also learned that day.” And we learn, “The
term, ‘that day’ always means the day Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was seated 146 in the
Rabbi afterwards included material which was taught in his father’s time. 148 For
example- “Rabbi Yose says, ‘In six instances the House of Shammai holds the lenient
opinion while the House of Hillel holds the stringent opinion.’’’ 149 Another example-
“Rabbi Judah said, ‘God forbid that Akavyah ben Mehallalel was ever excommunicated;
for no man of Israel is a better example of a bastion of wisdom and fear of sin than
Akavyah ben Mehallalel.” 150
However, with other tractates, even though their basic principles had already been
taught by the early sages, Rabbi arranged their halakhot—some of them he taught in the
original wording, and others he worded he saw fit. Every anonymous mishnah is [the
teaching of] Rabbi Meir. But he did not create them from his own heart. Rather, Rabbi
Meir had a certain way of teaching the mishnayot to his disciples; and Rabbi chose and
established this way to teach [the mishnayot] to everyone. Rabbi Meir had received his
way of learning [the Mishnah] from his teacher, Rabbi Akiva; and Rabbi Akiva had
received it from his teachers, the earlier sages. Thus, we say- “Rabbi Yohanan said, ‘An
anonymous Mishnah is Rabbi Meir. An anonymous Tosefta is Rabbi Nehemiah. An
anonymous Sifra is Rabbi Judah. An anonymous Sifre is Rabbi Simeon. And all of them
taught in the way of Rabbi Akiva.’” 151
These baraitot of Tosefta, Sifra, and Sifre were all taught by the earlier sages. Then
Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Nehemiah, and Rabbi Simeon came, and each made his own
compilation of [the baraitot]. Sifra [was compiled by] Rabbi Judah; Tosefta, by Rabbi
Nehemiah; and Sifre, by Rabbi Simeon; and the Mishnah, by Rabbi Meir. And all of them
follow the method of Rabbi Akiva, for all were disciples of Rabbi Akiva.
But other baraitot do not interest us, because these [just mentioned] were selected and
compiled by leading sages who were the foremost disciples of Rabbi Akiva. Thus, Rabbi
Simeon told his students- “My sons, learn my principles for my principles are the cream
of the cream of Rabbi Akiva’s principles.” 152 We say- 153 “The hearts of the early ones are
like the entrance to the great hall [of the Holy Temple] and the hearts of the later ones
[are] like the entrance to the antechamber.” And [the Talmud] goes on to explain- “The
early ones’ means Rabbi Akiva.” 154
Our sages explain that even Adam, the first man, rejoiced in the wisdom of Rabbi Akiva
when the Holy One, Blessed is He, showed [Adam] the sages of each generation. 155 And
in [Tractate] Yevamot Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas said to Rabbi Akiva, “Are you Akiva
benJoseph, whose name goes from one end of the world to the other?” 156
The greatest of all Rabbi Akiva’s students was Rabbi Meir, as we learn in [Tractate] Eruvin- “Rav Aha ben Hanina said, ‘It is revealed and known before Him Who spoke and
the world came into existence, that in the generation of Rabbi Meir there was none equal
to him. Then why was not the halakhah fixed in agreement with his views? Because his
colleagues could not fathom the depths of his mind, for he would declare the ritually
unclean to be clean and the ritually clean to be unclean and he would supply plausible
proof.’” 157 Therefore Rabbi Akiva was fond of him and ordained him in his youth.
In his halakhot Rabbi chose the way [of teaching] of Rabbi Meir, which was the way of
Rabbi Akiva, because Rabbi saw that Rabbi Meir’s way was succinct and easy to teach.
His statements were well composed, each topic [placed] with that which was similar to it.
His teachings were more exact than any of the other tannaim, without superfluous
language. Each word makes a vital point without unnecessary exaggeration. Nothing was
missing or extra, except in a few instances. The way [of presentation] was concise. Great
and wondrous things were included in every single word. Not everyone who is learned
knows how to create such a composition, as it is said- “A man may arrange his thoughts,
but what he says depends on God” (Prov. 16-1). All the Rabbis shared the same
underlying principles; nevertheless, since Rabbi Akiva possessed a broad heart 158 and his
disciple Rabbi Meir also possessed a broad heart, they arranged [the material] in an
excellent manner, and they were preferable to all the other tannaim.
Therefore, Rabbi gathered [their arrangement]. To it he added [halakhot] that were
[formulated] in his time. He arranged it as he saw fit. He also explained the essence and
the main principles behind disputes of the Rabbis. Since there were Rabbis who had
heard from great sages a different opinion [from that in the Mishnah] or who taught
minority opinions anonymously, if someone heard about this he could become confused
[when studying the Mishnah]. [But] when Rabbi explained the matter, no doubt
[regarding the halakhah] could set in. Thus we learn in the Mishnah- 159 Rabbi Judah said-
“Why is the opinion of the minority recorded along with the majority? In order to nullify
it, so that if a man says this, [one can] say to him- ‘Where did you hear this?’ If he
replies- ‘I received it [as a tradition from my teachers]- one can say to him- ‘Perhaps what
you heard was the opinion of so-and-so.,” 160 When everybody saw the form of the
Mishnah, the truthfulness of its teachings and the exactness of its words, they abandoned
their previous formulations and compilations. These halakhot were
disseminatedthroughout the Jewish people while the other halakhot were shunted aside
and became like a baraita. They are utilized as a commentary or for their more elaborate
style. However, the Jewish people gave [only] these halakhot [binding] authority. They
accepted it faithfully whenthey saw it, and no one has disputed its authority.
Using this approach [of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir], Rabbi arranged the six orders of
the Mishnah. This does not mean that the more numerous earlier sages were abandoned
for the later ones. Rather, the earlier sages had no need for compiled material and the
things that we learn by memory. Every single one of the [earlier] Rabbis knew these
things through a chain of transmission. They had no need to compile them and write them
down’ among themselves untilthe Temple’s destruction. Then came [these earlier sages’] students, who were not as knowledgeable, and found it necessary to make
Therefore Rabbi had to compile and arrange the six orders of the Mishnah after a respite
of two generations from the persecutions that took place during the Temple’s
When Rabbi arranged the Mishnah, he did not place the tractates in a specific order, one
after another. [Rather] he arranged [and taught] each tractate separately in whatever order
was convenient for him. We do not know which he taught first. However, the halakhot [in
each chapter] and the chapters of each tractate were arranged in a specific order. Thus
Rav Huna said- “In one tractate we do not say, ‘There is no order to Mishnah; but
regarding two tractates we do say, ‘There is no order to Mishnah.’’’ 161 One could say
about either of [the two tractates] that Rabbi might have taught it first.
Sometimes we find a mishnah [on a certain halakhic topic] which gives only one
opinion (stam) without attributing it to a specific tanna or mentioning any tanna who
disagrees. Later in the same tractate we may find another mishnah [on the same topic] which presents the opinion of the earlier Mishnah as subject to dispute. In such a case,
referred to as “stam and later disputed,” the halakhah does not follow the earlier (stam)
mishnah. On the other hand, if the reverse situation is found within one tractate—
“disputed and later stam”—we say that the halakha follows the stam mishnah. However,
if the two mishnayot in question are found in two different tractates, the above rules do
not apply; for [the tractates] have no order. 162 Rav Joseph also agrees [with these rules],
except he says that the three “Bavas” of Order Neziqin are to be considered one tractate.
As for your question why [Tractate] Kippurim (Yoma) was placed before Shekalim- We
in our bet midrash 163 study Sheqalim before Kippurim, but certainly we study Sukkah
before Yom-Tov (Bezah). This is followed by Rosh ha-Shanah. However, perhaps [in
Rabbi’s day] they studied them in the opposite order. However, it can be reasoned that
Shabbat should be first, since it is so important, 164 followed by Tractate Eruvin which is
similar to [Shabbat] and on the same subject. 165 Then follows Tractate Pesahim, since
Passover is the first of all the festivals; [this is] followed by Sheqalim, [the subject matter
of which] comes [directly] before [that of Pesahim] and is one of its aspects. After
Sheqalim we study Seder Yoma, which is similar to Shabbat. After Seder Yoma we study
Tractate Sukkah because it follows Yom ha-Kippurim 166 and is a major festiva1. After
Tractate Sukkah we study Tractate Yom- Tov (Bezah) because it is on the same subject.
After Yom- Tov we study Tractate Rosh ha-Shanah so that we can study Tractate Ta’anit
right after it, since after Rosh haShanah is the time of the first rainfall and the time of
sowing, and it is like the same subject.
This is how the Rabbis usually study; but if someone finds it convenient to follow a
different order, he may do so, even though we see in certain tractates that we say- “Now
that the tanna finished Tractate….” For example, in Tractate Sotah- “Now that the tanna
has finished [Tractate] Nazir….” And in Tractate Shevu’ot- “Now that the tanna has
finished [Tractate] Makkot….” [These passages] prove that there is a specific order.
131. Trans. Rabinowich,The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon,pp. 20-32.
132. Rabbi Judah the Prince.
133. The end of a period of persecution.
134. This text is available in two versions. The Spanish recension does indeed claim here that the Mishnah
was written down, but virtually all scholars acknowledge the primacy of the French recension which sees
the editorial and transmissional activity of Rabbi as oral.
135. Rav Sherira Gaon isdrawing a parallel between the divine inspiration of Moses and that of Rabbi.
136. Mishnah Sanhedrin 5-2- Witnesses testified that someone had committed murder under a certain fig
tree. To test the validity of their testimony, Ben Zakkai questioned them about the appearance of small
details such as the stems of the figs.
137. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 413.
138. Probably Hillel.
139. The Mishnah used the plain “Ben Zakkai,” since he had not yet been given the title “Rabban.” “our
teacher.” But in thebaraita, which was composed later, the title “Rabban” is used.
140. Babylonian Talmud Horayot 13b.
141. This mishnah concerns the prohibition of carrying from the private to the public domain on the
Sabbath. Since garlands and bells were usual items of clothing for boys, wearing them is not considered
142. Those who first formulated the halakhot of the Mishnah.
143. Mishnah Shabbat 6-9- Since it is usually royal children who go out with bells, the sages put the
mishnah in these terms.
144. Teachings which were formulated as mishnayot only in Rabbi’s day. In fact, there are mishnayot
which incorporate decisions by his sons and even by his grandsons.
145. This could mean that the mishnayot were given their final form at this time, or that individual
mishnayot were first organized into a tractate.
146. As Rosh Yeshivah, Head of the Academy.
147. Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 28a.
148. The following statements by Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Judah were made by Rabbis who were
contemporaries of Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel, Rabbi’s father.
149. Mishnah Eduyot 5-2.
150. Mishnah Eduyot 5-6.
151. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 86a.
152. Babylonian Talmud Gittin 67a.
153. Using the following passages, Rav Sherira Gaon describes the greatness of Rabbi Akiva and his
disciple, Rabbi Meir, in order to explain why Rabbi chose their way of teaching the Mishnah over that of
154. Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 53a.
155. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 38b.
156. Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 16b.
157. Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 13b.
158. The capacity to understand and remember.
159. Mishnah Eduyot 1-6.
160. I.e., the minority.
161. Babylonian Talmud Bava Qamma 102a.
162. There is no way of verifying which was arranged first, the disputed or the stam opinion, and therefore
we cannot establish preference.
163. House of study.
164. Shabbat introduces the topic of forbidden types of labor, most of which are also forbidden on the
165. Eruvin discusses laws pertaining to carrying on the Sabbath. From here on, Rav Sherira Gaon tries to
link the different tractates in some logical order, relating each to the one previous and the one after.
166. The Day of Atonement.
When Antoninus circumcised himself, he came to Rebbi and said to him, "Please look at my Milah and tell me whether I circumcised myself as required. " Rebbi answered, "How can I look at your Milah when I have never even looked at my own?" (Megillah 1:11) Why did they call R' Yehudah HaNassi, Rabbeinu HaKadosh (our holy teacher)? Because in all his days he never looked at the place of his Milah. (Talmud Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah 3:1)
Reworked from Tosafot
Many years ago, when the Roman Empire reached the Land of Israel, decrees against the Jews abounded. One such decree forbade the circumcision of Jewish boys. The punishment was severe for those who disobeyed. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel was the Nasi – the “prince” – at this time. He was known and respected by Jew and non-Jew alike, including the Emperor.
When his wife had a baby boy, their desire to obey God’s commandment was greater than their fear of punishment. In secret, they performed the circumcision.
Before long, the government found out and Rabbi Shimon was ordered to appear before the governor of his town. “What do you have to say for yourself?” asked the governor angrily.
“I have obeyed the King of Kings, Who has ordered us to circumcise our sons on the eighth day after birth,” answered Rabbi Shimon confidently.
“I am sending you, your wife, and the baby to the Imperial Court. For if other Jews see that you have circumcised your son and are not severely punished, then they will do the same,” roared the governor.
Rabbi Shimon and his wife set out on the long journey to the Imperial Court. They stopped often along the way, and were warmly received in the homes of Jews and non-Jews alike, for Rabbi Shimon was respected by all. At one home, Rabbi Shimon’s wife and the non-Jewish hostess soon realized that they had both given birth on the same day to sons. The hostess immediately offered to exchange her son, Antoninus, for Rabbi Shimon’s baby, Yehuda. Rabbi Shimon and his wife gratefully accepted the offer.
With renewed hope, they continued on to the palace. Upon their arrival they were shown into the emperor’s court who, upon hearing the charges, ordered the baby examined.
To everyone’s astonishment, there were no sign that a circumcision had been performed. “It’s a miracle,” whispered the people of the court. As soon as possible, the babies were re-exchanged, with no one the wiser.