Introduction to Judaism and Disability: Portrayals in Ancient Texts from the Tanach through the Bavli continued . . .

The document serving as the foundation of rabbinic literature is the Mishnah. Its component parts, called mishnayot, were composed after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. (2) These mishnayot, or oral teachings, were promulgated in many schools and were finally culled, organized, and codified by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi around 200 C.E. Instead of being organized according to the structure of the Torah, as were the halakhic midrash collections (see next page), the Mishnah is organized according to six overarching areas: Seeds, Seasons, Civil Law, Women, Holy Things, and Purities. In each of these sections, known as "orders," the format of the Mishnah remains constant. Its language is formulated for easy memorization, since the transmission of its materials was in large part oral. (3) These individual teachings, which became the Mishnah, may have been collected to provide a binding code of law or to be a textbook of laws that were not necessarily binding. At this point, we can probably never know, conclusively, which sort of document the redactors of the Mishnah intended to produce. Indeed, as Strack and Stemberger (1991, 154) point out, the very question of whether to think of it as "a collection, a teaching manual or a law code.probably arises only for modern readers; what is more, it fails to account sufficiently for the utopianism of M[ishnah], its idealized order of the perfect harmony of heaven and earth, and the underlying philosophy. For in principle the ancient tradition is of course regarded as law which must be transmitted in teaching-and thus the three concepts almost coincide."

The Mishnah, which outlines how the sages wanted the world to be, conveys very little of how the world actually was. In some cases, its teachings are completely theoretical-exercises in logic rather than laws meant to be applied to everyday life. Embedded in this picture of the world the sages painted are fundamental concepts of what is important, and most praiseworthy, in the Deity and in humanity. A paradigmatic existence is outlined in the Mishnah, based on village life, a pastoral economy, and holiness centered around the Temple cult. Tractate Avot, also known as Pirkei Avot, is presented as part of the Mishnah but was redacted later. Nonetheless, it stems from the same circles of sages who produced the Mishnah.

As its name would imply, Tosefta, meaning "additions" to the Mishnah, contains different and additional viewpoints and commentary on subjects found in the Mishnah. Tosefta is approximately four times larger than the Mishnah (Herr 1972b, 1283; Goldberg 1987, 283). It is generally agreed that its composition took place in the Land of Israel one generation after the redaction of the Mishnah, that is, 220-230 C.E. (Goldberg 1987, 284; Neusner 1986b, 4). Tosefta provides commentary to all six orders of the Mishnah, though the relation between the two works and indeed the intention of the creators of Tosefta remains unclear. (4)

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