Aramaic Literature – Part 5 – The Mishnah

Multi-Part Article

We move now to the second order of the Mishnah. This second order is called Mo’ed. In the Bible, this term means “appointed time,” and appears as early as Genesis 1. There, the heavenly lights are created in part to serve “for signs, and for seasons (mo’ed), and for days and years” (1:14). The most important, though not the exclusive, use of the term is in reference to the regular festivals of the Old Testament calendar, especially as these are outlined in Lev 23.That chapter begins by saying that “these are the appointed feasts (mo’ed) of the Lord (23:2). The first of these is the Sabbath. Hence, the first treatise of this order is called Shabbat. It deals extensively, through the course of twenty-four chapters, with the passages that deal with the Sabbath as a day of rest. In addition to the obvious discussion of the Ten Commandments, the treatise also deals with such passages as Ex 16:23-26, where directions are given for the children of Israel to gather a double portion of manna on the sixth day, because the seventh day is a day of rest.



The second treatise of the second order is called Erubin (mingling). This treatise recognizes that many of the strictures regarding Sabbath observance may be inconvenient or oppressive, and hence seeks ways to minimize their effects. For example, it was considered work to transfer an item from one house to another. Considering that this may sometimes present a problem, various ways are discussed of solving it, including erecting a physical connection between the two houses, thus making one dwelling. Of course, this works best if the two houses are very close together. Also of course, they don’t seem to consider that the problem might be avoided by planning ahead, and moving the object before the beginning of the Sabbath. This reminds me of the “ox in a ditch” excuse. When I was in graduate school, a number of the undergraduate students I knew were at least somewhat concerned about keeping the (Christian) Sabbath properly. Hence, no studying was allowed on Sundays. Jesus told the Pharisees that if their ox was in the ditch, they would extract it even on the Sabbath. As a result, many of these students would put off studying on Friday and Saturday nights (big party nights at the school I attended). Then Sunday would come, their studying was undone, and hence, the “ox” was in the ditch, and they could then study on Sunday with a clear conscience, completely ignoring the fact that they had failed to prepare properly for the Sabbath,



The third treatise of this order is called Pesahim (Passover). As one might suspect, this treatise deals with the various questions raised concerning the proper observation of the Passover, and the proper sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The difficulties here arise from the fact that there are several passages in the Old Testament that deal with the Passover. The institution of the feast is, of course, the night of the beginning of the Exodus (Ex 12). There are certain characteristics of that observance that would not be characteristic of later observances, since they would be memorial in character. It is also through the Mishnah and later works that the practice of leaving a chair at the table for Elijah arose, as well as the toast, “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Next week we will continue looking at Mo’edim.