Aramaic Literature 8  The Mishnah

The eleventh treatise in Mo’ed is called Katan (half-feasts). Originally it was called Mashkin, from the first word in the treatise. It deals with the middle days of Passover and Tabernacles, that is, those days between the first two and the last two days of the particular festivals. However, as with many of the Mishnah treatises, the discussion range far beyond that limited topic. For example, it explains 1Kings 8:66, where we are told that after the dedication of the temple, Tabernacles was celebrated for fourteen days rather than eight, and the people were sent home on the fifteenth day. It also deals with who may trim their hair, and under what conditions.

The twelfth and last treatise of Mo’ed is Hagigah, dealing with the way in which the three major feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—are to be celebrated, It also contains what has become a famous (at least in Jewish circles) discussion on the esoteric meaning of the Torah.

The third order of the Mishnah is called Nashim (women). Obviously it deals with a number of questions concerning women. The first treatise is called Yebamot, dealing with the question defining the widows who were required to enter into a levirate marriage, and under what conditions they may enter into another marriage. For those unfamiliar with the language, levirate marriage was that marriage that the Torah required when a man died without issue. His brother was then required to marry her and raise up offspring for his brother. There is the famous case in Genesis 38 where Onan refused to fulfill his responsibility as a brother, and the Lord slew him.

The second treatise is Ketuvot (marriage contracts). It deals primarily with the mutual responsibilities of husband and wife. For example, “These are the duties which a wife must perform for her husband: grinding flour and baking bread, washing clothes and cooking food, nursing her child, making his bed and working in wool…Even if she brings him a hundred servants he should compel her to work in wool, for idleness leads to immorality” (5:5). The third treatise is Nedarim (vows). It expands on and explains the rules regarding vows taken by women as they were set out in Numbers 30. It specifies non-binding vows as follows: “The Sages declared four kinds of vows to be not binding: vows of incitement, vows of exaggeration, vows made in error, and vows which cannot be fulfilled because of outside pressure” (3:1).

The fourth treatise is Nazir (from the laws regarding Nazirite vows in Numbers 6. As with Nedarim it discourages extreme sorts of vows and encourages moderation in all aspects of life. The fifth treatise is Sotah which deals with the case of the woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 5). The rabbinic system leans away from relying on direct divine intervention is deciding issues, which is at the center of this set of laws. Hence, the Mishnah reveals a subtle reworking of the whole ceremony, encouraging women to study the Torah. “Therefore, ben Azzai said: A man ought to give his daughter knowledge of Torah so that if she must drink the bitter water she may know that the acquired merit will suspend her punishment” (Sotah 3:4).


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