Workshop: Midrash, Mishna, and Talmud

Oral Law

  • a detailed legal system claiming descent from the Torah
  • revelation of both the Written and the Oral Law happened once, at Sinai.
  • Since all of Israel is seen as present on Mt. Sinai, all are commanded to accept the decisions of all subsequent judges or teachers.

More than a faith or system of beliefs

  • a way of life
  • Basis for Jewish Law (Halakha)


  • Midrash is interpretation.
  • Tells the untold story of the Bible and reads between the lines to uncover the deeper meaning of the Bible.
  • Traditionally 4 meanings: literal (peshat); hints (remez; comparative (derash); secret (sod)

More on Midrash here.


  • A commentary, summary of traditional law as interpreted by the Pharisaic-rabbinic movement
  • Claims based on the Oral Law given by Moses
  • Oldest datable rabbinic document, codified 3rd century, traditionally ca. 220 by Rabbi Judah
  • 6 sections covering many aspects of Jewish religious & social behavior

See here for an image of a traditional printing of the Mishna.

Talmud (gemara)

  • A commentary on the Mishnah
  • A product of Rabbinic culture
  • Covers all imaginable aspects of life
  • An open text that values discussion and solution-finding
  • Written mostly in Aramaic (the vernacular)
  • 2 Talmudim, one written in Palestine (doesn’t cover entire Mishnah), one in Babylonia (complete and more widely studied)

For an explanation of the layout of the Talmud see here.

Check also out this comprehensive website detailing the history of the printing of the Talmud here, including a number of videos demonstrating various styles of Talmud study.


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