Methodology and Method in the Teaching of Tannaitic Literature

by: Pinchas Hayman

This article originally appeared in Studies in Jewish Education 8 (2002), pp. 53-71. Appears here with permission.
In an earlier study,1 I presented an approach to the teaching of Oral Tradition (OT)2 literature which varies from existing educational practice3 in two critical ways. Firstly, it is based on modern academic research in the field,4 and secondly, it organizes OT textual study in the primary and secondary levels in a spiral curricular framework, crafted according to defined skills-based teaching strategies. Although this approach to curriculum development is already a matter of course in most general disciplines, it has not yet been utilized, or even entertained seriously, in OT studies in the schools.5 The effect of this delay in the professional development of the discipline is staggering. Despite the disproportionate allocation of learning time and resources to the study of these texts in religious schools,6 Bar Lev (1991) has demonstrated that current approaches are still so unsuccessful that educators and students alike deem them counterproductive in the extreme.7 OT learning materials published in the last two decades, and presently in use in Jewish schools in the Diaspora and Israel, ignore the implications of modern academic research in OT literature and cognition.8 On the whole, they attempt to facilitate OT learning by simple quantitative controls,9 or by extensive workbook companions to specific texts.10 Existing materials, which try to teach method, deal only with “micro” skills: standard expressions in Mishnaic Hebrew and Babylonian Aramaic, simple grammar, syntax and the like. True, these aspects of study are certainly important to the pupil, and should be regularly and consistently applied. However, students also require training in “macro” issues of method (which are the stuff of modern academic research), including the overall organizational systems of OT literature and its components,11 the relationship between the various sources and books,12 and the dynamic processes behind OT literary development.13 Without these “macro” skills, the student is likely to feel abandoned, adrift in a sea of disjointed data without the essential tools to process and master them. Yet worse, the student may feel unable to “connect” effectively to the field, and may become detached from the topic and its basis in thought and values.14 In this article, I propose an alternative curricular framework: a methodological, skills-based study of Tannaitic materials.15
Current practice in both Diaspora and Israeli Jewish schools divides OT study into two stages: study of Mishnah (generally commencing in the third or fourth primary grade), and study of Talmud (generally commencing in the fourth to sixth primary grade), with the first taken primarily as preparatory for the second.16 The intervening stages of literary development17 are untreated. As presented in my earlier article, present practice is roughly akin to teaching calculus immediately after simple arithmetic. I propose a new conception: OT sources should be organized into four literary levels, from which derive four curricular “stations.” Each learning station represents a defined level of sophistication in the learning of OT material, and provides for review of previous stations and integration of acquired cognitive skills. Together, the four stations constitute a totally integrated spiral curriculum. However, these stations are also designed to allow for presentation as independent modular units, so that students with less motivation or skill can learn OT sources without being taxed beyond an appropriate level,18 while more highly motivated or skilled students can proceed apace. At any given level of learning, however, stress is placed on achievement of independent learning capability at that level of sophistication. This new OT didactic is ideal for modern heterogeneous classrooms, enabling the teacher to concentrate on demonstration of learning skills and example sources, followed by supervision of guided individual, cooperative, or group studies on a variety of levels. In addition, this new approach allows the autodidact to achieve fluency in learning without inordinate dependence on external referents, and is thus ideal for computerized or long-distance learning.
The first two learning stations deal with the study of Tannaitic texts, and the latter two with the study of Talmudic texts:19

  • Station I: Mishnah Texts
  • Station 2: Parallel Tannaitic Sources20
  • Station 3: Amoraic Sources and Sugyot (Units)
  • Station 4: “Stammaic” Sources and Sugyot

Each learning station subdivides into methodological “phases,” which present the various learning skills needed in the station, and each phase into “levels” of complexity in the specific skill. Each phase consists of initial sources which demonstrate the literary phenomena or learning skill to be mastered, followed by transfer of the student into “unseen” sources in the successive levels of the phase, presented according to degrees of difficulty and complexity.21 In this article, I will summarize the goals and skills of the first two stations. The latter two stations will be treated in a separate work.22
Station I – Mishnah Texts
The objective of the first station is to train the pupil for independent study of the Mishnah, and is comprised of three phases. The first phase of this station deals with the relationship between WT and OT. Halakhic Tannaitic materials have come down to us in two distinct literary forms: Midreshei Halakhah present the Halakhic Tannaitic material in the form of interpretations of the verses of the written tradition (WT),23 while the Mishnah and Tosefta are legal traditions organized topically.24 In either case, however, Tannaitic texts complement the written Torah conceptually and legally, and therefore the first step in the study of OT texts is the skills-based study of WT itself. This matter will be treated extensively elsewhere,25 but suffice it to say at this point that study of WT which properly prepares the pupil to understand OT should include:

  • separation of peshat and drash,26
  • identifying the boundaries of the data included in a given verse by asking accurate and pointed questions,
  • recognition of text division systems and their significance,27
  • fundamentals of the Masorah Gedolah and Masorah Ketanah,
  • cantillation marks and their importance for proper reading, punctuation and interpretation of the text
  • fundamentals of biblical canonization,28 and
  • fundamentals of biblical narrative and poetry.29

These skills were of importance in the Tannaitic approach to WT, and are of equal importance in empowering the student to accurate and independent textual study of Tannaitic texts. After this preparation in WT texts, the student is ready to understand how the Mishnah functions as the halakhic companion to WT. The pupil learns to appreciate this relationship between OT and WT through study of verses of the Torah which deal with halakhic issues treated in the Mishnah, clarifying the informational boundaries of each literature. Does the verse provide enough information on its own to establish practical halakhic guidelines? Since verses never do, the student is trained to ask questions on the verse in order to realize its informational boundaries, and delineate those areas in which further information is needed.30 Subsequently, the student examines Mishnaic selections which provide this “further information,” training the pupil to see Mishnah as the companion of WT. In some cases, Mishnaic selections represent OT as ancient and of Torah authority, while in other cases the Mishnaic selections represent various forms of subsequent rabbinical interpretations and/or legislation.31 In any event, the OT sources reflect interpretation and implementation of WT. This first phase subdivides into three levels:

  1. Mishnayot (plural of Mishnah) which quote verses as antecedents: In such texts, the student concentrates on comparison of the literal meaning of the quoted verse to the legislative “use” of the verse in the mishnayot. The relationship between the literal meaning and the legislative use of the verse is basically one of three types. Either the OT has adopted the literal meaning of the verse as basis for legislation, or it has interpreted it in a discernible fashion and created legislation from the verse, or the OT has begun its discussion with an halakhic imperative which is not derived from the verse itself. In the latter case, the verse is utilized only as a support for an existing law. Attention to these points defines the WT-OT relationship.”32
  2. Mishnayot which deal with halakhic information without quotation of relevant verses as antecedents: In such texts, the student relates the mishnayot to the informational boundaries of the verse, categorizing the halakhic data according to the questions arising from preliminary study of the verse.33
  3. Mishnayot in which the halakhic information provided does not relate to specific verses, or which is not represented at all in WT: In these mishnayot, care must be taken to delineate the legislative context for the mishnayot in lieu of WT antecedents.34

In the second phase of the first station, the student moves from the study of OT as a companion to WT, to the study of OT as an independent literature. Academic method asserts that understanding the literary history of Mishnah is a prerequisite for the understanding of Mishnah content.35 One of the main instruments in the study of mishnaic literary history is the examination of the topical, associative or stylistic codices in Mishnah. Although the Mishnah is popularly seen as a topical halakhic code, it is also (primarily?) an anthology of earlier Tannaitic codices organized by a variety of devices, styles and methods. Codices may be topical, organizing an array of sources and opinions on a given subject.36 Codices may be entirely associative or stylistic, organizing material which shares a common author, or location of composition,37 or merely a common word or literary formula.38 Students with experience only in Western literature generally see these codices as odd, a-contextual, even bothersome, since they conform to no literary format familiar to them. Many ill-trained teachers of Mishnah skip associative and stylistic codices entirely, considering them irrelevant to the subject matter at hand. Others may actually devote entire lessons to futile attempts to discover a topical connection between elements of an associative series, or between the series and the topical context! However, the initial goal in studying codices is not content-oriented, but gestalt oriented. The pupil must develop the scanning skill that facilitates organization of the Mishnah text into its original learning units. When presented with a chapter or section of Mishnah, the pupil first checks for groups of mishnayot which are distinct from the overall context, either due to their content or their form. Once the connecting devices which bind the unusual mishnayot together are identified, the student can proceed to understanding the relationship between the various series of mishnayot which, once edited together, constitute the whole text studied today. Context is presented as a pre-determinate of content, and the text is studied in a manner consistent with its initial composition. Once the Mishnah is seen in this way, it is studied as a reader in OT sources, not only as a legal code, and the student can understand how oral traditions are formed, distributed and preserved. This approach, by teaching texts as the repositories of oral materials older than the text itself, sets the stage for study of parallel Tannaitic sources in the second station of the curriculum.
Four levels are apparent in this second phase:

  1. Codices of mishnayot organized solely by topic: For instance, all the special rabbinical legislation for the promotion of social order may be grouped together, even though the various laws deal with different halakhic issues. Instead of “filing” the individual mishnayot according to their various issues in separate topical tractates, the Mishnah presents them together, grouped by an overall, mnemonic binder, e.g., “enactments for social order.39 The whole group is then “filed” in the Mishnah tractate and chapter relevant to the first element of the group. The balance of the group is thus “decontextualized” from a topical perspective, but maintained in its original literary framework.
  2. Codices of mishnayot organized solely by the name of the sage: For instance, a group of mishnayot on various topics all taught by a given scholar may be grouped together for no reason other than the mnemonic convenience of the common author.40 The group is “filed” in the tractate location which matches the topic of the first element of the group, as above.
  3. Codices of mishnayot organized solely by linguistic or stylistic mnemonic device: For instance, a group of mishnayot all beginning or ending with the same word or phrase may be taught together despite their disparate topics.41 The group will appear in the Mishnah location relevant to the first element in the group, as above.
  4. Complex collections of mishnayot, in which more than one of the above or other codex devices are present: This may include codices which are attached one to the other, or in which both a topic and an associative device are active.42

The third phase of the first station adds further sophistication to the study of Mishnah. If in the first phase Mishnah is studied as a companion to WT, and if in the second phase Mishnah becomes an independent literature, the third phase presents the Mishnah as a dynamic, evolving legal system. Mishnayot are often historically layered, and the stratification generally reflects stages of halakhic development in response to changes in circumstances or social needs.43 Although generally in chronological order, textual strata can also appear to be non-chronological until the relationship between the strata is clarified.44 For students of Mishnah, stratification is of cardinal importance in perception of the dynamic potential of Jewish law and legislation. In most cases, the individual layers will represent the products of a dynamic legal and social process not reflected in the words of the Mishnah itself. By studying the layers and analyzing the movement from one layer to the other, mishnaic product is seen as the result of legal process, and the student can begin to study rabbinical thought and jurisprudence.
To aid comprehension, the generations of Tannaitic sages are outlined to the pupil, including biographical sketches on the main teachers in each generation. A variety of mishnayot are presented: some entirely anonymous, some with one or more layers. Generally, named layers appear after the earlier anonymous layer. Operative questions include the following: What is the contribution of each named layer to the anonymous layer? Is the named opinion a clarification of the anonymous opinion, an example of it, or a different opinion altogether? Is the relationship of the layers that of majority-minority opinions, or that of historical layering? What circumstances have changed from period to period that required the addition of the new layers?45 The levels of this phase are as follows:

  1. Wholly anonymous mishnayot,46
  2. Mishnayot with an anonymous layer followed by one named opinion, in which the relationship appears to be that of majority-minority opinions within one historical layer, without historical stratification,47
  3. Mishnayot with an anonymous layer followed by one, two or three named opinions, in which the named opinions reflect historical strata in which the halakhah is being adapted to new sets of circumstances.48

The study of Mishnah according to the three phases described above may constitute a curriculum unto itself, in which the specific mishnaic material studied is selected entirely according to the skills being presented. Alternatively, the three phases can constitute a skills unit added on to a standard topical Mishnah curriculum. In either case, skills in Mishnah study are most relevant to a school culture in which independent study of OT texts by pupils is an educational objective. For other school cultures, in which study of selected mishnayot has chiefly experiential or simple informational purposes, there is obviously less need for methodological detail.
For many parents, teachers and school administrators, the decisive question, is that of the “efficiency ratio” of text learned per lesson of textual study. That is, what is the “yield” of the text learning hour? Clearly an “upwardly-mobile yield curve” is desirable as long as a pleasant learning atmosphere and reasonable depth of textual understanding are not affected. How can this upward curve be created in Mishnah study? Two techniques, ignored by the vast majority of Jewish schools today (due to their absence in general educational technique), are most appropriate for Mishnah: learning with cantillation,49 and learning by heart.50 Each deserves a few lines.
In Jewish communities worldwide, biblical texts are learned with cantillation in accordance with the Massoretic marks and local melodic customs51 in preparation of Jewish youth for Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. However, discovery of cantillation marks on OT manuscripts makes it evident that the intoning of Mishnah is much more than a “shtetl schoolhouse” method. Tannaitic scholars apparently intoned their teachings, and often formulated their remarks in codices (as discussed above) to aid the mnemonic process. I am not suggesting the use of the biblical cantillation systems for OT study, but rather “free” cantillation of Mishnah in which the melody has a pattern that can itself be learned and applied independently by pupils. Such an intoning pattern should differentiate statement from question, fundamental from derived opinions, etc. The pupil becomes the carrier and, therefore, the tradent of the OT by the very recitation and oral mastery of the intoned texts. Learning of mishnayot with cantillation is performed initially in a fashion similar to that utilized in audio-lingual applications of foreign-language instruction, then reviewed with an audio recording, not a printed book. This method allows the instructor to include facial and hand gestures as part of the Mishnah transmission, and has the side benefit of deepening the personal bond between teacher and student.
Learning by heart has virtually disappeared from Western education, being identified with authoritarian and impersonal instructional systems.52 However, Mishnah was intended to be memorized: students learned mishnayot as part of their personal relationship with their master, and repeated a given source tens, if not hundreds of times before considering themselves as having learned it.53 A teacher’s exact language was a genuine part of classical learning, even when the distinct expression or vocabulary utilized by the scholar had no impact on the halakhah under discussion.54 Memorization allows for continual study of the material, without regard for available texts or learning aids. Internalization of the material through memorization also tends to give the student “ownership” over the material, and even endears the material to the student. In one preliminary experiment conducted by this author in an average Israeli religious primary school, three out of four groups of fourth grade pupils were randomly selected, and presented with a program based on the above techniques, without alteration of the quantity of hours devoted to the learning of Mishnah. The teachers, all female, had never learned Mishnah systematically, and were trained and instructed to put aside all printed texts, to sing the Mishnah, and to repeat each section until most students could recite it by heart. After only two weeks of such study, it was found that the experimental classes had accomplished nearly three times the quantity of material as the control group, and the pupils and teachers registered significant upgrading of their enjoyment of the topic.55 Yet more intriguing was the residual impact discovered among siblings and parents of the experimental groups. Students in the experimental groups began teaching the mishnayot they had learned to their families, with the melody and gestures they had learned in school!
Station 2- Parallel Tannaitic Sources
The objective of the second station is to train the pupil to compare and contrast the Mishnah with the wider range of extant Tannaitic sources.56 Within the totality of Tannaitic literature, the Mishnah is retrospectively considered primus inter pares57 and, as such, Mishnah has become the sole focus of prevalent pre-Talmudic study. However, the proposed didactic stresses comparative study of the Mishnah and other Tannaitic sources before any study of Talmud. This intermediate stage yields rich dividends in our spiral conception of OT learning:

  • The Mishnah learned in the first station is now set in a wider context, as the pupil begins to encounter other Tannaitic statements that impact directly on the content and form of materials familiar to him/her.58
  • The distinction between texts and oral traditions is sharpened, since the student sees how given oral traditions appear in different texts in slightly but significantly different ways.59
  • Study of parallel sources demands fuller historical background, which reinforces the interdisciplinary approach to the Mishnah text.60
  • Study of parallel sources exposes the student to linguistic variety, since the various sources may utilize variant dialects or terminology for the same idea or oral tradition. This exposure helps the student to develop flexibility of comprehension, as he/she learns to see the same concept in various forms61
  • The comparison and contrasting of various Tannaitic sources prepares the pupil for study of the literature of the Amoraim in the third station of the curriculum, since a significant component of the Amoraic enterprise was parallel analysis of Tannaitic sources 62

In this station, the phases are more functional than methodological, since they all consist of similar skills of comparison and contrast. However, the student learns to differentiate the phases from each other by the various types of parallels in the extant Tannaitic literature. In all of the “compare and contrast” operations described below, similar critical questions may be asked. What are the exact points of topical and/or stylistic similarity and difference between the sources? Do the same Tannaim appear in the various parallel texts? Do the Tannaim seem to be saying the same thing in different texts varying one from the other only in style, terminology, etc., or are their very opinions reported differently by the various sources?
In the first phase, students compare and contrast specific mishnayot learned, in the first station, with parallel sources from the Tosefta. The pupil learns how to find Tosefta parallels to the Mishnah by tractate and chapter. (Usually, parallels are within a chapter of each other in the two texts.) While parallel sources in Mishnah and Tosefta often quote the same scholars on similar topics, the materials are presented in variant readings that often affect their meaning. Three types of relationships between the Mishnah and Tosefta are apparent:

  1. The Tosefta can present the sources of the discussion and/or opinions in the Mishnah.63
  2. The Tosefta can present commentary on or interpretation of the discussion and/or opinions in the Mishnah.64
  3. The Tosefta can present material parallel to but different from the Mishna.65

In the second phase of the station, comparative study skills are utilized for Mishnah and beraita.66 The pupil learns that in a discussion of a given Mishnah in the Babylonian Talmud, or in the Talmud Yerushalmi, beraitot which are relevant to the understanding of the Mishnah are often presented. These beraitot are marked and presented by technical introductory words,67 and are also identified by their Hebrew language composition, and by the scholars appearing in various strata within the beraita. Beraitot are derived from extinct Tannaitic codices, and may be complete units68 or partial phrases.69 They can be sources of the Mishnah, commentary on the Mishnah, or parallel to the Mishnah, as with the Tosefta above. The beraitot, once excerpted from the Talmudic discussion, are then compared directly with the Mishnah under discussion, as above in the case of Tosefta. Mishnah-beraita analysis differs from Mishnah-Tosefta analysis, however, in that the relevance of a given beraita to the Mishnah under discussion is often ambiguous or forced, and understood only in light of the Talmudic discussion itself.70 These characteristics form the basis of the levels of the second phase in this station.71
In the third and last phase (generally only appropriate for the latter semester of the sixth primary grade due to the unique qualities and complexities of the Midreshei Halakhah), Mishnah and Midreshei Halakhah are compared. On a given Mishnah, relevant verses of the Torah are identified as in the first phase of the first station above. The Midreshei Halakhah72 on the verses are then consulted in order of chapter and verse of the Torah.73 Since the various Midreshei Halakhah are from Tannaitic schools of biblical interpretation which differ radically from each other in legal thought and practice,74 one of the critical questions of this phase will be: according to which school are the legal opinions presented in the Mishnah?75 Even when the Mishnah and Midrash Halakhah are seen to be in fundamental legal agreement, there are a number of critical issues to be explored by the student:

  1. Does the legal opinion in the Mishnah flow from the interpretation of the verse as reflected in the midrash, or does the midrash seem to be providing a textual support for an accepted legal decision?76
  2. If the legal opinion of the Mishnah does flow from the interpretation of the verse, what interpretive techniques are being utilized by the Midrash?77 Do these techniques reflect the simple meaning of the verse (peshat) as learned in the first phase of the first station above?

Two additional benefits are realized through the three phases of this comparative study: Firstly, since the student receives a broader perspective on Tannaitic literature and a more complete picture of the background of the Mishnah itself, the student may now ask questions pertaining to the editorial approach of the Mishnah author(s). Why were given topics, opinions, examples or applications included or excluded from the Mishnah? Does such inclusion or exclusion reflect conscious editing, or does the Mishnah simply reflect the traditions of a certain Tannaitic school? Secondly, the student is challenged to suggest ways to resolve difficulties in the comparison of the sources. For example, contradictions between sources may be resolved by the suggestion that the different sources are dealing with varying circumstances, or that the varying sources are using different terms for the same idea, or even that the varying sources are really interpreting, not contradicting, one another. Training the pupil to compare and contrast sources in order to identify such areas of potential compatibility, or even to discover that specific sources are in irreconcilable conflict with each other, pre-disposes the pupil to the foundations of Talmudic analysis, which will be the topic of our next study.
1 Religious Education, vol. 92 (Winter, 1997), pp. 61-76.
2OT literature, in its widest sense, includes Mishnah, Tosefta, Beraitot, Midreshei Halakhah, Talmudim, Midreshei Aggada, Halakhah, and Kabbalah. Certain conventions of Written Tradition are also, strictly speaking, part of OT, such as vocalization, cantillation, text division systems, etc. In this article, however, “OT literature” refers to Tannaitic and Talmudic literature specifically.
3My conception of existing practice as mentioned here is based on the published curricula of the Israeli Ministry of Education for Government and Government Religious schools, and on classroom observations in secondary school classrooms in the context of ethnographic research throughout the country, in both systems. Additional qualitative research through interview of students and teachers has confirmed the ethnographic findings.
4Thus, it is “methodological.” For cogent presentation of modern research in the field and its impact on Talmudic study as understood here, see H. Albeck, Mavo la-Mishnah (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 5734), and Mavo la-Talmudim (Tel Aviv, 5735); E. Z. Melamed, Pirkei Mavo L’Sifrut ha-Talmud (Jerusalem, 5733); M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-‘lvri (Jerusalem, 5738) (Part III); and M. S. Feldblum, “Professor A. Weiss: His Method in Talmudic Research and Summary of his Conclusions,” in Jubilee Volume in Honor of Rabbi Dr. Abraham Weiss (New York, 1964) (all Hebrew).
5 See Y. Katz, “On the Teaching of Talmud,” Sinai, vols. 9 and 10; E. E. Urbach, “The Teaching of Talmud in the Religious School,” in On Judaism and Educa- tion (Jerusalem, 1967); Y. A. Efrati, Didaktika la-Talmud, Ministry of Education (Jerusalem, 1978) (all Hebrew).
6In Israeli yeshiva high schools in the Zionist streams, up to 25 hours per week can be devoted to Talmud study alone, while many religious high schools in Israel and the Diaspora provide approximately 10 weekly hours. Overall, OT literature comprises approximately 40% of the entire Judaica component in these schools. In non-Zionist Orthodox settings in which general studies play a much smaller role, Talmud study can claim 40 or more hours per week!
7See S. Weiser and M. Bar-Lev, “Hora’at ha-Talmud b’Yeshivah ha-Tichonit: K’Sha’im V’Sikuyim,” Nir Hamidrashia (1990), and note 5 above.
8The lack of cognitive method in the current teaching of OT texts has reached such a state that the Israeli Ministry of Education, in one of its recent publications which listed the cognitive processes to be learned from each study discipline, put in writing that from the study of Mishnah and Talmud there are no known cognitive processes to be learned! See S. Amiad, Mikkud ha-Limidah, Ministry of Education, 1995.
9In the study of Mishnah, for instance, most schools following the government curriculum have adopted the Becker series for early study of Mishnah. This series simply presents the selected mishnayot according to the curriculum without any methodological guidance of any kind. See n. 10.
10The most sophisticated workbooks to date: Y. Efrati’s Yagata u’Matzata, still leave the pupil without a fixed approach to the study of the material in question. A. Efrati’s Talmud l’Talmid, Ministry of Education (1978, 1985), went much further in suggesting methodology for Mishnah study in schools, but it is unfortunately not in use in virtually any system today. Efrati’s work, though seminal, dealt only with the study of Talmudic selections through separation of layers. Here, the study of Talmud is put into the larger context of the study of OT as a whole.
11In this category, one would include hermeneutic and topical frameworks for early oral traditions, and redaction of early traditions into topical or associative mnemonic codices. See, for example, Albeck and Melamed, op. cit.
12Including the relationship between Mishnah and Tosefta, the Mishnah and Tannaitic literature as a whole, Tannaitic literature as a whole and the Talmudim, and the relationship between the Babylonian Talmud and the Talmud Yerushalmi. The first two are dealt with here, and the latter two in the coming work.
13Here, we refer to the understanding of Rabbinical jurisprudence as a response to changing circumstances and conditions, whether in the form of normative legislation as reflected in the historical layers of Mishnah, for example, or as special enactments known, for example, as Tikkun ha-‘Olam or Darckei Shalom. See P. Hayman, “Jewish Identity: The Three Faces of Eve,” in Making a Difference: Jewish Identity and Education, eds. D. Zisenwine and D. Schers (Tel Aviv, 1997), pp. 133-147.
14See P. Hayman, “Implications of Academic Approaches to the Study of the Babylonian Talmud for the Beliefs and Religious Attitudes of the Student,” in Abiding Challenges, Research Perspectives on Jewish Education: Studies in Memory of Mordechai Bar-Lev, eds. Y. Rich and M. Rosenak (Tel Aviv, 1999), pp. 375-400.
15The Mishnah of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, the Tosefta, the seven extant Medreshei Halakhah, and the beraitot in the Babylonian Talmud and the Talmud Yerushalmi. Aggadic Tannaitic material will be treated elsewhere.
16. In Israel, the published curricula of the Ministry of Education call for the study of Mishnah in the third to fifth grades, with commencement of Talmud study for boys in the fourth grade. Talmud study for girls is beginning to appear in selected schools, though is as of yet not a part of formal curricular requirements. See the existing curricula as published by the Ministry: for the Government schools, 5732, and for Government Religious schools, 5747, After commencement of the study of Talmud, Mishnah ceases to be an independent curricular topic in the vast majority of schools, as if it has no existence outside the Talmudim.
17Parallel Tannaitic literature, and Amoraic literature, the two pillars of the Talmudic apparatus.
18For instance, students finding inordinate difficulty with the Aramaic language can still move on beyond Mishnah to the study of the Amoraic literature (after separation from the later, Aramaic levels of the Talmud), whether as a supplement to Tannaitic sources or as independent legislation. Amoraic sources are overwhelmingly presented in Hebrew within the Talmudic corpus, and they can be easily excerpted for this purpose.
19See my articles in Religious Education and Abiding Challenges, op. cit., for description of the methodological characteristics of these four stations. Here, I will describe the didactic applications for Tannaitic texts alone.
20See note 15 above.
21As of this writing, hundreds of OT sources are being sorted and catalogued according to the “stations,” “phases” and “levels” described here.
22Additional studies in this series will also deal with the didactics of integrated WT and OT study, Aggadic material, and of normative Halakhic practice.
23The Midreshei Halakhah known today derive from two schola Rabbi Yishmael b. Elisha and Rabbi Akiba b. Yosef, both of the Yabneh period. The two schola systematically applied homiletic methods handed down from previous scholars, differing extensively in homiletic approach and juristic conclusions. See the introduction to the doctoral dissertation of Zvi Arie Yehuda, The Two Mekhikot on the Hebrew Slave (1974). The extant Halakhic Midrashim are: on Exodus, Mekhilta of Rabbi Yishmael, Mekhilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, on Leviticus, Torat Kohanim (also referred to as Sifra d’Bei Rav), on Numbers, Sifrei Bamidbar and Sifrei Zuta, and on Deuteronomy, Sifrei Debarim and Medrash ha-Tannaim. Modern research suggests the existence of other midrashim and even other schola, but the research is as yet too theoretical and incomplete to have practical didactic relevance.
24The exact relationship between the Mishnah and Tosefta is a matter of debate. Traditionally, the Tosefta is seen as an expansion and interpretation of the Mishnah, based on the Talmudic sugyah in Tractate Ta’anit, page 21a. However, the data reflect much more variety in the relationship, and some scholars even argue that the Tosefta predates the Mishnah. The academic literature on this topic is extensive, but see Melamed, op. cit., for a reasonable synopsis. Here, since our concern is didactic, not academic, we will present an approach allowing the pupil to discover and consider the data for him/herself. The balance of extant Tannaitic material is represented in the “beraitot,” brief Talmudic quotations of earlier Tannaitic sources no longer extant, and may either be midrashic or topical in form.
25See the recent anthology of M. Ahrend and S. Feuerstein, Biblical Studies and Teaching, Bar-llan University (1997) (Hebrew).
26“Simple” and “homiletic” meanings: the student learns to distinguish what a text is saying from what those who use the text are saying, thereby defining boundaries between the WT and its processing in OT.
27There are four known division systems for the Torah text. Chapter divisions and verse numbering are 13th century Christian divisions, while paragraph divisions (“petuha” and “setuma”) and weekly public readings divisions (“sedarim” in Israel and “parashiyot shavua” in Babylonia) are Jewish. The various division systems reflect the philosophies and interpretive traditions of their sponsors.
28See S. Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (Hamden, Conn., 1976).
29See R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York, 1981) and his subsequent The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York, 1987).
30Examples abound. The admonition to avoid boiling a kid in its mother’s milk is presented three times in the Torah, yet there is virtually no information exactly what is prohibited by this admonition. Does the Scripture forbid only a “kid” in its own mother’s milk, a “kid” in any mother’s milk, any animal in its mother’s milk, any animal in any mother’s milk, etc. It is further unclear why the issue appears in its context, and why the admonition is brought three times. Similarly limited data are presented on hundreds of biblical precepts discussed in the OT.
31OT includes both oral traditions handed down from Sinai, and Rabbinical hermeneutics and legislation. Halakhic hermeneutics include “midrash yotzer,” or “formative homiletics,” in which the homiletics are actually deriving a law or legal principle from the homiletic process (also referred to as “d’rash kadam le-halakhah”), and “midrash m’kayem,” or “supportive homiletics,” in which the homiletic process is providing scriptural allusions as supports for existing or independent legislation (also referred to as “halakhah kadmah le-d’rash”). Legislation may include “takkanot,” or special enactments for social, communal or economic purposes, and “gezerot,” or general enactments to prevent possible transgression of Torah laws.
32See, for example, tractate Berakhot, chap. I, Mishnah 3. The verse is used as a support for the legal dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.
33See, for example, tractate Hullin, chap. 8.
34For example, tractate Megillah, which discusses observance developed after the Torah period, of course.
35See Feldblum, op. cit.
36Such as the codex dealing with acquisitions in Kiddushin 1:1-6.
37Such as the codex of special enactments of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai in Rosh Hashanah 4:1-4.
38Such as the codex in Kiddushin 1:6-10, or in the first chapter of Megillah.
39Tractate Gittin, chap. 4, mishnayot 2-5.
40For example, tractate Rosh Hashanah, chap. 4, mishnayot 1-4.
41For example, tractate Kiddushin, chap. 1, mishnayot 6-10.
42For example, the first chapter of Kiddushin has a topical codex in mishnayot 1-6, and a codex by key word in mishnayot 6-10. Mishnah 6, which joins the two codices, belongs to both groups.
43For example, the first mishnah in Gittin, in which the enactment demanding the testimony of the delivery agent of the divorce is expanded to include territories close to Israel during the period of Yavneh.
44Strata may be presented in normal generational order, (1, 2, 3) or in generational order with a later interpretive remark inserted parenthetically (1, 3, 2), etc. For an excellent example of the latter, see the first Mishnah of tractate Kiddushin which is arranged as 1, 2, 3, 1.
45See E. Berkowitz, “Not in Heaven,” Ktav, vol. 19 (1983) for a clear presentation of the philosophical implications of this approach.
46For example, see tractate Shabbat, chap. 1, Mishnah 1.
47For example, see tractate Shabbat, chap. 2, Mishnah 4.
48For example, see tractate Shabbat, chap. 2, Mishnah I, or Mishnah 2.
49“Learning with cantillation” does not refer to singing mishnayot according to popular tunes, as has been adopted in certain circles. This approach is counter-productive, because it further individualizes the learning units, instead of binding them together by a common method. “Cantillation” refers to a systematic approach to intoning the text which can be methodically acquired by pupils and utilized equally well on all Mishnah texts. Various ethnic groups among the Jewish people developed fixed cantillation systems for Mishnah.
50Learning by heart was not only the necessary approach to publication in the absence of the printing press! Learning by heart meant that the text lives only in, and through, the one who knows it. Those who know the text are the authorities regarding the text, they “own” the text, and they may operate, interpret, and even legislate from the text.
51“Melodic customs” refers to the variant musical renditions of the fixed cantillation system. Virtually every ethnic grouping of the traditional Jewish world has its own melodic rendition of the cantillation “marks” for scriptural readings.
52Deprecation of memorization began early in the humanistic revolution, in Western educational research. Western society, as a culture of written documents, has little or no need for memorization. Judaism, as a fundamentally Eastern society, and as a society built on sacred texts, sees learning and knowing – not only knowing how to know – as an absolute value. Thus, the role of memorization in Mishnah learning.
53See Hagigah 9b, for example.
54See, for example, Mishnah Eduyot, chap. 1, Mishnah 3.
55This experiment was conducted in the 1995-96 school year, in primary classes in the “Ariel” Religious Government school in Ra’anana, Israel. Three fourth grade classes participated in the experiment. During classroom observations, it was noted that after implementation of the “new” system, students pressed their teachers for more Mishnah hours, even at the expense of previously preferred topics, such as mathematics or music.
56See above, notes 15, 23 and 24.
57This perception is chiefly due to the Babylonian Talmud, in which the Mishnah often served as the basis for the discussions in the Amoraic academies. Apparently, this was due to the fact that Rav (Rabbi Abba) founded his yeshivah in Sura on the basis of the Mishnah of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, his teacher. The Talmud Yerushalmi has a different approach, often basing its discussions on Tosefta sources, bringing the Mishnah as a beraita! In any event, the main issue is the differentiation between oral traditions and their literary redaction. Our goal is that the students should see the sum total of Tannaitic literary output as a representation of the developing oral traditions, regardless of which source opens the discussion.
58For instance, comparison of the first Mishnah of Kiddushin with its counterpart in the Tosefta clarifies that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi deliberately focused on kiddushei kesef, although the extant traditions explained thoroughly all three methods for engagement. Similarly, study of the last Mishnah of Gittin is enriched by the study of the beraita in the Talmud which expands our understanding of the argument between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel on justified grounds for divorce. Examples abound.
59The student is made aware that oral traditions may appear in several different texts in different ways, while still being the same oral traditions. Thus, it is necessary to collect all representations of the oral traditions on the subject under discussion in order to receive a complete view of the topic.
60Often, in parallel texts, one will display different tradents, or additional layers of discussion, thus broadening the need for historical knowledge and detail.
61In this manner, the student becomes less dogmatic, and less inclined to utilize relatively insignificant details of text to justify outlandish interpretations. The overall sweep of the sources provides a clearer context for understanding of each source.
62In most Amoraic sugyot, the basis of discussion is comparison and contrast of Tannaitic materials. When the student has him/herself dealt with this process, relating to Amoraic process is natural.
63In this case, the Mishnah is summarizing a Tannaitic discussion without presentation of the variety of opinions on the topic, in accordance with the view that the Tosefta in our possession today predates the Mishnah.
64In this case, the Tosefta is expanding on a topic, using the Mishnah text as its point of departure, in accordance with the prevalent view of Tosefta as following the Mishnah.
65In this case, the Mishnah and Tosefta are likely to be parallel reworkings of a common source which predates them both.
66“Beraita” refers to the quotations of Tannaitic material in the Talmudim which, having been excerpted from their full codices, have not been transmitted in their original complete contexts. See note 15, above.
67Such tanya , tannu rabbannan, tana, in the case of regular quotation of a beraita, or such as rammi, ramnehu, etiveh, metiveh etc., in the case of quotation for the purpose of raising a question or contradiction.
68In such cases, the beraita in question is a complete quotation, and it is comprehensible on its own without the context of the Talmudic discussion in which it is presented.
69In such cases, the beraita is merely a word or phrase, and it is incomprehensible without the context of the discussion in which it is presented, thus somewhat limiting the ability of the student to approach the beraita on the basis of independent analysis.
70The scholars bringing the beraita were fluent in the various Tannaitic sources, and the assumption of such fluency enables a “shorthand” reference as part of the Talmudic discussion. As the beraita codices are extinct today, we are limited to the context of the quotation for comprehension of the beraita, although this limitation prevents us from independent analysis of its use in the discussion in the Talmud. Sometimes, the forced nature of beraita analysis is due to the fact that the quotation is brought by the Stama d’Talmuda, which may at times be more concerned with its own trail of analysis than with the simple meaning of the source. The source may actually be utilized for a purpose other than its own simple meaning, even if out of context. This phenomenon will be discussed at length in our next work.
71First, full-context beraitot are presented, as with the Tosefta, and only afterwards are partial-context beraitot presented, together with the mishnayot or other Tannaitic antecedent on which they depend for context. Gradually, the student develops the ability to distinguish between the various shades of usage of beraitot by the sugyah.
72See above, note 23.
73Unfortunately, Midreshei Halakhah are virtually incomprehensible for most students, due to their unique style and format. Acquisition of comparative literary skills such as those described in this work would be greatly simplified, of course, by a synoptic learning text of all parallel Tannaitic sources surrounding the Mishnah, accompanied with appropriate commentary and notes. Such a text, entitled Torat ha-Tannaim ha-Sheleimah, is now under development by this author.
74Those of Rabbis Akiba and Ishmael, who received their approaches from their teachers, Nachum “Ish Gam Zu” and Nehunya “ben Hakaneh,” respectively. For a succinct definition of these two variant approaches, see the commentary of Rashi on Talmud, tractate Sukkah 50b.
75For a variety of historical and scholarly reasons, our Mishnah is virtually always parallel to the interpretive approach of Akiba. The discovery of this tendency is crucial for the mastery of parallel Mishnah-Midrash sources by the pupil.
76Formulative or supportive midrash, see note 31, above. Differentiation between the two midrashic forms is critical for the proper development of the student’s thinking process, and for the student’s self-confidence in learning. The attempt to understand supportive midrashim as formulative, a common practice in some settings, is enough to convey to the average pupil that the system is virtually incomprehensible.
77Different hermeneutic principles, called “middot,” characterize the different schools, such as the thirteen principles of R. Ishmael. These principles developed over time, some already are reflected in the Torah, while others appear to be quite late. See S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York, 1962), pp. 47ff.