Tag Archives: Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai

Introduction to Mishneh Torah – Part 3

The Rambam continues to explain the chain of transmission in the rabbinic period following Rabbi Yehuda haNasi.

Read the full text of the Introduction here. 

Summary: Among Rabbi Yehuda haNasi’s disciples were Rav and Shmuel, who later moved to Babylon to open new schools of Torah learning where much of the Talmud would be developed. Rav also composed two important works for understanding Torah law called Sifre and Sifra. Meanwhile, another disciple, Rabbi Chiya composed the Tosefta, a set of additional teachings to supplement the Mishnah, while Rabbis Hoshaya and Bar Kappara put together the similar Baraita. (Later, in the discussion of the Talmud, the Sages will quote from various Tosefta and Baraita to help make sense of the Mishnaic verses.) The Rambam also makes sure to note the Talmud Yerushalmi, the “Jerusalem Talmud” that was composed in the Holy Land, alongside the better-known Talmud Bavli, the “Babylonian Talmud” put together in Mesopotamia. The Talmudic period comes to a close with Rav Ashi, who was the 40th generation from Moses. The Rambam explains that between the two Talmuds and the additional texts of exegesis mentioned above, one can come to properly understand all the laws of the Torah, as well as the necessary “fences” instituted by the Sages to ensure Torah law is not broken.

An illustration of Rabbi Akiva from the 16th century Mantua Haggadah

Insight: Although Rabbi Yehuda haNasi is credited with composing the Mishnah, he did not do this single-handedly. In fact, the overall framework of the Mishnah (its six “orders”) is thought to have already been devised by Rabbi Akiva a generation prior. (Interestingly, there is a tradition that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi was born at the same moment that Rabbi Akiva passed away!) The teachings in the Mishnah are usually cited in the name of a particular rabbi. The most oft-cited individual rabbi is Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai, a student of Rabbi Akiva. Second most is Rabbi Meir, another of Rabbi Akiva’s students. There is a general rule in Torah-learning that a stam Mishnah, meaning an anonymous Mishnah that doesn’t mention the name of its teacher, is actually always Rabbi Meir. In third place is Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, of Lag b’Omer fame, who was also a student of Rabbi Akiva! And in fourth place is Rabbi Yose bar Halafta, yet another of Rabbi Akiva’s students. So, we see how the bulk of the Mishnah’s teachings were transmitted by a handful of Rabbi Akiva’s disciples. (Many other Mishnahs are taught in the name of Rabbi Akiva himself, or his teacher Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, as well as the famous schools of Hillel and Shammai, together with other Chakhamim, “Sages”, more broadly.)