The Mishna Sdura Project
Historical and ideological background
After graduating Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago, I came to Israel in 1980 to study at the B.M.T. Yeshiva for Diaspora students. From the time that I completed learning Seder Moed with the commentary of R. Kahati z”l (with the aid of a Hebrew-English dictionary) – I have kept the Mishna close to my heart.
I studied the Babylonian Talmud in a special program guided by Rabbi Shabtai Sabato, and finished as well the entire Six Orders of the Mishna. I continued to study for Rabbinical Ordination with Rav Sabato , until I was awarded “Yoreh Yoreh” by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. I was one of the founding staff members of the Religious High-school Netivot Yosef and the Advanced Yeshiva Maor Tuvia – both headed by Rav Sabato. I served as his assistant Rosh Yeshiva, guiding the Jewish Educational program for a decade.
During this entire period, I continued to review the Mishna, learning and studying the commentary of Rav Ovadya m’Bartenura. I taught a small group of college-age students in 1985, 4 Orders of the Mishna. I felt the need to present to them the content of the Mishna in an orderly manner, starting from the general topics before drilling down to the particulars. I wanted to show them the big picture.
This in fact, is reminiscent of the way the RaMBaM explains the Mishna: first the main principles and only then the meaning of individual words. It is known as well, that his “Mishne Torah” is arranged so carefully, that much can be learned from the order of the halachot and topics. Years later (2005) I had the privilege to edit and publish “Derech HaNesher”, a 7 volume commentary on the entire Mishna – originally written by Rav Elazar Moshe Slutskin zt”l – which weaves the words of the RamBaM from the “Yad HaChazaka” into the Mishna, in addition to commentary, explanations and indices.
At present, I am guiding my students and colleagues in the edition of another commentary on the Mishna, “Perush Rephael” by R. Rephael Francis o.b.m., in cooperation with his family. This is a very short flowing commentary, contained within the Mishna itself, in addition to comments from the Talmud and biographies of the Tanaim.
The Need for Mishna Sdura
When many people would ask me: “What is the best way to learn Mishna” I didn’t have a book at hand that I could recommend for the way I felt Mishna should be learned. I decided that I would publish the tables summarizing the MIshnaic content. I was advised to combine this with the text of the Mishna, which I arranged in a way to encourage recital and memorization, along with the general flow. I chose the “Kav veNaki” commentary because it was most concise, common, and suited for the needs of this edition.
I worked very intensively, editing and proofing the text and punctuation for the first edition. Rav Sabato helped me in the beginning and I received an additional $100 donation. The rest was on my shoulders. I was not able to convince the well known publishing houses to invest in the book, but I had no choice! The message I was carrying – that of learning the entire Mishna and reviewing it – burned in my bones.
Erev Pessach 5752 (1992), the first edition was published in 2 large volumes. It was entirely bought out within a year and a half. I since have published more every year. “Mishna Sdura” has become the text book in the Cheiderim that teach according to the Zilberman method, established by my late revered teacher, Rabbi Yizchak Shlomom Zilberman (son of late Rav Avraham Moshe, publisher of the Silberman Chumash).
The students recite a lot of material in class, by rote, and don’t take the books home (they finish late each day…)
A few years later, in 1997, I published in addition a 3 volume mid-sized set, which sold at a brisk pace. Schools and Talmud Torahs in the more modern Zionist schools preferred this edition, as they usually took the books home.
I continued to invest in proofing and correcting my work, and after creating new galleys, I kept on innovating and added in 2007 a 3 volume pocket size, which was very well received. This has already sold out a few printings.
Additionally, I created a booklet for student containing only one Seder of Mishna: Zeraim, Moed, Nezikin and Kodashim. Moed has sold the most, and is purchased by schools that would not have invested in the entre Mishna all at once. There is a steady and loyal sector that prefer the one volume edition of each size.
I publish shirt-pocket sized booklet of Brachot, Avot, Kidushin, and Tamid to encourage recital by heart. The booklet includes Mincha and Arvit. This format is given out by families at happy events.
Almost all of the profits were invested back into the project, in order to strengthen the current publication and to keep up on inventory of each type in order to cater to the needs of each individual student.
In the course of the years, I have provided teachers all over the country, and worldwide – with advice and teaching material. I have directed in-session trainings for teachers and schools. At present I am supervising the Mishna Program at the Netivot Yosef High-School. My former students and their students are already teachers themselves. I help them with whatever I can: planning curriculum, testing, encouraging specific students, and most importantly – bringing to the classroom the excitement and joyful challenge of learning the entire Mishna.
One of my students who teaches in the program, reminisces about the time I came to visit their school in Gush Katif, in order to help the administration and teachers with their Mishna Program. From that visit onward this student remembers how his love for Mishna grew, and enabled him later to continue with a siyum on the entire Six Orders of Mishna and the Talmud Bavli.
I built a site www.mishnasdura.org.il in order to make available to the public various educational materials, and sell the books. There is a continuous growth in the numbers of visitors and sales.
Phase II of the Mishna Sdura Project
The Commentary of Rav Ovadya MeBartenura
Over the years, the public would recommend to me to print a more extensive and well known commentary with the Mishna Sdura. As pointed out earlier, I chose the Kav veNaki because of his terse style, however it was clear that it does not explain the reasons for the ruling of the Mishna.
Additionally, there are various Talmude Torah in the Haredi sector who will not bring into their schools, Mishnayot without the commentary of Rav Ovadya m’Bartenura (the Ra’av). The students in the Zichru Toras Moshe run by Rav Moshe Kletzkin, system recite the Mishna quite extensively, albeit only with books that contain the Ra’av.
Therefore, I decided to publish Mishna Sdura with the commentary of Rav Ovadya m’Bartenura, which is loved and accepted by all. To this end, I arranged the text of the Mishna anew, with bigger letters, more space within the Mishna, and I proofread the Ra’av making use of the 1st edition, originally published in Venice (5308).
I designed the page according to the advice of teachers and administrators, especially from the Haredi public, and I published a few examples which were used in classes and passed around in order to receive feedback and measure the reaction of the market. The feedback was very good and encouraging.
I first published a booklet for Students, in a large A4 size on Seder Moed. I brought examples to the heads of the “Zichru” schools and they were excited. Rabbi Kletzkin was very pleased, and decided to introduce these books into his school system. He even personally brought 60 copies to Lakewood N.J. for the Beis HaTorah, and they gratefully purchased the books.
Now, the work of preparing the Six Orders of the Mishna is finished! 6 beautiful hard cover or softcover volumes in a boxed set are now available for purchase. Order your set – now
At the gala book launch last winter, a large crowd gathered to hear about the new stage of Mishna Sdura, and heard lectures from Rav Yom Tov Zilberman and Rav Dan Beeri about the importance of the edition. You can read about it here
Ideas for the Future
The format of the Mishna Sdura for the iPad – is here. This is only the 1st version, and I would like to enhance the learning experience even more. Some of the ideas are: searchability and notes, audio and recording capabilities, other educational aids to learning by heart while thoroughly enjoying the process.
In addition to enlarging the internet site, including more educational material and aids.I am developing a partnership with an experienced owner of a site for Daf Yomi.
I plan to continue to reach out to teachers through educational seminars, and to Baale Batim, “ordinary” Jews who want to learn more Mishna. Not everyone who is in a Daf Yomi Shiur has the capability to really process and retain that amount and type of information, and some would profit greatly from learning Mishna, a perek per day, in an organized and clear fashion as our forefathers did.
Investment in the Project
The project needs a donor. Up until now, I carried the whole weight of the publishing on my shoulders, investing almost all of the profits, and much personal capital in development. Even though Mishna Sdura has spread and grown, I know that I could have had more influence and helped others more. I know the business, and the galleys are almost ready. I have decided to think BIG!