Page 183 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

Basic HTML Version

the words of the Sages.” The words which are written you are not
at liberty to say by heart, and the words transmitted orally you are
not at liberty to recite from writing” (
, 60b).
The oral transmission of cultural values and literary works is a
feature of peoples among whom writing was not widespread.
Included among these peoples are those of the Arabian peninsula
and the Slavic countries. But among the Jews the knowledge of
writing was already well established during First Temple days,
and especially during Second Temple days when universal
schooling was instituted. The great majority of the people during
the time of the Mishnah and Talmud were able to read and write,
and there is no doubt that the members of the scholarly class in
the houses of study were all literate.
The prohibition of writing down the Oral Law was based on
religious and ideological reasons, in order to differentiate
between the authoritative heritage of the Written Law and the
discussion and work of the Jewish Sages in the period following
the canonization of the Bible. This prohibition was taken to mean
that it was not deemed proper to have recourse to written scrolls
in the house of study. On the basis of various talmudic references
to secret scrolls we can assume that a number of Sages recorded
for their own purposes various halakhic and aggadic teachings,
but they were nevertheless quite strict in outlawing them in the
houses of study. There developed a group of Tannaim
or teachers), who committed to memory the statements of older
authorities, and these men were called upon in the houses of
study to transmit the correct versions of the text.
The prohibition of writing down the Oral Law gave rise to
interesting results: it led especially to extreme strictness in
quoting during study sessions every statement in the name of its
author. Regarding authorship, it is noteworthy that also in the
compilation of laws or of halakhic midrashim the names of the
authors or compilers were omitted. The tradition of suppressing
authorship continued to influence the compilers of collections of
Oral Law.
There are indications of treatises or complete units which were
compiled during Second Temple days by individual Sages. For
example: Mishnah Tamid, which is ascribed to R. Simeon of
14a); Mishnah Middot, which is ascribed to R.
Eliezer ben Yaakov
16b); and the Scroll of Taanit, which is