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Orthopraxy in Tannaitic Literature

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M. Sanhedrin 10:1 is well-known as a succinct statement of rabbinic doctrine. Yet as a statement of doctrine, this mishnah’s language is remarkably pragmatic: it proscribes saying certain things but does not explicitly proscribe believing them. I propose that this use of practical rather than doctrinal phraseology was an intentional editorial stance of the Mishnah’s compilers. A close philological examination of parallel texts in the Tosefta and Seder Olam reveals that earlier generations of the textual tradition underlying this mishnah phrased these same prohibitions using doctrinal terms such as “denying” or “not acknowledging.” Moreover, this choice of pragmatic language is evident throughout the Mishnah, even when fundamentals of Judaic faith such as belief in one God and in the oral Torah are being addressed. The Mishnah’s compilers, perhaps in response to trends like early Christian antinomianism and heresiology, chose to produce a work dedicated to orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy.

Affiliations: 1: Judaic Studies, University of Connecticut 405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205, Storrs, CT 06269-1205 USA, Email:


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