chapter  4
Continuity and change
Pages 37

Now that we have examined the Mishnah on its own, we are left with the question, how does the Mishnah mark a stage in the unfolding, from the Pentateuch forward, of a continuous religious tradition, Judaism? For to this point we have focussed on how the Mishnah innovates tout court. But how does the Mishnah both take up topics provided by Scripture and also impose the distinctive intellectual traits particular to the Mishnah, such as we have now examined at some length? To answer that question of continuity and change, we appeal to the work of comparison and contrast. That labor carries us from abstract theory to concrete law: the abstract theory is provided by the Pentateuch’s presentation of a given topic. The concrete law emerges in a way in which the Mishnah actually sets forth the norms for that topic. So we turn to the substance of a particularly important topic, namely, the Sabbath, climax of creation for the Pentateuch, an indicative and central topic for the Mishnah, a matter of law for both, reaching even into the Ten Commandments. I provide an account of the Mishnah’s law on that subject, in two tractates, Shabbat, on certain aspects of the Sabbath, and ‘Erubin, Sabbath limits. Then I specify what I find to constitute the Mishnah’s particular contribution to the unfolding of the topic at hand.