MINOR TRACTATES

In addition to the 63 regular tractates of the Mishnah and Talmud, there are appended at the end of the fourth order, nezikin , 14 smaller or minor tractates which were first published together in their present format in the Romm-Vilna edition (1886). These tractates contain a wealth of legal and aggadic material. In manuscript and published form, these uncanonical treatises may also be found under different titles, arrangements, and order. Their appellation as minor or smaller tractates does not necessarily refer to their size, but rather to the fact that they were not canonized. avot de-rabbi nathan for instance, consists of 41 chapters. soferim , Semaḥot (Evel Rabbati), and Kallah Rabbati are also of considerable length. The other main tractates are kallah , Derekh Ereẓ Rabbah, and Derekh Ereẓ Zuta. For additional details see the articles on the individual tractates. Also included in this section, however, are seven more brief treaties which were compiled to give in a methodological form the rules of topics which were not dealt with in specific tractates of the Talmud. These are Gerim, about proselytes; Kutim, about Samaritans; Avadim, about Hebrew slaves; Sefer Torah, on the writing of a Torah scroll; Tefillin, on the precept of tefillin ; Ẓiẓit, on the fringes (ẓiẓit ); and Mezuzah, on the mezuzah ; and it is sometimes only to them that the term minor tractates applies (see shem ha-gedolim , II, 161 and cf. Eccles. R. 5:8, 2). The time when these works were compiled remains uncertain. Some scholars assign them to the end of the geonic period, but recent scholarship favors a much earlier date. M. Higger, in the introduction to his critical edition of these seven minor tractates, judges them to be the "first post-mishnaic compendia regulating specific Jewish practices and usages." His opinion is that "most of the Minor Tractates are Palestinian in origin, but were later modified or elaborated in Babylonia." Thus it may be that the original composition of these codes was already completed by 400 C.E. Since they were of Palestinian origin, they were not included in the final redaction of the Babylonian Talmud. The first medieval scholar to clearly cite one of these brief codes is Naḥmanides . In his Torat ha-Adam Inyan ha-Hoẓa'ah (Kitvei Rabbenu Moshe b. Naḥman, ed. by C.D. Chavel, 2 (1964), 100) and in his Milḥemet ha-Shem to Alfasi (Alfasi; MK 16a), he cites the passage in Ẓiẓit which discusses whether the fringes in the tallit in which the deceased is buried should be untied. menahem b. solomon meiri likewise makes reference to this same passage in Ẓiẓit (Beit ha-Beḥirah al Massekhet Berakhot, ed. by S. Dikman (19652), 61b). A similar passage, to be found in Semaḥot (ch. 12), is twice cited by tosafot (Pes. 40b and Av. Zar. 65b). Although a substantial portion of these tractates consists of material already in the Talmud, they occasionally contain items which are not found elsewhere, such as the above-cited text from Ẓiẓit. Another example of such new material is the concept that the main shortcoming of the Samaritans was that they denied the centrality of Jerusalem. Kutim concludes with the statement that when the Samaritans renounce Mount Gerizim and acknowledge Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead, they will be accepted as Jews. -Gerim Gerim consists of four chapters: (1) the preliminary procedure for receiving proselytes is detailed; (2) regulations are set forth regarding the circumcision, ritual bath, and sacrifice, of converts; (3) the ger toshav is defined by Meir as one who has merely renounced idolatry, although according to Judah he is one who will only eat the meat of ritually slaughtered animals; (4) Jews are exhorted to maintain a friendly attitude toward proselytes. -Kutim Kutim regulates the relationship between samaritans , Jews, and gentiles, in two chapters: (1) sales to and intermarriage with Samaritans are prohibited since they desecrate holy objects, but it is permitted to lend them money; (2) buying meat, wine, cheese, and bread from the Samaritans is discussed. -Avadim Avadim contains three chapters: (1) the validity of the regulations concerning Hebrew slaves is limited to the period when the jubilee is observed, and the purchase and manumission of bondmen is detailed; (2) the relationship between the master and his slave, the slave's family's obligation to redeem him, and his status after redemption are discussed; (3) the details of the ceremony prescribed for a slave who does not wish to go free, and the acquiring of freedom by a slave when he is sold to a non-Jew or outside of Palestine are given. -Sefer Torah Sefer Torah has five chapters: (1) details of the writing material that may be utilized are given; (2) the blank spaces that must be left between sections of the scroll are explained; (3) laws for the reading and respect of the Torah are given; (4) the names of God and the interdiction against erasing them are explained; (5) the method for writing God's names is laid down. These five chapters are almost identical with the first five chapters of Soferim. -Tefillin Tefillin contains only one chapter, and it gives the rules for writing the biblical passages on the parchment of the tefillin,   the manner and time of wearing them, and those persons who are obligated to wear them. -Ẓiẓit Ẓiẓit consists of only one chapter which details the regulations of the fringes (Num. 15:38–40; Deut. 22:12). It discusses such topics as the persons who are obligated to obey this law, the garments which are exempt, the number of threads in each fringe, and the manner of dyeing the blue thread that is part of the fringes. -Mezuzah Mezuzah has two chapters: (1) details are given of the parchment to be used and the types of doorposts that require a mezuzah; (2) the exact spot for the mezuzah, its case, and differences in regulations for houses within and outside of Palestine are discussed. In the Romm edition of the Talmud, only Gerim has a detailed commentary, titled Naḥalat Ya'akov, by R. Jacob Neuberg of Offenbach. His commentary on the first five chapters of Soferim also serves as a commentary to Sefer Torah. More recent commentaries to these tractates were published by Samuel I. Hillman of London and R. Ḥayyim Kanievsky of Bene-Berak (1963–65). These seven tractates have been twice translated into English. Michael Higger published his edited text and translation in 1930. In 1965, the Soncino Press issued a new English translation. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Higger (ed.), Sheva Massekhtot Ketannot (1930), introd.; idem (ed.), Massekhet Semaḥot (1931), introd.; J. Goldin, The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan (1956), introd.; D. Zlotnick, The Tractate Mourning (1966), introd. (Aaron Rothkoff)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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