The 1980’s and 1990’s attracted many original minds to Jerusalem. One of them, Moshe Kline, part-time real estate developer, devoted himself to a Torah lishmah quest for the structure of Mishnah. I was always intrigued by anyone who can discuss Leo Strauss, Maharal, and Mishnah in one sentence. My interest was originally the Maharal angle. But, I have had many colleagues who use Kline’s structured approach to the Mishnah in teaching HS or adult education.
An introductory lecture presenting his discovery and method as delivered to Talmoodists is available here.
Having this chart in front of you will help in understanding the lecture.
An article capturing his original insight based on Maharal is available here.
The website has his articles on Bible and his complete printable color-coded Mishnah. If you want to discuss the method then please read the above articles first. Here is the home page of the website with tabs for articles on Torah and Mishnah.
He recently stopped by on a cold wintry NY day and answered a few questions.
1] What was your discovery about the Mishnah?
The original goal of my Mishnah project was to determine the principles according to which chapters of Mishnah were organized. In order to uncover these rules, it was first necessary to identify the components of chapters. The differing divisions into mishnayot (Bavli, Yerushalmi, various printings of the Mishnah) are all late and extraneous to the text. So I began going through the Mishnah dividing the chapters into components according to literary indicators.
Early on, I realized that the chapters were actually composed with two levels of division, a fact which is totally disguised by the common division into linearly-divided mishnayot. This was the key to the discovery that the chapters were composed as non-linear texts which could be visualized and understood as tables.
The chapters of the Mishnah were formatted according to a paradigm that resembles a table. I then set out each chapter in a visual format consistent with its inner literary structure. The discovery of the literary structure of the chapter leads to an approach to the study of the chapter as a coherent construct rather that a collection of loosely connected laws.
2] Who has supported it?
My edition of the Mishnah was accepted for publication by BGU Press on recommendation of Shamma Friedman and Daniel Boyarin. I have also received encouragement from David Weiss Halivni and Shlomo Zalman Havlin. Since I made it available online (chaver.com) about ten years ago, I have lost track of how many people actually use it. Currently people are downloading about 20-30 copies of the full text per day. In addition, several hundred individual chapters are accessed every day. So I guess a lot of people are using it.
3] What did you learn from Leo Strauss about reading a text?
Although I cite Persecution and the Art of Writing, and see the Mishnah as an exoteric/esoteric text, I learned how to read during four years of the great-books program at St. John’s College. (Strauss retired to St. John’s as scholar in residence.) The most important element of this education, relevant to my research, is the requirement to read primary texts without commentary. This made me uncomfortable with the traditional Jewish approach to its foundational texts, i.e. that they could not be approached without commentaries. I was also influenced by the fact that the historical approach was anathema at St. John’s. Consequently, my work is neither “traditional” nor academic/historical.
4] What did you gain from Maharal?
The Maharal opened the door for me to see the Mishnah as a coherent composition, primarily through his exposition of the pairs in the first chapter of Avot. He made it clear that this structure was to be read as a philosophic composition rather than a loose compilation of aphorisms.
5] What did you learn from Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou)?
From Manitou I learned first and foremost to trust in myself and my St. John’s training. After we studied Maharal together for a period of several months, I began to see other parts of Avot as literary constructs, in addition to the pairs in the first chapter. Manitou then told me that he had received a tradition that the whole of the Mishnah used to be studied in the way that I was beginning to read Avot. However, several generations ago this knowledge had been lost. He asked me to restore this knowledge by identifying the literary structure of the Mishnah. He was sure that the “kabbala” was embedded in the formal structure, or in his words, that the Mishnah was constructed according to the “kabbala”. However, he instructed me to avoid reference to this in my work, and limit myself to literary analysis. Monitou gave me my life’s work, which has now gone farther than he envisioned.
6] What are you current Bible projects?
I am preparing a structured edition of the Torah which is similar to my edition of the Mishnah. In the meantime, I have published articles on Leviticus. Jacob Milgrom has become my mentor in biblical studies. I am also finishing an article on the link between the structure of the Torah and the structure of the Mishnah. In it, I demonstrate that Rabbi had an esoteric tradition regarding the literary formatting of the Torah which he applied to the composition of the Mishnah.
The paradigm can be seen in the first chapter of the Torah through the six days of creation. We all are familiar with the parallels between days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, 3 and 6. These parallels actually divide the days into two parallel cycles of three days each, 1-3 and 4-6. What is less known, is that the cycles differ from each other in a fixed manner. The days of the first cycle contain creations that are unique, separated, named and motionless (Straus). The days of the second cycle contain groups of multiple, unnamed, moving creations: stars, fish, etc. By arranging the six days in a table containing two columns, the two cycles, and three rows, the paired days, you get a visual representation of the structure underlying the six days of creation. Each individual day is a function of the intersection of two planning lines, its column and its row. “Reading” the text according to this structure reveals the underlying metaphysics of the creation.
7] How does your approach differ from the literary approaches to Bible and Mishnah that are being produced by Machon Herzog?
My specific focus is on the division into the structural literary units and the additional meanings that are made available by the identification of these larger units.