Mishnah FTW!

Mishnah FTW! Sefaria launched a Mishnah Translation Contest on December 15, and the high quality work of our dedicated and hard-working contributors has far exceeded our expectations! We hope to complete the first freely reusable online Mishnah translation, and we hope you will all help us to achieve this goal!

Here are the facts, as of Friday:

Mishnayot completed since campaign start: 2446
  • Our mishnah translation is now 93% complete (at the start of the contest, we were at 54%)
  • We now have a total of 2,446 mishnayot translated, with only 523 to go!

There are still a few days left; you still have time to join in!

In this week’s Sefaria Seminar, we celebrated our communal progress in making Mishnah available to all by exploring some of the the rich material it contains.


The first Mishnah in the third chapter of Massekhet Megillah creates what my students once called a “sale pyramid;” certain things may be sold in order to use the proceeds to buy certain other things. However, one is only allowed to go “up” the pyramid – you can sell something that is higher in this diagram in order to buy something that is lower. So, for example, you can sell a synagogue to buy an ark, but you may not sell an ark to buy a synagogue.

The mishnah then adds “and so too with the proceeds.” In other words, this restriction applies even after you have accomplished the goal deemed appropriate by the mishnah. If you sell a synagogue and buy an ark, any change that’s left over must remain in a special fund, earmarked for buying another ark.

The last section of the mishnah discusses restrictions on selling an object that belongs to a community, or a large group of people, to an individual, or a smaller group. The reason given by Rabbi Meir is that to do so lowers the sanctity of the item.

Inspired by Rabbi Meir, the Gemara interprets the Mishnah’s “sale pyramid” as being about levels of holiness; as Rashi says, you are only allowed to go up in levels of holiness, not down. When you sell something that’s holy, you are required to buy something that’s holier. But how do you decide what is holier? The mishnah gives us some ideas; the function of an object, and how many people utilize it both may play a role.

This mishnah – like every mishnah – raises more questions than it answers, but here are two quick thoughts on the implications of this text:

  • In this season of sales and bargains and the general celebration of capitalism, it’s interesting to think about what money can and cannot buy. Objects are not interchangeable; some have such inherent value that it spills over onto the proceeds from their sale. To live in a world where these restrictions are present is to be highly aware of transactions and their potential to dislocate an important objects from its function and its role in the life of consumers.
  • Community creates holiness. This is an idea, a recurrent them in different aspects of Jewish life and law, deserves further examination. It is a powerful and even inspiring concept; something with communal value, something which serves the collective rather than just an individual, contains greater holiness. The more people involved, the higher the level of holiness. Just by coming together and forming a community, we imbue objects and spaces with holiness.

We at Sefaria look forward to welcoming more and more people into our Sefaria community. Ma’alin b’kodesh v’ein moridin – one should only go up in holiness – and we are excited to see what other great endeavors this project will have in store for us.