Something that I found rather interesting, when I’m trying to make some comparison between Islam and Judaism, is the thought of Hadiths (or rather Ahadith, since it’s plural). Mostly since I often try to explain the relation between Written and Oral Torah in Judaism, as the relation between Qur’ân and Hadith, though it would be more correct to describe it as the relation between Qur’ân and Sunnah. Well, that is the correct comparison. The Mishnah though is to Judaism what the compilations of Ahadith is to Islam.
But we actually do have a collection of Ahadith in Judaism too. Well, we have something which is structured the same way as Ahadith, that is, it consists of the same composition.
For those who don’t know how a Hadith is composed (or what it is at all), then let me explain. A Hadith is an account prescribed Muhammad or one of those close to him. It consists of the chain, linking the teller of the Hadith back to the person ascribed the Hadith. This is called the Isnad, chain. The message in the Hadith is called Matn.
An example on a Hadith is as follow:
Yahya related to me from Malik from Thawr ibn Zayd ad-Dili from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas that the messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once mentioned Ramadan and said, “Do not start the fast or break it until you see the new moon. If the new moon is obscured from you, then complete a full thirty days.” (Al-Muwatta of Imam Malik ibn Anas)
The first part, mentioning the names, is the Isnad, the chain, leading the message of the Hadith, the Matn, back to Muhammad, and what he said is the Matn, the message.
Now, here’s something interesting. Another example could be:
Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and handed it to Yehoshu’a, Yehoshu’a to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets handed it on to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be careful in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah (Pirqei Avot, 1:1)
Here again we see the Hadith consisting of the Isnad, chaining the message to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, and then presenting the Matn, the message. There is a difference though, here beginning from the source, and then working itself onward until those who narrated the message. But where the compilations of Ahadith typical have each Hadith standing alone, the Pirqei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, presents one long continuance of Matn, without presenting the whole Isnad, just adding new links on the Isnad for each new Matn presented. For example as we see in the next two verses in the Pirqei Avot:
2 – Shim’on the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on Divine Worship, and on acts of loving-kindness.
3 – Antigonos from Socho received from Shim’on the Just. He used to say: Do not be like servants who serve their master on condition of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve their master not on condition of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. (Pirqei Avot, 1:2-3)
Shim’on the Just is the continuance of the Isnad given in the first verse, which would make the Isnad go: Moshe Rabenu, A”S, Yehoshu’a, the Elders, the Prophets, the Great Assembly, Shim’on the Just, thus chaining Shim’on the Just to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, and thus trustworthy. In the next verse Antigonos from Socho is added to the Isnad, making trustworthy as well. The interesting thing is that where the trustworthiness of a Hadith in Islam is searched backwards, in Judaism it is related onward.
Nevertheless, the verses in the Pirqei Avot, which is found in the Mishnah, is consisting of the same elements as the Hadith, of Isnad and Matn, chain and message. I find that interesting.