Wikisource:Open Mishnah Project/History

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Open Mishnah Project History

The initial idea[edit]

The idea to set up a wiki study-project for a Jewish classic text like Translation:Mishnah arose from the comments made by some people at Wikipedia's Wikiproject Judaism. Wikipedia had full language support for Hebrew, English, and other languages, as well as software that allows group study and collaboration. This worked well for encyclopedia-type articles on Jewish topics, so some people began to wonder whether it could work for text-based Jewish study as well. Tongue-in-cheek comments were made about Wiki-Talmud, etc. On a practical level, one idea was that Judaism-related articles could link to source texts related to their content.

For anyone who actually began to think seriously about these seemingly preposterous ideas, the first question became where to locate the original Hebrew texts. They were inappropriate for the Hebrew Wikipedia, but neither Hebrew Wikibooks nor Hebrew Wikisource existed before the second half of 2004. Besides this, it was unclear whether such a project would just create pages with plain source texts (plus translations), or whether supplements to those texts should be added to make them reader-friendly and facilitate group study.

The Translation:Mishnah was a perfect test-case for a wiki project related to text based Jewish study. It has a hierarchial division into small textual units (each one called a "mishnah") that more or less stand on their own. Thus each "mishnah" page could contain any and all material related to that mishnah, the "talk" page could host questions and discussion about that mishnah, and different language versions of that mishnah could be linked in the sidebar (especially to Hebrew, so that the original texts of the mishnah and its classic commentaries could be consulted with a single click).

As a genre, Mishnah is studied widely on a popular level. It is taught in hundreds of Jewish schools. There is even a daily study-cycle for Mishnah ("Mishnah Yomit"), participated in by tens of thousands of people. Though Mishnah can be studied in great depth, it is not usually thought of as a "hard" text to learn (as opposed to gemara).

Mishnah is also a relatively uncontroversial text. It is the core text of rabbinic Judaism but (unlike the Bible) it has no history of interpretation in other religions. And though it is of overwhelming importance in the history of halakhah, it is rarely used as a direct source for practical halakhah. Both of these factors render it uncontroversial while at the same time remaining of central importance.

For all of the above reasons, Translation:Mishnah was the perfect text to begin with for a wiki study-project of a classic rabbinic text.

Beginnings at Wikisource[edit]

The Open Mishnah Project began in its Hebrew version at the Hebrew Wikisource on August 4, 2004. The main index page was called "משנה פתוחה" and the project page was called "אודות המשנה הפתוחה". The Hebrew Wikisource had been set up just previously (on August 2) as the first language subdomain in Wikisource.

Wikisource did not allow any language subdomains at the time, but as a right-to-left language, Hebrew was not well supported on the multi-language wikisource.org website. A separate domain, at least for Hebrew, was crucial, and it was set up after some discussion on Wikisource's "Scriptorium." It thus became one of the early "sister" projects to Hebrew Wikipedia (closely following Hebrew Wiktionary and Hebrew Wikiquote). There was not yet a Hebrew Wikibooks.

The English version of the Open Mishnah Project began on the "Mishnah" page at the multi-language [[:wikisource:|wikisource.org]] website on August 23, 2004. An index and a few initial texts were created, but English content was far outpaced by Hebrew texts. An initial goal was to create pages for at least the first 100 mishnayot by October 7, 2004 (Shemini Atzeret 5765), because that date coincided with the beginning of a new study-cycle for the mishnah. This goal was met by creating Hebrew pages with basic text (mishnah and Bartenura) for all of Berakhot and the first several chapters of Peah. But in English there were fewer than a dozen pages.

To Wikibooks and back again[edit]

In English, especially, it became quite clear that the project had the potential to become a multilingual and multifaceted text project.

Because Wikibooks had the multilingual support, and because the English version also contained annotations, the Translation:Mishnah page for the English project was set up at Wikibooks on November 22, 2004, and the dozen or so Wikisource pages in English (at wikisource.org) were copied to en.wikibooks. The משנה index page was finally set up at Hebrew Wikibooks on March 6, 2005, with the project page at אודות המשנה הפתוחה, and subsequently all of the Mishnah pages were eventually copied to Wikibooks. Since the copying was done manually, advantage was taken when the edit pages were copied to make some improvements, such that the pages moved to Wikibooks were not always exactly identical to the ones left at Wikisource. Most of the changes related to the navigation bar (links) at the top of each mishnah page, the category system, and the interwiki language links (links to parallel pages in English).

However, a lengthy discussion then took place (in April) among contributors to both Hebrew Wikisource and Hebrew Wikibooks about where the Mishnah project belongs: Wikibooks or Wikisource.

In principle, Translation:Mishnah is a borderline project: Some of the translations have reader-friendly annotations, which makes it legitimate content for Wikibooks. But at the same time, the primary focus is on the source-text itself. This is not meant to be a step-by-step study guide on Learning to Read Mishnah. Its main purpose is, rather, to present the original texts, along with some needed explanations for contemporary reading of an ancient text. Even those explanations are based upon classic commentaries (i.e. source texts), and in the Hebrew version those commentaries appear in their original form. As such, this Mishnah would be equally legitimate at Wikisource (or even more so, as most people argued in Hebrew).

Additionally, there was the issue of context: Almost all the other wiki texts on the Traditional Jewish Bookshelf, such as Mikraot Gedolot, Talmud, and Shulchan Aruch, are being created at Wikisource, in both Hebrew and English. Having Mishnah on the same wiki with them would be far more convenient in a number of ways. Two ways are crucial:

  • Templates created on Wikisource cannot be used for Mishnah on Wikibooks.
  • If the project remains on Wikibooks there will still be a need for basic Mishnah texts at Wikisource. These source-texts will have to exist in parallel, and will not be automatically updated evenly in both versions.

The Hebrew and French versions have been moved to Hebrew and French Wikisource. The English version has no begun to be copied there as well, and this process should be finished in a few weeks.

To help this English version better conform with Wikisource, templates will gradually be introduced for Mishnah translations, so that the translations can also be presented on their own, without supplementary material. An elegant, non-intrusive system will be developed to clearly distinguish between texts/translations versus other material. Supplementary material will be based as closely as possible on original source material (perhaps eventually becoming actual translations of the commentaries themselves), which will also help to better assure NPOV.