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TANNAIM . The term tanna is used to refer to an authority of the Mishnah and its related works, in contradistinction to amora, referring to a sage of the gemaraʾ. The word derives from the Aramaic teni ("to repeat") and by extension means "to learn" or "to teach."

The tannaim were the sages of rabbinic tradition who lived immediately before, and then during the century and a half following, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 ce). This period is traditionally divided into five or six generations. The most prominent authorities of the period included Hillel, Gamliʾel the Elder, Yoanan ben Zakkʾai, Gamliʾel of Yavneh, Eliʿezer ben Hyrcanus, ʿAqivaʾ ben Yosef, Meʾir, and Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ. The period ends with the generation of Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ, the editor of the Mishnah (c. 200 ce), although the following generation in Palestine is one of transition. The division in Babylonia is clearer, though the amora Rav is occasionally spoken of as having tannaitic authority.

The texts that record the traditions of these sages are termed tannaitic, and they include the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the halakhic midrashim, and a broad variety of traditions preserved in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. Traditions that are ascribed tannaitic authority are introduced, almost without exception in the Babylonian Talmud but with frequent exception in the Jerusalem Talmud, with a set of technical vocabulary that employs the root tny. Such traditions are termed baraitot (sg., baraitaʾ), meaning "traditions outside, or excluded from, the Mishnah" (from Aramaic bar, "outside").

The tannaitic texts, particularly the Mishnah but to a significant extent the baraitot as well, form the basis of later rabbinic legal deliberations. These texts were tested, interpreted, and sometimes emended by the amoraim, and they were in a very real sense accorded the authority of canon. The tannaim often became great legendary figures who were thought to have experienced, and sometimes even instigated, miracles.

The term tannaʾ is secondarily used to refer to the professional repeater or reciter of the rabbinic schools who functioned during both the tannaitic and amoraic periods, even into the centuries that followed (the amoraic period ended c. 500 ce). The tannaʾ may also have been referred to as roveh ("repeater"), later confused with rabbah ("the great").

The official traditions of the rabbinic schools were oral. The functionaries who memorized the official texts were the tannaʾim, who were in all respects living books. The process of committing the official text to memory most likely occurred in the following way. First, the master would decide upon the version of the tradition to be taught. He would then call upon his tannaʾ, who would be asked to recite the tradition a great many times until its memorization was secure. At that time other tannaʾim might be called in, for whom the first tannaʾ would then recite the tradition. He would test their memorization, and in this way the version of the text would be secured in the mouths of increasing numbers of tanna'im.

Such a method constituted genuine publication. There are several accounts in Talmudic literature in which the tannaʾ is consulted to clarify the official version of a tradition. When the tannaʾ testified to the reading of a text, his testimony was deemed authoritative. Even the Mishnah's editor, Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ, is reported to have consulted his tannaʾ for a proper reading, and this particular tannaʾ is spoken of as having a "tested" or "revised" version of the Mishnah.

Because the tannaʾ was depended upon to provide published traditions, without commentary and without emendation, the tannaʾim were apparently chosen for their phenomenal memories, not their intelligence. An overly intelligent tannaʾ; might have been tempted to emend a text if he thought it to be problematic. One sage speaks of a tannaʾ as "a basket filled with books" (B.T., Meg. 28b), that is, filled with information but not able to do much with it. A popular saying declares that "the tannaʾ recites and doesn't know what he is saying" (B.T., So. 22a). Still, some of the greatest sages also acted as tannaʾim. In addition, the potential fallibility of oral publication was widely recognized, and it is probably for this reason that Avot 3.7 warns strongly against any interruption during one's repetition exercises.

The traditions of certain schools were thought to be especially reliable. This was true of the schools of Hiyyaʾ and Oshayaʾ, Palestinian sages of the transitional generation following the compilation of the Mishnah. The former of these teachers is also spoken of as being a repeater for Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ.

See Also

Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai; Eliʿezer ben Hyrcanus; Gamliʾel of Yavneh; Gamliʾel the Elder; Meʾir; Mishnah and Tosefta; Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ; Yoanan ben Zakkʾai.


Jacob N. Epstein provides a comprehensive review of the terminologies that identify tannaitic sources; see Mavoʾ le-nusa ha-Mishnah, 2 vols. (1948; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 813ff. The authoritative review of the tannaitic process is Saul Lieberman's "The Publication of the Mishnah," in his Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (1950; reprint, New York, 1962), pp. 8399. Lieberman was the first to frame the process in terms of publication. Also extremely useful, despite its flaws, is Birger Gerhardsson's Memory and Manuscript, translated by Eric J. Sharpe (Uppsala, 1961), pp. 93112.

New Sources

Berger, Michael S. Rabbinic Authority. New York, 1998.

Kalmin, Richard Lee. The Sage in Jewish Society in Late Antiquity. New York, 1999.

Melamed, Ezra Zion, ed. Midreshe halakhah shel ha-Tanaim be-Talmud Yerushalmi. Jerusalem, 2000.

David Kraemer (1987)

Revised Bibliography