Baraita, Baraitot

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BARAITA, BARAITOT (Aram. בָּרַיְתָא, pl. בָּרַיְתוֹת), Aramaic for the Hebrew word ḥiẓonah ("external") and an abbreviated form of the phrase matnita baraita – "external mishnah," i.e., a tannaitic tradition which is not included in the Mishnah of Rabbi *Judah ha-Nasi (see *Mishnah). The term baraita occurs primarily in the Babylonian Talmud, where it is usually used in opposition to the Hebrew term mishnatenu or to the parallel Aramaic term matnitin, both meaning "our" Mishnah. The content of a given baraita may stand in opposition to the content of a parallel mishnah. Alternatively, it may provide additional information which supplements the tradition presented in the mishnah (Ber. 2b, Er. 2b). In this use, the term baraita is similar to the related Palestinian term tosefet ("addition" – see below). The content of a given baraita may in fact be unrelated to that of the mishnah under discussion, merely presenting another tradition for consideration (Ber. 34b). The term is sometimes used as a synonym for the general term matnita (Shab. 19b), without being juxtaposed to any particular mishnah at all. This more general sense is particularly characteristic of post-talmudic usage, where the term baraita is regularly used to designate any tannaitic source whatsoever – whether quoted in the Talmudim, or found in one of the original tannaitic works, like the *Tosefta, the *Sifra, *Sifrei, *Mekhilta, etc. In this sense, the baraita is often opposed to later and less authoritative traditions which derive from the amoraic period, which are usually referred to in the Talmud by the term shemata (tradition), or more rarely by the term memra (statement).

The term baraita, then, is used in a number of different ways, both within talmudic literature and in the post-talmudic commentaries. In order to minimize confusion, it will be necessary to clarify not only the meaning of the term itself, along with a number of related terms – matnita, shemata, memra, tosefet – but also the nature of the sources to which these terms refer, and particularly the way in which these sources function within the context of the talmudic sugya (discussion).

The Baraita as a Literary Source within the Talmudic Sugya

The vast literature of the Babylonian Talmud is made up of many distinct literary units, called sugyot. Taken as a whole, the Talmud is structured in the form of an elucidation and elaboration of the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, and the individual sugya usually takes the form of an extended commentary to, or discussion of, some particular mishnah. While the sugya as a finished literary unit usually has the appearance of a continuous and expansive dialectical discussion in Aramaic, one almost always finds embedded within it a number of discrete, relatively terse and well-defined literary sources, usually composed in rabbinic (mishnaic) Hebrew. These literary sources derive from the two primary historical periods of talmudic literature – the earlier tannaitic period (see *Tanna) and the later amoraic period (see *Amora). The Babylonian Talmud regularly distinguishes between its two primary types of literary source and employs certain terms in order to indicate this distinction.

An important terminological distinction is made between matnita (= tannaitic source) and shemata (= amoraic source). For example, in tb, Niddah 26a we are given a list of five related traditions, all terse and well-defined literary sources composed in identical rabbinic Hebrew. These five traditions are introduced by standard technical formulae, which indicate to which category they belong. The first tradition is introduced by the words teno rabbanan, two by the word tanya, and the last by the phrase "teni Rav Ḥiyya." These four formulae all include a form of the verb "teni" – "to repeat," "recite," or "relate" – and they are all understood to indicate tannaitic traditions, or in the words of the Talmud: matniyata. Only one of the five is introduced by the formula amar Rav Yoḥanan ("Rabbi Johanan said"), and it is therefore to be understood as an amoraic tradition – a shemata, or a memra (from the verb amar, "to say").

The continuation of this passage provides an important insight into the nature of the difference between these two categories. Following these five traditions, the Talmud provides a summary – more of their form than of their content – stating that three (!) of these five traditions are matniyata, and two (!) shemata. Now since four of the traditions were introduced by tannaitic formula, and only one was presented as an amoraic statement (shemata), the Talmud emends the wording of the fifth and final tradition, changing it from teni Rav Ḥiyya to amar Rav Ḥiyya. The only difference here is the change in the introductory formula from teni (= matnita) to amar (= shemata). In his commentary to this passage Rashi explains the difference between these terms: the words teni Rav Ḥiyya mean that Rabbi Ḥiyya related or transmitted the following tradition, whereas the wording amar Rav Ḥiyya indicates that Rabbi Ḥiyya was speaking in his own name, expressing his own opinion (memra), and not repeating an authoritative source (matnita).

From this we learn two important things. First, there is often no difference whatsoever between the actual wording of tannaitic and amoraic traditions. Secondly, the primary difference between the meanings of the verbs teni and amar lies in the fact that the former indicates the transmission of a received tradition, whereas the latter indicates that the rabbi whose name is linked to the tradition is expressing his own opinion and not reporting a received tradition. These two phenomena can, however, lead to certain ambiguities concerning the nature of the talmudic baraitot.

Baraitot and Memrot

First of all, the Talmud often introduces a given tradition by the following double formula: "Rabbi Abahu (or the name of some other amora) said and others report that it was recited as a matnita," etc. This formula reflects the first fact mentioned above, namely that there is often no difference between the wording of tannaitic and amoraic traditions. As a result, an identical halakhic tradition may circulate both as a shemata in the name of a specific amora and at the same time also as a matnita – usually transmitted anonymously but sometimes in the name of a specific tanna.

Similarly, the use of the verb "teni" as the sole criterion for identifying ancient and authoritative tannaitic traditions is complicated by an ambiguity inherent in the meaning of the term as explained by Rashi above. According to Rashi, the verb "teni" indicates that a given rabbi is reporting a tradition, whereas the verb "amar" indicates that the rabbi is expressing his own opinion. But what happens when the disciples of an amora "report" his words – when the amora's "own opinion" becomes a tradition? This situation is reflected in the common talmudic formula in which a form of the verb "teni" is used explicitly with regard to an amoraic tradition: matni la leha shemata = "they reported the following amoraic tradition." This and other similar formulae reflect the obvious fact that amoraic traditions were also repeated, recited, studied, and transmitted alongside tannaitic traditions within the talmudic academies.

The Amoraic Baraita

When combined, these two phenomena give rise to a particularly difficult issue, namely, the amoraic baraita. We frequently find in the Talmud that the verb teni is used in association with the name of an amora, for example: teni Rav Yosef. This specific formula occurs dozens of times in the Babylonian Talmud, and there are many other similar formula. Does this formula intend to introduce an ancient tannaitic tradition, preserved and transmitted in the school of Rabbi Joseph? Or alternatively does it intend to introduce a later post-tannaitic tradition, first formulated and recited within the school of Rabbi Joseph himself, or within the school of one of his teachers? We may still accept Rashi's distinction and assume that the use of the introductory term teni serves to designate a "tradition" preserved and transmitted by Rabbi Joseph or by his school, and to distinguish it from the individual opinion of the amora himself. It does not, however, provide clear evidence as to the historical roots of that tradition, whether it derives from the tannaitic period, or from the later amoraic period.

The Baraita as a Legal Category

An important distinction emerges from the previous discussion: between the baraita as a literary category and the baraita as a legal category. Up to this point we have dealt mostly with the baraita as a literary phenomenon – a distinct and well-defined source, usually in Hebrew, appearing in the talmudic discussion and introduced by certain standard formulae which indicate that it reports a received tradition. The term is also used in a more specific sense, to designate a tradition deriving from sources of the tannaitic period and hence presumably possessing a greater legal authority than similar sources deriving from the later amoraic period – a shemata or memra. In order to clarify this point, we must return to our discussion of the role that these sources play in the talmudic sugya.

The legal sources which provide the foundation for the talmudic sugya can be divided (using standard post-talmudic terminology) into three categories: mishnah, baraita, and memra. While the sources belonging to all three categories are considered to be authoritative, they are not equally authoritative. A mishnah is usually (but not always) held to be more authoritative than a parallel baraita. On the other hand, either a mishnah or a baraita – as a tannaitic source – is generally considered more authoritative than any parallel amoraic memra. This question of relative authority, however, only becomes relevant when these sources come into conflict with each other. Thus two sources of equal authority (e.g. two baraitot or two memrot) can be treated as mutually contradictory (rumya, raminhi) for the purpose of talmudic analysis and interpretation, but one cannot be used to refute the other. A tannaitic source (a mishnah or a baraita), however, can be used to refute (mativ, etive, tiyuvta) the memra of an amora. Thus, in the case where there is no obvious way to resolve a contradiction between a memra and an alternative legal source, it becomes crucial to clarify whether that source is in fact a baraita, in the legal sense of an authoritative tannaitic source, or whether it is "merely" a memra, which the amora may dispute (cf. Git. 42b).

It is therefore significant that not all types of baraitot seem to possess equal authority in the context of the talmudic sugyot, as H. Albeck has shown in his classic study Meḥkarim ba-Baraita u-va-Tosefta (1944), pp. 15–60. He especially singled out the baraitot associated with the names of amoraim mentioned above (and similar groups of baraitot), pointing out that they seem to possess little authority in the eyes of some amoraim, who felt free to disagree with them.

The Baraita as a Historical Source

Having distinguished between the baraita as representing a literary form and the baraita as representing a tradition deriving from sources of the tannaitic period, we will now introduce a second distinction – between the baraita as a legal category and the baraita as an historical category. This is an issue which has occupied scholars in recent years, especially Shamma Friedman, who has devoted a number of important studies to it (see Bibliography).

The legal authority of a talmudic baraita – the fact that it can be used to refute the memra of an amora – depends to a large extent on the presumption that the tradition it contains actually derives from the tannaitic period. Does this mean that a baraita found in the Babylonian Talmud, which reports the opinion of a rabbi of the tannaitic period and which clearly is accepted by the Talmud as authoritative, can be assumed to reflect the original views of that rabbi as they were first formulated in second century Palestine? The difficulty of this question is compounded by the fact that these talmudic baraitot often differ significantly in both form and content from the parallel versions of the same traditions found in earlier Palestinian tannaitic collections, such as the Tosefta, Sifra, Sifrei, etc.

One of the most influential views concerning this issue was elaborated by H. Albeck. Basing himself on the conclusions of his previous work, Untersuchungen zur Redaction der Mishna (1923), Albeck assumed that tannaitic sources – once they had received final redactional form – were not changed substantially, either with regard to their form or to their content. Significantly different versions of the same tannaitic halakhic source must therefore reflect ancient parallel traditions which developed independently in different tannaitic schools (see *Mishnah). Given that the form and the content of the baraitot in the Babylonian Talmud usually differ from the parallel halakhic sources found, for example, in the Tosefta, he concluded that the Talmud neither knew nor used the Tosefta as a source for its baraitot. From this it follows that the Talmud must have had access to alternative collections of tannaitic halakhic sources – all of which were subsequently lost (Meḥkarim ba-Baraita u-va-Tosefta, 1944, 89–138).

A radically different understanding has emerged from the recent work of Shamma Friedman. In Friedman's view, "the baraitot in the Babylonian Talmud which have parallel versions in the Tosefta do not reflect a different tradition. On the contrary, they are very similar to their parallel texts in the Tosefta in content, order, language, and in structure. The differences are by and large localized, and derive from redactional considerations. In other words, there is no justification for the assumption that the differences in these baraitot are ancient, nor that they preserve independent traditions which originated in the tannaitic period. The opposite is the case. They do not present alternative traditions, but rather redactional parallels" (Tosefta Atiqta, 78). This position has been substantially confirmed in numerous case studies, carried out both by Friedman and by his students, which have examined in detail the development of individual traditions, tracing the various steps through which original tannaitic traditions passed on the way to their final and often significantly different form as baraitot in the Babylonian Talmud sources.

This of course does not mean that the phenomenon of ancient independent traditions is not to be found in many individual cases. But it does mean that this phenomenon is not the only legitimate explanation for the existence parallel tannaitic texts, as Albeck would have us believe. As a result, we may have to reexamine the assertion, put forward by a number of scholars of the last century, that many alternative collections of tannaitic baraitot circulated in later talmudic times, since much of the evidence for this assertion is valid only if one accepts Albeck's views regarding this issue. Friedman's approach also has consequences for the historian, who may no longer use talmudic baraitot as direct and independent historical evidence for the state of rabbinic law and lore as they existed in second century Palestine, without first examining the redactional history of the tradition included in the baraita.

The Development of the Terms Baraita and Tosefet

The baraita, both as a literary and as a legal phenomenon, provided the foundation for the development of amoraic halakhic literature, from the very earliest literary levels of the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmudim to the very end of the amoraic period. At the same time, it is striking that the term itself only appears in the Babylonian Talmud, the sole exception being the case of the Jerusalem Talmud, Nid. 3:3, 50d. Even in the Babylonian Talmud, it is found almost exclusively in the words of Babylonian amoraim from the fourth generation onwards, as pointed out by Neil Danzig. Danzig suggested that the use of the term baraita, meaning "external mishnah," as opposed to the more neutral term matnita, meaning "mishnah," reflected the growing establishment of the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi as the central and uniquely authoritative source of tannaitic halakhah in the later Babylonian academies, after an extended transitional period in which the various collections of tannaitic halakhah were accepted on a more equal basis. It remains questionable whether this transitional period, documented by J.N. Epstein (Mavo le-Nusaḥ ha-Mishnah, 166–352), extended to the fourth generation of Babylonian amoraim. Moreover, the distinction between mishnah and baraita in the Babylonian Talmud is as often literary as legal, emphasizing the simple fact that a given tradition is part of the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi – and so provides the literary foundation for a talmudic sugya – whereas some other tradition is not part of this foundational literary work. It would seem that the acceptance of the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi as a unique literary document for the purpose of study preceded its acceptance as a unique legal source of authoritative halakhah by several generations.

Moreover, there may be a connection between the use of the term baraita in later Babylonian rabbinic literature and the use of the term tosefet ("addition") in earlier Palestinian rabbinic literature. In a number of places, tannaitic sources provide summaries of different categories of traditional study. Mishnah Nedarim (4:3), for example, mentions instruction in mikra (Bible) alongside instruction in midrash, halakhot, and aggadot. In another passage, Tosefta Berakhot (2:12) lists the same four categories of traditional study under two headings: the first category – mikra – is connected to the verb likro (= "to read"), while the other three (midrash, halakhot, and aggadot) are grouped together under the heading mishnah and connected to the verb lishnot (= "to recite"). In Palestinian rabbinic sources of the amoraic period (e. g. tj, Hor. 3 5, 48c; Gen. R. 15, p. 147; Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 27, p. 405; cf. Ex R. 10, p. 225) we find similar lists, with the difference that the terms tosefet, tosefot have been added to the familiar list of tannaitic terms, mikra, midrash, halakhot, and aggadot. What is the significance of the inclusion of the term tosefet here, and how does it relate to the term halakhot, which was already a member of the original tannaitic list?

An answer to this question, as well as a possible connection to our term baraita, can be found in a midrash, which interprets the words of the Song of Songs (6:8): "There are sixty queens … and there is no end to [the number of] handmaidens." The version found in Song of Songs Rabbah (6 [9]:2) interprets the phrase "sixty queens" as a reference to the "sixty tractates of halakhot." It then interprets the second phrase, saying: "there is no end to handmaidens – there is no end to tosefot." When this tradition was restated in later midrashic collections (Num. R. 18:17, Tanḥuma Koraḥ 12), the first interpretation was abbreviated to "sixty tractates" (an obvious reference to the sixty tractates of the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi); and the second interpretation was reformulated in the following words: "And there is no end to handmaidens – mishnah ḥiẓonah." As mentioned above, mishnah ḥiẓonah is the Hebrew translation of matnita baraita, and was one of standard ways of referring to baraitot in the early post-talmudic period (the period to which these late midrashic collections belong). It would seem therefore that the Palestinian term halakhot refers to the Mishnah of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, while the term tosefot ("additions") refers to that body of supplementary tannaitic halakhot, which is commonly referred to in the Babylonian Talmud by the term baraitot.

One additional factor may also have influenced the use of the term baraita in the Babylonian Talmud in place of the earlier Palestinian term tosefet. At some point in the development of the Babylonian talmudic tradition, the term tosefet – or more precisely its Aramaic equivalent tosefta – came to refer to a particular corpus of supplementary halakhic traditions (Meg. 28b, Kid. 49b, Sanh. 86a, Shavu. 41b), or perhaps even a particular literary work – like our Tosefta (see *Tosefta). As a result it may no longer have been able to serve as a "generic term" – as the name for an entire category of individual literary sources as well as a name for the individual sources themselves.


B.M. Lewin (ed.), Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on (1921), 6, 27, 34–47; Malachi b. Jacob, Yad Malakhi (18562); N. Krochmal, Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman (1928), ch. 73; idem, in: He-Ḥalutz, 3 (1856), 110–31; Weiss, Dor, vol. 2, 239–58; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), 114–52, 162–216; Ch. Albeck, Meḥkarim ba-Baraita… (1944); M. Higger, Oẓar ha-Beraitot (1948), 9–134; Epstein, Mishnah (1948), 30–63, 171–4, 673–706, 726–803, 1291; Bacher, in: Yerushalayim, 10 (1913), 59–82; Bacher, Trad; E.Z. Melamed, in: Sefer ha-Zikkaron M.Z. Ilan (1959), 71–84; Neusner, in: paajr, 30 (1962), 79–127; add. bibliography: Danzig, in: Sinai, 85 (1979), 217–24; Sh. Friedman, Tosefta Atiqta (2002), idem, in: D. Boyarin (ed.), Ateret le-Ḥayyim (2000), 163–201; idem, in: Y. Elman et al. (eds.), Neti'ot le-David (2004), 195–274.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]