TANNA, TANNAIM (Aram. תַּנָּאִים ,תַּנָּא), the sages from the period of *Hillel to the compilation of the *Mishnah, i.e., the first and second centuries c.e. The word tanna (from Aramaic teni, "to hand down orally," "study," "teach") generally designates a teacher either mentioned in the Mishnah or of mishnaic times (Ber. 2a). It was first used in the Talmud in this sense to distinguish such teachers from later authorities, the *amoraim. However, not all teachers mentioned in the Mishnah are called tannaim; the frequently found phrase zekenim rishonim ("former elders"; Shab. 64b, Naz. 53a, etc.) probably refers to scholars who precede the schools of Hillel and Shammai, i.e., the zugot, etc. Thus, the tannaitic period covers a period from about 20 to about 200 c.e., the approximate date of the final redaction of the Mishnah by Judah ha-Nasi. These two centuries are generally divided into five generations – corresponding to the five generations of zugot (Avot 1), also spanning some two centuries – with a sixth transitional generation of semi-tannaim, contemporaries of Judah i, who, while not appearing in the Mishnah, are mentioned in the Tosefta or baraita. Of course, such a division is necessarily arbitrary, and many tannaim cannot be easily fitted into their rigidly compartmentalized periods. Often they span two or more successive generations. Nevertheless, the "five-generation grid" is a useful frame of reference and has been used by successive chronographers since it was first introduced by Ibn Daud in his classic Sefer ha-Kabbalah (second half of 12th century; see, Sefer ha-Qabbalah, ed. by G. Cohen, 1967, lvi).
In this somewhat artificial system of division there are two major landmarks: 70 c.e., the year of the fall of Jerusalem, and 135, the year of the fall of Betar. The first marks the end of the Temple period, and is followed by one of reconstruction. Johanan b. Zakkai established a flourishing center at Jabneh, and his most important disciples were Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (who founded a school at Lydda), Joshua b. Hananiah, Yose ha-Kohen, Simeon b. Nethanel, and Eleazar b. Arakh (Avot 2:8). Among their younger contemporaries were Ishmael (b. Elisha), Tarfon, and Johanan b. Nuri, but undoubtedly the most outstanding of them was Akiva (whose school was at Bene-Berak). This highly creative phase came to a savage end around 130. It remained to the pupils of Ishmael (e.g., Josiah and Jonathan) and of Akiva (Judah b. Ilai, Yose b. Ḥalafta, and Simeon b. Yoḥai) to regroup, moving the centers of learning to Galilee (Usha, Tiberias, etc.). In this second period, Meir, a pupil both of Ishmael (first) and (then) Akiva, emerges as the most prominent personality, and it is primarily his tradition that is continued by Judah i (at Bet She'arim and Sepphoris). Judah's death (c. 220) brings to a close the tannaitic period.
The crippling defeats of 70 and 135 were both followed by a period of military oppression and spiritual repression, and by a general depression, and both periods of reconstruction had to contend with a society splintered by shifts of population from Jerusalem to other Judean centers (c. 70–130) and from Judea to Galilee (135 onward). Furthermore, not only was there social disintegration in the communities and their administrative bodies, but also a serious danger of the collapse of a central Jewish authority. Both the destruction of the Temple and later that of Jabneh left a vacuum of authority that had to be replaced rapidly. Thus, Johanan b. Zakkai had to contend with considerable initial antagonism on the part of several strata of society – the priestly faction, elements of the aristocracy, and a number of rabbis (see Alon, Meḥkarim, 1 (1957), 253–73). He and, after him, Gamaliel of Jabneh made it their prime objective to consolidate their authority, to make it accepted by the whole populace, and at the same time to gain the recognition of the Roman civil authorities. When Simeon b. Gamaliel set up his academy at Usha in the middle of the second century, he followed much the same policy.
The establishment of such a centralized authority, in the form of a great Sanhedrin that would convene on special occasions to discuss and give rulings and directives on basic issues, brought together scholars from varying backgrounds and differing traditions. A period of political calamity and spiritual depression is also one in which there is a grave danger of the loss of traditional knowledge; leading scholars are killed, there is a diminution of study, established bodies of learning – the yeshivot or battei midrashot – are dismantled, and their members scattered. Thus the central authorities appreciated the urgent need to collect the different strands of tradition and weave them into organized bodies of material. In this way, out of chaos and destruction there arose a new order, in the form of the great bodies of halakhic tradition. These, the literary production of the tannaim, may be roughly grouped under two main headings: that which belongs to the genre of the codex, i.e., succinct halakhic formulations arranged under abstract legal categories, or other mnemonic devices; and *Midreshei Halakhah, halakhic Midrashim arranged as some kind of extended exegetical commentaries to the books of the Pentateuch.
In the former category comes, first and foremost, the Mishnah. This began as a collection of "evidences" (eduyyot) on different legal topics, which was put together during the Jabneh period. During this time also, certain primary editorial guidelines were drawn up (Eduy. 1:4–6). Akiva was a key figure in the continued collection, collation, and classification of the halakhot, or mishnayot, which at times came together in groups, linked to one another by mnemonic devices, such as a common catchword, parallel structure, etc. (see *Mnemonics). The work was continued by Akiva's pupils, the most important among them being Meir, until it reached its consummation in the final editorship of Judah ha-Nasi in the early third century. This superb work of codification forms the basis of that vast corpus of amoraic law and lore known as the *Talmud or Gemara, and indeed of all subsequent codices. It remains the supreme monument to the tannaitic achievement. Judah ha-Nasi was selective in his editorship, excluding a great many halakhot from his Mishnah codex. These were subsequently assembled about a decade or two later by the semi-tannaim Ḥiyya and Oshaiah and arranged in a parallel corpus titled the *Tosefta. Even so, a great many halakhot were omitted from this secondary collection too, and they subsequently appear in the Talmud. They are termed beraitot ("excluded" or "external" halakhot; see Epstein, Tanna'im, 13–262).
Now while the Mishnah and to a slightly lesser extent the Tosefta represent material reflecting in the main the Akiva tradition, as passed on by his pupils and taught in his academies, the other major body of tannaitic literature, the halakhic Midrashim, reflect to a great extent the tradition of Akiva's great contemporary opponent, Ishmael, and the latter's pupils. A number of such compilations survive to this day: the Mekhil ta de-R. Ishmael and one of Simeon b. Yoḥai to Exodus; the Sifra (or Torat Kohanim) to Leviticus; the Sifrei (edited by the school of Rav) and the Sifrei Zuta (cf. the school of Lydda) to Numbers; and the Sifrei and Midrash Tannaim to Deuteronomy. Each of these works is individual in style, character, and halakhic tendency, but they are all unified in the basic form, that of an exegesis from the verse to the abstract halakhic formulation. As such they form a valuable complement to the Mishnah and are frequently cited in the Talmud to help elucidate the Mishnah's sources (see Epstein, Tanna'im, 495–746). The basis of these exegetical Midrashim were the various hermeneutical rules (see *Hermeneutics) laid down at different times by a number of leading authorities – Hillel, Naḥum of Gimzo, Akiva, and Ishmael, It has been suggested that the 32 rules of interpreting the Bible for aggadic purposes, attributed to Eliezer b. Yose Ha-Gelili, are also of the tannaitic period.
Finally mention should be made of a very particular kind of work, the *Seder OlamRabbah, compiled (for the main part) by the great tanna*Yose b. Halafta in the middle of the second century. This is a systematic chronology of world history from the time of Adam till the destruction of the Second Temple. In parts it is an exegesis of biblical verses and in parts engenders ancient chronological oral traditions. It has already been pointed out that the greater part of the tannaitic period was one of extreme economic hardship, when poverty was rife and taxation a crippling burden. One might expect that under such circumstances scholars would have been deterred from learning, especially since the community could ill-afford to support them. However, quite to the contrary, the study of Torah became even more intensive in the period after Bar Kokhba. While in Temple times scholars had either supported themselves, or been paid a pittance out of Temple funds, during the Jabneh period a policy emerged of encouraging the community to regard the support of the sages as a religious-communal function. Nonetheless, many scholars still plied their crafts as cobblers, smiths, scribes, etc., supporting themselves in this way in their spare time. In the aftermath of the Bar-Kokhba war, Simeon b. Yoḥai developed the doctrine that scholars should devote themselves to the study of Torah to the exclusion of all else. By the amoraic period public support of poor scholars through regular and generous contributions to the academies was already an established custom (see M. Beer, in: Sefer ha-Shanah, Bar Ilan (1968), 167–80).
The tannaim were both scholars and teachers. They expounded the law and taught it to the people in academies and synagogues. They encouraged the people, raised their spirits, and exhorted them to higher moral aims. Numerous fragments from the homilies of the tannaim survived in the later aggadic compilations. Furthermore, the leaders among them represented the people before the Roman civil authorities, even going to Rome to plead their causes and bring ease to their hardships. Thus their involvement was not merely with the spiritual but also with the social and political developments of the nation. Their achievements in all these spheres in the face of overwhelming objective difficulties are eloquent testimony to their great spirit and ability (for creative activity of the tannaim and their importance, see *Sages and *Mishnah).
The term tanna has a secondary meaning of someone of the amoraic period, who hands down tannaitic statements, knows and memorizes them, and teaches them in the bet hamidrash (e.g., Pes. 100a). These later tannaim served as living libraries, and were spoken of as "baskets full of books," in contrast to the eminent scholars. It was said of them that they ruin the world (ha-tannaim mevalleh olam, Sot. 22a) in that they give decisions based on traditions they have learned without knowing their reasons and their application to practical cases.
For a list of the more important tannaim see Chart: Tannaim.
J. Bruell, Mavo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 43–253; Frankel, Mishnah, 47–219; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Mishnah (1959), 216–33; H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud (1931).