Tannaim & Amoraim

The great sages of the Mishnah and Talmud.

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Thus one finds frequently in the Talmud an objection of the sort: how can Amora A say such-and-such, since a Tanna has said otherwise?

The reply is either that the Tanna said no such thing, his statement being reinterpreted, or that the Amora can produce the opinion of another Tanna who takes issue with the first.

Although the Tannaim enjoy greater authority than the Amoraim, the actual decisions in Jewish law are not rendered on the basis of Tannaitic statement in themselves but on these statements as expounded by the Amoraim.

Of the many Tannaim and Amoraim it is possible here to list only some of the more prominent, those whose names occur very frequently in the literature.

Major Tannaim

The members of the schools of Hillel and Shammai; Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai; Rabban Gamaliel I and II; Rabbi Eliezer; Rabbi Joshua; Rabbi Ishmael; Rabbi Akiba and his disciples: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Jose, and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai; Rabbi Judah the Prince, editor of the Mishnah, and his disciples: Rabbi Hiyya, Rabbi Hoshayah, and Rabbi Hanina.

Palestinian Amoraim

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi; Rabbi Johanan; Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish (usually referred to as Resh Lakish); Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat; Rabbi Simlai; Rabbi Abbahu; Rabbi Ammi; Rabbi Assi; Rabbi Zera; Rabbi Jeremiah.

Babylonian Amoraim

Rav and Samuel; Rav Huna (the Babylonians did not have the full title 'Rabbi'); Rav Hisda; Rav Judah ben Ezekiel; Rav Nahman; Rav Sheshet; Abbaye and Rava; Rav Pappa; Rav Ashi and Ravina.

The last two are said (in the Letter of Sherira Gaon) to have been the editors of the Babylonian Talmud but this cannot be taken too literally since both feature as 'heroes' of the work and are mentioned in the third person, apart from the fact that there are clearly to be detected Talmudic passages that obviously derive from a later period.

The problem of dating the various Tannaim and Amoraim is notoriously difficult, given the paucity of biographical detail and the legendary nature of some of the details that are given.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.