The Tannaim (Hebrew: תנאים, singular תנא, tanna) were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approx. 70-200 C.E. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 130 years. It followed the period of the Zugot ("pairs"), and was immediately succeeded by the period of the Amoraim.
The root tanna (תנא) is the Talmudic Aramaic equivalent for the Hebrew root shanah (שנה), which also is the root-word of Mishnah. The verb shanah (שנה) literally means "to repeat [what one was taught]" and is used to mean "to learn."
The Mishnaic period is commonly divided up into five periods according to generations. There are approximately 120 known Tannaim (teachers of the "Oral Torah") who lived in several areas of the Land of Israel. The spiritual center of Judaism at that time was Jerusalem, but after the destruction of the city and its Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and his students founded a new religious center in Yavne. Other places of Judaic learning were founded by his students in Lod and in Bnei Brak.
Many of the Tannaim worked as laborers (e.g., charcoal burners, cobblers) in addition to their positions as teachers and legislators. They were also leaders of the people and negotiators with the Roman Empire.
The Tannaim operated under the occupation of the Roman Empire. During this time, the Kohanim (priests) of the Temple became increasingly corrupt and were seen by the Jewish people as collaborators with the Romans, whose mismanagement of Judea led to riots, revolts and general resentment. Throughout much of the period, the office of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was rented out to the highest bidder, and the priests themselves extorted as much as they could from the pilgrims who came to sacrifice at the Temple.
The conflict between the high priesthood and the people led to the split between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The elitist Sadducees (who generally controlled the high priesthood) were supported by the Hasmonean royal family and later by the Romans. The Pharisees were a more egalitarian sect; they accepted students from all the tribes, not only the Levites, and they also taught laws in addition to those set forth in the Torah. These laws make up the Mishnah, whose compilation marked the end of the period of the Tannaim.
By this period, the "House of Hillel" and the "House of Shammai" came to represent two distinct perspectives on Jewish law, and disagreements between the two schools of thought are found throughout the Mishnah.
The Tannaim, as teachers of the Oral Law, were direct transmitters of an oral tradition passed from teacher to student that was written and codified as the basis for the Mishnah, Tosefta, and tannaitic teachings of the Talmud. According to tradition, the Tannaim were the last generation in a long sequence of oral teachers that began with Moses.
The Mishnah (משנה, "repetition," from the verb shanah שנה, or "to study and review") is a major work of Rabbinic Judaism, and the first major redaction into written form of Jewish oral traditions, called the Oral Torah. It was debated between 70-200 C.E. by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim and redacted about 200 C.E. by Judah haNasi when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions would be forgotten. The Mishnah does not claim to be the development of new laws, but merely the collection of existing traditions.
The Mishnah is considered to be the first important work of Rabbinic Judaism and is a major source of later rabbinic religious thought. Rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah over the next three centuries were redacted as the Gemara.
The Nasi (plural Nesi'im) was the highest ranking member and presided over the Sanhedrin. Rabban was a higher title than Rabbi, and it was given to the Nasi starting with Rabban Gamaliel Hazaken (Gamaliel the Elder). The title Rabban was limited to the descendants of Hillel, the sole exception being Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, the leader in Jerusalem during the siege, who safeguarded the future of the Jewish people after the Great Revolt by pleading with Vespasian. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, who was also Nasi, was not given the title Rabban, perhaps because he only held the position of Nasi for a short while and it eventually reverted to the descendants of Hillel. Prior to Rabban Gamliel Hazaken, no titles were used before someone's name, based on the Talmudic adage "Gadol miRabban shmo" ("Greater than the title Rabban is a person's own name"). For this reason Hillel has no title before his name: his name in itself is his title, just as Moses and Abraham have no titles before their names. (An addition is sometimes given after a name to denote significance or to differentiate between two people with the same name. Examples include Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) and Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher). Starting with Rabbi Judah haNasi (Judah the Nasi), often referred to simply as "Rabbi," not even the Nasi is given the title Rabban, but instead, Judah haNasi is given the lofty title Rabbeinu HaKadosh ("Our holy rabbi [teacher]").
The following were Nesi'im, that is to say presidents of the Sanhedrin:
The Mishnaic period is commonly divided into various periods according to generations of the Tannaim, which are as follows:
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