“But Sages Say…” To Whom Did Unnamed Sages Respond in the Tosefta?December 13, 2020
Having first been curious about the appearance of an unnamed group just simply called “Sages” in the Mishnah, in which they appear the second most out of all sages named in the Mishnah, I was curious to find out more about them – against whom they had spoken, where they appeared, and more. Having counted that up, I then turned my attention to the Tosefta.
The first thing that stands out, from a bird’s-eye view, is that, while in the Mishnah, this group of sages appears the second-most out of all sages, they appear only the fifth-most in the Tosefta, so they have a seemingly decreased frequency of appearances. In my tally, this group of sages appears 462 times, whereas in the Mishnah, they appear 451 times. This is pretty close, and what is curious about this is that there is a lot more frequency of naming sages than there is in the Mishnah (267 in the Tosefta vs 138 in the Mishnah), but it actually seems to be fairly similar as a total amount of appearances, although as I mentioned, it drops this group of Sages from the second-most mentions in the Mishnah to the fifth-most in the Tosefta. Of the 462 overall appearances of Sages in the Tosefta, 427 are in response to particular sages, accounting for 91% of their appearances, whereas in the Mishnah, it was 96%. Similar to the Mishnah, Sages respond the least in the order of Nashim (8.2%) and, by far, the most in the order of Taharot (28.8%).
Top Ten Appearances
Just as we saw with the Mishnah by far appearing the most frequently in receiving responses from Sages is Rabbi Meir, with the second-most being Rabbi Yehudah, then followed by Rabbi Eliezer. There are seven sages who appear in double-digit appearances having Sages argue against them; here is the top ten:
1 – Rabbi Meir – 158 (37%)
2 – Rabbi Yehudah – 60 (14%)
3 – Rabbi Eliezer – 48 (11%)
4 – Rabbi – 34 (8%)
5 – Rabbi Akiva – 25 (6%)
6 – Rabbi Shimon – 18 (4%)
7 – Rabban Gamali’el – 14 (3%)
8 – Rabbi Elazar – 9 (2%)
9 – Rabbi Yose – 8 (1.9%)
10 – Rabbi Nehemiah – 7 (1.6%)
This yields that most of the mentions of Sages against a particular sage were against just two sages: the contemporaries Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Meir. What is curious about this is that, whereas in the Mishnah. Rabbi Eliezer was number two, clearly, clearly, Rabbi Eliezer was just not as frequently featured here for Sages to be against in the Tosefta.
Contrasting Frequency with the Mishnah
There are a total of 36 sages against whom Sages are against in the Tosefta, although most of them appear only one or two times with Sages responding to them. What is interesting is there were 40 sages in the Mishnah who had Sages responding to them, which is surprising since a lot more sages are mentioned throughout the entirety of the corpus (267 in the Tosefta vs 138 in the Mishnah), resulting in 29% of the sages mentioned in the Mishnah having Sages respond to them, whereas only 13% of the sages in the Tosefta are responded to by Sages.
Frequency of Appearances vs Overall Appearances for the Top Ten
Frequency of appearances versus their appearances in the Tosefta, overall
1 – Rabbi Meir – 34%
2 – Rabbi Yehudah – 7%
3 – Rabbi Eliezer – 14%
4 – Rabbi – 13%
5 – Rabbi Akiva – 9%
6 – Rabbi Shimon – 3%
7 – Rabban Gamali’el – 17%
8 – Rabbi Elazar – 7%
9 – Rabbi Yose – 1.5%
10 – Rabbi Nehemiah – 12%
Clearly standing out is Rabbi Meir, who has the Sages responding to him one-third of his overall appearances in the Tosefta, which is similar to the Mishnah (35.6% of his appearances receive responses by Sages). Also roughly similar to the Mishnah is Rabbi Eliezer, who received responses by Sages in 19.3% of his appearances there. Stepping-up from the Mishnah is Rabban Gamali’el, who had responses from Sages in only 7.6% of his appearances in the Mishnah, now went up to more than a sixth of his appearances in the Tosefta. Another huge increase is that of Rabbi Nehemiah, who only had Sages respond to him once in the Mishnah, resulting in 6% of his appearances in the Mishnah having Sages respond to him, whereas the frequency of his appearances with Sages responding to him doubles in the Tosefta. Also notable is Rabbi, who had Sages responding to him a high number of 31.25% of his appearances in the Mishnah, whereas he has 13% of his appearances receiving a response by Sages, although that seemingly is largely due to his increased frequency of appearances in the Tosefta, overall.
Similar to the methodological issues I pointed out with regards to my tallying-up of the sages in the Tosefta, this essay is not intended to be the definitive writing on this topic. I believe that these numbers should be taken as a first step in understanding the frequency of mentions of sages, as it was not a perfect system, which I mention for a few reasons. The first of these reasons is that I may have missed some documenting of occurrences of the sages the first time around, so it was an imperfect system to begin with, regarding the tallies. On top of that, in the course of my tallying up, I may have accidentally omitted a tally of a name here or there. Finally, a third issue with this present set of data is that I did not delve into critical texts for the Tosefta, so there may be issues with some of the names counted (e.g. Rabbi Eliezer vs Rabbi Elazar). Again, this is not the final word on this data, rather, I see it as a first step towards understanding this data and, more broadly, the Tosefta.
One thing that curiously stands out is the lack of increasing frequency to keep up with the Mishnah for this group of Sages, although whether that means that this group was not as significant to the Tosefta or not is unclear. Also noticeable is that most of the appearances of Sages against certain sages is centered around the sages in the fifth tannaitic generation, primarily Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah, but also Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yose. Yes, 23% of appearances are against Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva, but that is not as noticeable for overall appearances. Also notable is that while Rabbi Yehudah appears quite frequently in the Tosefta, only 7% of his appearances in the Tosefta receive responses from sages, whereas Rabbi Meir is head-and-shoulders more frequently responded-to by Sages, with a third of his appearances receiving a response, pointing to this group of Sages being much more commonly occurring not only in his generation, but largely against him. These are tentative conclusions, but I hope they spur further research into this data and yield more definitive conclusions concerning the Tosefta.
 See my “Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally]”, Drew Kaplan’s Blog (5 July 2011) [http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2011/07/rabbinic-popularity-in-mishnah-vii-top.html].
 Originally appearing as “Against Whom the חכמים Were in the Mishnah [Top Ten]”, Drew Kaplan’s Blog (3 July 2011) [http://drewkaplans.blogspot.com/2011/07/against-whom-were-in-mishnah-top-ten.html], see also my “But Sages Say…’: To Whom Did Unnamed Sages Respond in the Mishnah?”, Textual Insights (10 December 2020) [http://texts.rabbidrew.info/but-sages-say-to-whom-did-unnamed-sages-respond-in-the-mishnah/].
 For a breakdown for each order of the Tosefta, see my “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta I: סדר זרעים”, Drew’s Views (4 February 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus1/], my “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta II: סדר מועד”, Drew’s Views (18 February 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus2/], my “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta III: סדר נשים”, Drew’s Views (4 March 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus3/], “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta IV: Looking at the First Three סדרים”, Drew’s Views (25 March 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus4/], “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta V: סדר נזיקין”, Drew’s Views (8 April 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus5/], “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta VI: סדר קדשים”, Drew’s Views (29 April 2014) [http://drewsviews.info/toseftasagesversus6/], and “Versus Whom Did the חכמים Argue in the Tosefta VII: סדר טהרות”, Matters of Interest (19 August 2014) [http://mattersofinterest.info/toseftasagesversus7/].
 See my “Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah”, Textual Insights (4 December 2020) [http://texts.rabbidrew.info/rabbinic-popularity-in-the-mishnah/].
 See my “Rabbinic Popularity in the Tosefta”, Textual Insights (6 December 2020) [http://texts.rabbidrew.info/rabbinic-popularity-in-the-tosefta/].