The Tannaim (Hebrew: תנאים [tanaˈʔim], singular תנא [taˈna], Tanna "repeaters", "teachers") were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 10-220 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 210 years. It came after the period of the Zugot ("pairs"), and was immediately followed by the period of the Amoraim ("interpreters")
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.
The Tannaim 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 the 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.
Some 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 Iudaea province (composed of Samaria, Idumea and Judea proper) led to riots, revolts and general resentment.
Until the days of Hillel and Shammai (the last generation of the Zugot), there were few disagreements among Rabbinic scholars. After this period, though, 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, see also Hillel and Shammai.
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 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 five periods according to generations of the Tannaim.
The generations of the Tannaim included: