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Title: Sifra  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Priestly covenant, Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah, Sifre, Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael, Adam in rabbinic literature
Collection: Book of Leviticus, Halakhic Midrashim
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Sifra (Aramaic: סִפְרָא) is the Halakic midrash to Leviticus. It is frequently quoted in the Talmud, and the study of it followed that of the Mishnah, as appears from Tanḥuma, quoted in Or Zarua, i. 7b. Like Leviticus itself, the midrash is occasionally called "Torat Kohanim" (Ḳid. 33a; Sanh. 103b; Cant. R. vi. 8), and in two passages also "Sifra debe Rab" (Ber. 11b, 18b). According to Leḳaḥ Ṭob (section צו), this latter title was applied originally to the third book of the Pentateuch because Leviticus was the first book studied in the elementary school, and it was subsequently extended to the midrash; but this explanation is contradicted by analogous expressions such as "Sifre debe Rab" and, in a broader sense, "ketubot debe Rab" (Yer. Ket. 26c) and "teḳi'ata debe Rab" (Yer. Ab. Zarah 39c).


  • Authorship 1
  • Sources 2
  • Additions by R. Ishmael's School 3
  • The Present Text 4
  • Editions 5
  • Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography 6
  • External links 7
  • References 8


It is true, Maimonides, in the introduction to his Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, and others, quoted by Friedmann, in the introduction to his edition of the Mekilta (p. xxvi., Vienna, 1870), have declared that the title "Sifra debe Rab" indicates Rab as the author of the Sifra; and this opinion I.H. Weiss, in the introduction to his Sifra edition (p. iv.), attempts to support. His proofs are not conclusive, however; neither, it must be confessed, are the opposing arguments of Friedmann (l.c. pp. xvi. et seq.), who tries to show that the expression "Sifra debe Rab" does not refer to the midrash under discussion.

Rabbinical Eras

The question as to authorship has been correctly answered by Malbim, who proves in the introduction to his Sifra edition that R. Ḥiyya was the redactor of the Sifra. There are no less than 39 passages in Yerushalmi and the midrashim in which expositions found also in the Sifra are quoted in the name of R. Ḥiyya (comp. the list in D. Hoffmann, Zur Einleitung die Halachischen Midraschim, p. 22, to which Yer. Shab. 2d and Ket. 28d must be added, according to Levy in Ein Wort, etc., p. 1, note 1); and the fact that no tannaim subsequent to Rebbi are mentioned in the Sifra supports the view that the book was composed during the time of that scholar. The omission from the Sifra of some interpretations of Leviticus which are elsewhere quoted in the name of R. Ḥiyya cannot be taken as proving the contrary (comp. the list in Hoffmann, l.c. p. 24, and Yoma 4a; Ḥullin 141b; Levy, l.c.); nor does the fact that Ḥiyya himself is mentioned in the Sifra offer any difficulty. Indeed, as Hoffmann shows (l.c. p. 25), in the three passages in which it can with certainty be said that the reference is to R. Ḥiyya, namely, Wayiḳra, Nedabah, v. 5, vi. 3, and Meẓora', ii. 10, Ḥiyya himself, in referring to preceding interpretations, indicates that he is the editor.

It is perhaps doubtful whether Hoffmann is correct in comparing the above-mentioned passages, or the final remark of R. Joshua in Ḳinnim, with Mid. ii. 5. But even if Hoffmann's view does not seem acceptable, it is not necessary to infer that Rab was the editor of the Sifra; for he may merely have added the passages in question, just as he seems to have made an addition to Sifra xii. 2, following Niddah 24b (comp. Weiss in Sifra ad. loc.; also A. Epstein [Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim, p. 53, note 1], who holds that in some passages Rab is meant by aḥerim = "others [say]", and by we-yesh omerim = "there are those who say"). Nor is Ḥiyya's authorship controverted by various contradictions presented by individual passages in the Sifra as compared with the Tosefta, which latter also is ascribed to him; e.g., Sifra, Ḳedoshim, vi. 8, compared with Tosef., Mak. iv. 14 (see below).

If it be assumed that Ḥiyya is the author, the title "Sifra debe Rab" is to be explained as indicating that Sifra was among the midrashim which were accepted by Rab's school and which thereby came into general use. The name is differently explained by Hoffmann (l.c. pp. 12 et seq.), who, on the basis of Ḥullin 66a and in conformity with Rashi ad loc., takes "be Rab" to mean "school" in general, and who accordingly differentiates between "Tanna debe Rab" and "Tanna debe R. Ishmael," i.e., between the midrashim of R. Akiba's school, which, being decisive for the Halakah, were generally studied, and those of R. Ishmael's school, which were not intended for general use, though they were studied by some and were consulted occasionally, as was the case with other midrash collections which are quoted only rarely. Hoffmann himself admits, however, that the expression "de-bet Rab" in Yerushalmi certainly indicates Rab's school; so that it is in any case doubtful whether a different usage is to be assumed in the case of the Babylonian Talmud.

As regards the sources of Sifra, it is said in the well-known passage Sanh. 86a (which must be compared with Er. 96b and the parallel passages mentioned there), "Setam Sifra R. Yehudah" (= "An anonymous Sifra is Rabbi Yehudah"). That the Sifra belongs to R. Akiba's school, as the above-mentioned passage in Sanhedrin indicates, is shown by the principles of exposition contained in the Sifra; e.g., that where the same expression occurs in two different laws the phrase need not be "mufneh" (pleonastic) in one of them in order to permit of its being used for "gezerah shawah" (argument from analogy); the double use of the expression being explained in accordance with the principles of "ribbui u-mi'uṭ" and "kelal uperaṭ." Certain peculiarities of phraseology are likewise noteworthy: יכול replaces שומע אני or אקרא, the phrases usually found in the Mekilta (once, in Sanh. 4b, a passage beginning אקרא אני is cited as coming from the Sifra, while as a matter of fact the Sifra [Tazria', ii. 2] has יכול); comp. further הא כיצד, וכי איזה מדה מרובה, ואם נפשך לומר, וכי מאין יצאת מכלל שנאמר, וכי מאין באת; and for further details see D. Hoffmann, l.c. p. 31.


Traces of R. Judah's influence are less evident. The fact that the views expressed in some "seṭamot" may be proved to agree with R. Judah's views has little significance; e.g., Sifra, Aḥare, 5, beginning, compared with Men. 27b; ib. Ḳedoshim, viii. 1, with Yeb. 46a (where R. Simeon furthermore seems to have read ר"י in the Sifre) and Ḳedoshim, vii. 3, with Tosef., Ḳid. i. 4. Such seṭamot may be opposed by others that contradict R. Judah's views; e.g., Sifra, Neg. ii. 1, compared with R. Judah in Neg. ii. 1; Sifra, Neg. x. 8, compared with R. Judah, Neg. x. 10; comp. also Tos. Niddah 28b, s.v. הא מזכר.

All this, however, is no reason for attacking the above-mentioned assumption that the Sifra in its principal parts is a midrash of R. Judah's. D. Hoffmann remarks (l.c. p. 26) not incorrectly that Sifra, Nedabah, iv. 12 agrees with the views of R. Eliezer (Men. 26a), whose decision R. Judah frequently accepts as handed down by his own father, R. Ila'i, a pupil of R. Eliezer (comp. Men. 18a and Yoma 39a et passim). Similarly, Sifra, Emor, xvii. 4 et seq. agrees with R. Eliezer's view (Suk. 43a). Aside from R. Judah's midrash, R. Ḥiyya may have used also R. Simeon's midrash (comp. Hoffmann, l.c. p. 27), although some of the passages mentioned there (as, e.g., the comparison of Sifra, Nedabah, vi. 9 with Sifre, Deut. 78; Sifra, Nega'im, i. 9-10 with Sifre, Deut. 218; Sifra, Beḥuḳḳotai, viii. 2 with Sifre, Deut. 124) seem to prove little. More doubtful is the relation to R. Ishmael's midrash; and in this connection must be considered the question whether the citation of certain explanations of Leviticus introduced by the formula תנא דבי ר"י and actually found in Sifra is not in part due to confusion (comp. Hoffmann, l.c.; Levy, l.c. p. 28, note 2, and the interesting remark from Azulai quoted there).

Additions by R. Ishmael's School

But to R. Ishmael's school undoubtedly belong the later additions to "'Arayot," which, according to Ḥag. i. 1 and Yer. 1b, were not publicly taught in R. Akiba's school; i.e., Aḥare, xiii. 3-15; Ḳedoshim, ix. 1-7, xi. 14 (ed. I.H. Weiss), and finally, of course, the so-called Baraita de-Rabbi Yishma'el (beginning). The so-called "Mekilta de-Millu'im" or "Aggadat Millu'im" to Lev. viii. 1-10 is similarly to be distinguished from the remainder of the Sifra. It exists in two recensions, of which the second, covering mishnayot 14-16 and 29-end, is cited by Rashi as "Baraita ha-Nosefet 'al Torat Kohanim she-Lanu." The tannaim quoted most frequently in Sifra are R. Akiba and his pupils, also R. Eliezer, R. Ishmael, R. Jose ha-Gelili, Rebbi, and less often R. Jose bar Judah, R. Eleazar bar R. Simeon, and R. Simeon b. Eleazar.

The Present Text

The Sifra was divided, according to an old arrangement, into 9 "dibburim"[1] and 80 "parashiyyot" or smaller sections. As it exists today it is divided into 14 larger sections and again into smaller peraḳim, parashiyyot, and mishnayot. As the commentators point out, it varies frequently from the Sifra which the Talmudic authors knew (comp. Sifra, Emor, xiii. 1 and Men. 77b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ii. 5 and Ḥul. 137a; Sifra, Ḥobah, xiii. 6 and B. Ḳ. 104b); furthermore, entire passages known to the authors of the Babylonian Talmud, as, e.g., Yoma 41a, are missing in the present Sifra, and, on the other hand, there are probably passages in the present Sifra which were not known to the Babylonian Talmud (comp. D. Hoffmann, l.c. pp. 33, 35).

The Sifra frequently agrees with the Judean rather than with the Babylonian tradition; e.g., Sifra, Nedabah, xii. 2 (comp. Men. 57b); ib. xiv. 6 (comp. Ḥul. 49b); Sifra, Emor, ix. 8 (comp. Ḥul. 101b); and Tosef., Sheḳ. i. 7 likewise agrees with the Sifra. In the few cases where the agreement is with the Babylonian Talmud (Sifra, Emor, vii. 2 as compared with Men. 73b; similarly Tosef., Ker. ii. 16) it must not be assumed that the text of the Sifra was emended in agreement with the Babylonian Talmud, but that it represents the original version; e.g., in Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii. 1 מאתכם is not a later emendation for מאתן according to Yeb. 47a, as I.H. Weiss (ad loc.) assumes, but represents rather the original reading. The Babylonian Talmud, as compared with Yerushalmi, cites Sifra less accurately, sometimes abbreviating and sometimes amplifying it; e.g., Ḳid. 57b, which is the amplification of Sifra, Nedabah, xvii. 8; Sheb. 26b, which is a shortened (and therefore unintelligible) version of Sifra, Ḥobah, ix. 2; and Zeb. 93b, which is to be compared with Sifra, Ẓaw, vi. 6. The Babylonian Talmud occasionally makes use, in reference to the Sifra, of the rule "mi she-shanah zu lo shanah zu" (i.e., the assigning of different parts of one halakah to different authorities), as in Sheb. 13a, Soṭah 16a, but unnecessarily, since it is possible to harmonize the apparently conflicting sentences and thereby show that they may be assigned to the same authority.

Many errors have crept into the text through the practice of repeating one and the same midrash in similar passages; e.g., Sifra to v. 3 and xxii. 5 (comp. Weiss, Einleitung, etc., p. v., note 1, though the passage quoted by Weiss does not belong here; comp. Giṭ. 49b); לשנא אחרינא is found in Sifra, Nega'im, ii. 10.


The Sifra is usually still cited according to the Weiss edition of 1862.

The editions of the Sifra are as follows: Venice, 1545; with commentary by RABaD, Constantinople, 1552; with Ḳorban Aharon, Venice, 1609; with the same commentary, Dessau, 1742; with commentary by J.L. Rapoport, Wilna, 1845; with commentary by Judah Jehiel, Lemberg, 1848; with commentary by Malbim, Bucharest, 1860; with commentary by RABaD and Massoret ha-Talmud by I. H. Weiss, Vienna, 1862 (Reprint New York: Om Publishing Company 1946); with commentary by Samson of Sens and notes by MaHRID, Warsaw, 1866. A Latin translation is given in Biagio Ugolini, Thesaurus, xiv.

  • Sifra: An Analytical Translation I-III. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Atlanta: Scholars Press 1988.
  • Sifra d'vei rav. Edited by Meir Friedmann (Meir Ish Shalom). Breslau 1915.
  • Sifra on Leviticus, with traditional commentaries and variant readings. Edited by Abraham Shoshanah. Cleveland and Jerusalem 1991 onwards.
  • Sifra on Leviticus I-V. Edited by Louis Finkelstein. New York: JTS 1983-1991.
  • Sifra or Torat Kohanim. Edited by Finkelstein, Louis and Morris Lutzki . New York: JTS, 1956. (Facsimile edition of Codex Assemani 66 of the Vatican Library)
  • Torat Kohanim. Edited and commented by Malbim (Meir Loeb b. Yehiel Michael), Bucharest 1860.

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

  • A. Epstein, Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim, pp. 50–56;
  • Z. Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, pp. 307 et seq.;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, 1854, pp. 387–397, 453-461;
  • A. Geiger, Jüd. Zeit. xi. 50-60;
  • D. Hoffmann, Zur Einleitung in die Halachischen Midraschim, pp. 20 et seq.;
  • Joël, Notizen zum Buche Daniel: Etwas über die Bücher Sifra und Sifre, Breslau, 1873;
  • I.H. Weiss, Gesch. der Jüdischen Tradition, ii. 231 et seq.;
  • Zunz, G. V. pp. 49 et seq.

External links

  1. ^ Ezriel Hildesheimer, Sefer Halakhot Gedolot, vol. 3, chapter Halakhot Mishmarot, Jerusalem 1987, p. 377 (Hebrew); cf. Midrash Rabba (Numbers Rabba 18:17)



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