I remember seeing an early authoritative source (Rishonim, maybe a Tosfos?) that noted which numbers are always (technically not always) used by the Rabbis to indicate exaggeration in stories (60, 300, etc.), but I don't remember where I saw it. So I pose the question:

What is the earliest source you can find that identifies certain numbers as being used by Chazal as hyperbole (not just in a situation or two, but systematically), and which numbers are they?

  • It's a Gemara in Tamid 29 – Double AA Mar 3 '19 at 1:07
  • @רבותמחשבות I think he means 29b, regarding the Paroches. The entire Gemara from 29a discusses exaggerations in general, but side a doesn’t discuss numbers in particular. – DonielF Mar 3 '19 at 1:25
  • I tried to edit to clarify (@DoubleAA) if you feel like you have an answer, post it – רבות מחשבות Mar 3 '19 at 1:33
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/82632 – Fred Mar 3 '19 at 7:06

See Mevo Hatalmud by R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes (perek #30) who brings several sources stating that many numbers are hyperbolic.

  • Excellent, that's where I originally read this, now that I think about it. +1 – רבות מחשבות Mar 3 '19 at 14:29

Maharsha in Bechoros Daf 57b quotes a Tosfos not sure where the Tosfos is.

וטבעה ס' כרכים כו' גוזמא קאמר כמ"ש התוספות בכמה דוכתי דמנין ס' בכל מקום לאו דוקא

  • Thanks, that works, but I won't accept it in case people come up with better ones. +1 – רבות מחשבות Mar 3 '19 at 3:08
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    It's in Tosafos Bava Kama 92b ד"ה שיתין, and Bava Metzia 107b ד"ה שיתין. Rashi mentions the same concept in Shabbos 66b ד"ה גושפנקי and 90b ד"ה שיתין. – Meir Mar 8 '19 at 16:40

As noted in this answer by Moshe Steinberg, Rashbam on Pesachim 119a writes that three hundred is always used as an inexact number throughout the Talmud.

  • +1, although technically it can be rounded rather than an exaggeration... – רבות מחשבות Mar 3 '19 at 13:25

13 is also an exaggeration throughout the Talmud according to Rashi in Shabbos 119a, quoting Rabbeinu Halevi

תליסר גמלי - גוזמא בעלמא הוא. כך פירש רבינו הלוי וכן בכל מקום

Although in a corresponding Rashi in Chullin 95b, some have the text תריסר, which is twelve

  • Another source from a page 119a. Amazing! – Double AA Mar 8 '19 at 16:02

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