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אטו תנא כי רוכלא ליחשיב וליזיל - Should the tanna count out all of the words like a spice merchant?"

What does this mean in plain English?

  • We don't expect the Tana will repeat the same thing unnecessarily as the peddlers do – kouty Feb 8 at 19:43
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There is an example of this in Nazir 29a, and both Rashi and Tosafot there explain the practical meaning. The Talmud there was attempting to adduce a support for a statement of Reish Lakish. The Mishnah had said that if someone declares himself a nazirite and someone else says “me too”, they are both nazirites. The Mishnah listed “me too” twice (i.e. two different people both said “me too”). Reish Lakish said that this only applies if the “me too”s were within toch kedei dibbur.

The Talmud seeks to argue that the wording of the Mishnah supports this. The Mishnah only listed two “me too”s because that is the maximum possible. Anything more than that would exceed toch kedei dibbur.

It is to this argument that the Talmud responds with the line you are asking about. “Is the tanna like a peddler to go on and on listing?”

Rashi explains:

מהכא לא תסייע ליה דבדין הוא דהוה ליה למיתני עד מאה אלא לאו אורחיה דתנא כי רוכלא דמחזר על העיירות בפרגמטי׳ שלו והולך ומכריז ומונה יש לי מחטין וכוסות וקערות ה״נ ליחשיב וליזיל

From here there is no support for him, for in fact he would have taught [even] up to a hundred. Except that it is not the way of the tanna [to be] like a peddler who goes around the cities with his merchandise and goes and announces and lists “I have needles, goblets, and plates” here too going on listing.

Tosafot explains:

ומשני אטו תנא כי רוכלא כו׳ כלומר אה״נ דהוי מצי לאיתנויי ארבע פעמים ואני ולא חש למנות כל מה שהיה יכול למנות

And [the Talmud] answers: is a tanna like a peddler etc.? Meaning to say, it is true that [the tanna] could have taught “me two” four times, but he didn’t care to list everything that he could list.

In essence, then, this Talmudic phrase is an argument that says that you can’t prove something from the fact that a tanna listed a limited number of specific things. The reason a tanna only lists a few things might not be that those are the only things that the rule is applicable to; it may simply be that the tanna wouldn’t bother listing everything applicable, and would just give a couple of examples.

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The meaning is that a Tanna is not expected to list each entity, if unnecessary to convey the idea the Tanna is trying to convey, as opposed to a merchant who lists each and every of his merchandise when he's trying to make a sale. Thus, for example, in context, in Gittin 33a, where the gemara refutes a proof that only 2 judges are required based on only 2 being mentioned by a Tanna explaining that they be mentioned by name, Sefaria translates:

Is that to say that the tanna should have continued counting judges like a peddler? The tanna twice used the expression so-and-so because he wished to note that one should mention the judges’ names; he did not intend to teach anything about the number of judges.

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