Sifra (Aramaic: סִפְרָא) is the Midrash halakhic to the Book of Leviticus. It is frequently quoted in the Talmud, and the study of it followed that of the Mishnah.[1] Like Leviticus itself, the midrash is occasionally called "Torat Kohanim",[2] and in two passages also "Sifra debei Rav".[3] According to Leḳaḥ Ṭob[4] 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 debei Rav" and, in a broader sense, "ketubot debei Rav"[5] and "teḳi'ata debei Rav".[6][7]


Maimonides[8] and others[9] have declared that the title "Sifra debei Rav" indicates Rav as the author of the Sifra; and this opinion I.H. Weiss[10] attempts to support. His proofs are not conclusive, though neither are the opposing arguments of Friedmann[11] who tries to show that the expression "Sifra debei Rav" does not refer to the midrash under discussion.[7]

The question of 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,[12] 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;[13] nor does the fact that Ḥiyya himself is mentioned in the Sifra offer any difficulty. Indeed, as Hoffmann shows,[14] in the three passages in which it can with certainty be said that the reference is to R. Ḥiyya himself,[15] he refers to preceding interpretations, indicating that he is the editor.[7]

It is perhaps doubtful whether Hoffmann is correct in comparing the above-mentioned passages, or the final remark of R. Joshua in Ḳinnim, with Middot 2:5. But even if Hoffmann's view does not seem acceptable, it is not necessary to infer that Rav 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 12:2, following Niddah 24b.[16] Nor is Ḥiyya's authorship contradicted by various contradictions presented by individual passages in the Sifra as compared with the Tosefta, which latter also is ascribed to him.[17][7]

If it is assumed that Ḥiyya is the author, the title "Sifra debei Rav" is to be explained as indicating that Sifra was among the midrashim which were accepted by Rav's school and which thereby came into general use. The name is differently explained by Hoffmann[18] who, on the basis of Ḥullin 66a and in conformity with Rashi ad loc., takes "bei Rav" to mean "school" in general, and who accordingly differentiates between "Tanna debei Rav" and "Tanna debe R. Ishmael," i.e., between the midrashim of R. Akiva'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 Rav" in Yerushalmi certainly indicates Rav'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.[7]

As regards the sources of Sifra, the Talmud states "An anonymous Sifra is Rabbi Yehudah".[19] That the Sifra belongs to R. Akiva'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 shavah" (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 Mekhilta (once[20] a passage beginning אקרא אני is cited as coming from the Sifra, while Sifra Tazria 2:2 in fact has יכול); compare 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.[21][7]


Traces of R. Judah bar Ilai's influence are less evident. The fact that the views expressed in some "setamot" agree with R. Judah's views[22] has little significance. Such seṭamot may be opposed by others that contradict R. Judah's views.[23][7]

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. Hoffmann remarks[24] not incorrectly that Sifra Nedabah 4:12 agrees with the views of R. Eliezer,[25] whose decision R. Judah frequently accepts as handed down by his own father, R. Ila'i, a pupil of R. Eliezer.[26] Similarly, Sifra, Emor, 17:4 et seq. agrees with R. Eliezer's view.[27] Aside from R. Judah's midrash, R. Ḥiyya may have used also R. Simeon's midrash,[28] although some of the passages mentioned there[29] 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.[30][7]

But to R. Ishmael's school undoubtedly belong the later additions to "'Arayot," which (according to Ḥag. 1:1 and Yer. 1b) were not publicly taught in R. Akiva's school; i.e., Aḥare, 13:3-15; Ḳedoshim, 9:1-7, 11:14,[31] 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 Leviticus 8:1-10 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. Akiva 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.[7]

The Present Text

The Sifra was divided, according to an old arrangement, into 9 "dibburim"[32] 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;[33] furthermore, entire passages known to the authors of the Babylonian Talmud[34] 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.[35][7]

The Sifra frequently agrees with the Judean rather than with the Babylonian tradition;[36] and Tosefta, Sheḳ. 1:7 likewise agrees with the Sifra. In the few cases where the agreement is with the Babylonian Talmud,[37] 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.[38] The Babylonian Talmud, as compared with Yerushalmi, cites Sifra less accurately, sometimes abbreviating and sometimes amplifying it.[39] 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),[40] but unnecessarily, since it is possible to harmonize the apparently conflicting sentences and thereby show that they may be assigned to the same authority.[7]

Many errors have crept into the text through the practice of repeating one and the same midrash in similar passages.[41][7]


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 (Meir Loeb b. Yehiel Michael), Bucharest, 1860; with commentary by RABaD and Massoret ha-Talmud by I. H. Weiss, Vienna, 1862[42] (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.[7]

Other editions include:


  1. ^ As appears from Tanḥuma, quoted in Or Zarua, i. 7b
  2. ^ Ḳid. 33a; Sanh. 103b; Cant. R. 6:8
  3. ^ Berachot 11b, 18b
  4. ^ Section 96
  5. ^ Yer. Ket. 26c
  6. ^ Yer. Ab. Zarah 39c
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBacher, Wilhelm; Horovitz, S. (1901–1906). "SIFRA". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Retrieved Jan 17, 2017. 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.
  8. ^ In the introduction to his Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah
  9. ^ Quoted by Friedmann, in the introduction to his edition of the Mekhilta (p. 26, Vienna, 1870)
  10. ^ In the introduction to his Sifra edition (p. 4)
  11. ^ l.c. pp. 16 et seq.
  12. ^ Compare 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
  13. ^ Compare the list in Hoffmann, l.c. p. 24, and Yoma 4a; Ḥullin 141b; Levy, l.c.
  14. ^ l.c. p. 25
  15. ^ Namely: Vayiḳra, Nedavah, 5:5, 6:3, and Metzora, 2:10
  16. ^ Compare Weiss in Sifra ad. loc.; also A. Epstein (Mi-Ḳadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim, p. 53, note 1), who holds that in some passages Rav is meant by aḥerim = "others [say]", and by we-yesh omerim = "there are those who say".
  17. ^ e.g., Sifra, Ḳedoshim, 6:8, compared with Tosefta, Mak. 4:14 (see below)
  18. ^ l.c. pp. 12 et seq.
  19. ^ Sanh. 86a (which must be compared with Eruvin 96b and the parallel passages mentioned there).
  20. ^ Sanh. 4b
  21. ^ l.c. p. 31
  22. ^ e.g., Sifra Aḥarei 5 (beginning), compared with Menahot 27b; Sifra Kedoshim 8:1, with Yeb. 46a (where R. Simeon furthermore seems to have read ר"י in the Sifre) and Sifra Kedoshim 7:3, with Tosefta Ḳid. 1:4
  23. ^ e.g., Sifra, Neg. 2:1, compared with R. Judah in Neg. 2:1; Sifra, Neg. 10:8, compared with R. Judah, Neg. 10:10; comp. also Tosafot Niddah 28b, s.v. הא מזכר.
  24. ^ l.c. p. 26
  25. ^ Menahot 26a
  26. ^ Compare Menahot 18a and Yoma 39a et passim
  27. ^ Suk. 43a
  28. ^ Compare Hoffmann, l.c. p. 27
  29. ^ As, e.g., the comparison of Sifra, Nedabah, 6:9 with Sifre, Deut. 78; Sifra, Nega'im, 1:9-10 with Sifre, Deut. 218; Sifra, Beḥuḳḳotai, 8:2 with Sifre, Deut. 124
  30. ^ Compare Hoffmann, l.c.; Levy, l.c. p. 28, note 2, and the interesting remark from Azulai quoted there.
  31. ^ ed. I.H. Weiss
  32. ^ Ezriel Hildesheimer, Sefer Halakhot Gedolot, vol. 3, chapter Halakhot Mishmarot, Jerusalem 1987, p. 377 (Hebrew); cf. Numbers Rabbah 18:17)
  33. ^ Compare Sifra Emor 13:1 and Menahot 77b; Sifra Ḳedoshim 2:5 and Ḥul. 137a; Sifra Ḥobah 8:6 and B. Ḳ. 104b
  34. ^ As, e.g., Yoma 41a
  35. ^ Compare D. Hoffmann, l.c. pp. 33, 35
  36. ^ e.g., Sifra, Nedabah, 12:2 (compare Menahot 57b); ib. 14:6 (compare Ḥul. 49b); Sifra, Emor, 9:8 (compare Ḥullin 101b)
  37. ^ Sifra, Emor, 7:2 as compared with Menahot 73b; similarly Tosefta, Ker. 2:16
  38. ^ e.g., in Sifra, Ḳedoshim, 8:1 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.
  39. ^ e.g., Ḳid. 57b, which is the amplification of Sifra Nedabah 17:8; Sheb. 26b, which is a shortened (and therefore unintelligible) version of Sifra Ḥobah 9:2; and Zeb. 93b, which is to be compared with Sifra, Ẓaw, 6:6
  40. ^ As in Shevuot 13a, Soṭah 16a
  41. ^ e.g., Sifra to 5:3 and 22:5 (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, 2:10.
  42. ^ Weiss, Isaac H., ed. (1862). Sifra D'vei Rav. Wien. Retrieved Jan 17, 2017.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)