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the Sofrim around the year 2448 (1312 BCE)
the Zugoth 3590 (170 BCE)
the Tannaim 3790 (30 CE)
the Amoraim: (using Rav Ashi's lifespan as the cutoff) 4190 (430 CE)
Some include the period of
the Savoraim 4260 (500 CE) within Chazal, though others mark the break there.
However, clearly a new era is marked by the time of the Gaonim 4360 (600 CE). We then get to:
the Rishonim 4800 (1040 CE)
the Achronim 5200 (1440 CE)
The heritage of the Oral Traditions depends on respecting the earlier Sages. That was discussed at http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/coffeeroom/topic/copepods-in-boston-tap-water/page/2#post-147757
One of the rules upon which Talmudic discussion is based is that the words of the amora'im must always be in agreement with the teachings of the tanna'im. Thus, one of the most common questions found in the Gemara is "meisivei" - which brings a tanna'itic source like a Mishnah, baraisa or tosefta that seems to contradict the words of the amora. In his defense, the amora will have to explain how the statement of the tanna can be understood as being in agreement with his own, or else show that there is another tanna with whom the amora agrees. If the amora cannot reconcile his statement with the teaching of the tanna'im, the Gemara will conclude "teyuvta" - the statement is disproved.
The Mechaber in Kesef Mishna, Hilchos Mamrim 2:1 writes:
Amorim can't dispute Tannaim, and later generations can't dispute Amorim because the Amorim accepted the authority of the Tannaim, and the later generations accepted the authority of the Tannaim.
The Chazon Ish says that such acceptance is an acknowledgement that the earlier generations are more correct since they are wiser and closer to Sinai. (Chazon Ish, Letters 2:24) And the Maharal (Beer Hagolah 6) says that the Amoraim recognized their inferior state in relationship to the Tannaim and therefore didn't argue with them.
What the Chazon Ish pointed out fit perfectly with what we reassert at the recitation of Pirkei Avos: Moshe kibel Torah miSinai umasra l'Yeshosuah ... Moshe was the original recipient of the oral tradition, which passed on to his disciple, Yeshoshua, who in turn passed it on to the wise people of his generation, and so on throughout the generations.
Of related interest: http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2013/04/chachamim-hizaahu-bdivreichem.html?spref=fb
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