We do not know much about Nahum Ish Gamzu’s exegetical style except for the fact that he interpreted every et in the Torah. This suggests that he did not subscribe to Rabbi Yishmael’s view that the Torah speaks in human terms. In human speech, some words are laden with meaning while others are not. Rabbi Yishmael held that this was true of the Torah as well, but Rabbi Akiva disagreed. According to Rabbi Akiva, each and every word of the Torah is imbued with multiple layers of meaning. For him, every law has some basis in the Torah letters or in their ornamental crowns, an approach he learned from Nahum Ish Gamzu.
For Rabbi Yishmael, in contrast, the simple, contextual meaning of the text is paramount. Interpretation is rooted in ordinary language, and is readily accessible to all. Rabbi Yishmael did not draw conclusions based on words that are doubled or other linguistic irregularities. He vehemently opposed Rabbi Akiva’s exegetical approach, and, in one of their disputes, he cried out:
Do you desire that this woman should be burned to death because you expound on the superfluous vav (“and”) in the phrase “and the daughter”? (Sanhedrin 51b)
Rabbi Yishmael is alluding to one of Rabbi Akiva more far-fetched interpretations: He expounds on the extra “and” (the single letter vav in Hebrew) in the phrase “And the daughter of a priest” (Leviticus 21:9), deriving from this extra conjunction that an unfaithful daughter of a priest is punishable by burning. This interpretation has absolutely no basis in the simple reading of text, and Rabbi Akiva’s exegetical excess infuriates Rabbi Yishmael. It is clear that Rabbi Akiva’s approach is the more original one, while Rabbi Yishmael’s style offers fewer surprises. We know that Rabbi Akiva exegetical methods won him the admiration of many students. Those academies that followed his approach were known as “the houses of Rabbi Akiva,” and they filled the world with new halakhic interpretations. The Talmud stories about Rabbi Akiva’s tens of thousands of disciples, even if they are exaggerated, attest to the popularity of his learning style.
Binyamin Lau, The Sages: Character, Context & Creativity, Vol. II, From Yavneh to the Bar Kokhba Revolt, trans. Ilana Kurshan (New Milford, CT; London, England; Jerusalem, Israel: Maggid Books, 2011), 219-220.