RABBI CHIYA RABA BAR ABA had two sons, Jehudah and Ezekiah. These at one time incurred the displeasure of the Nasi Rabbi Jehudah. As they sat at the table of the Nasi without uttering a word, he commanded his servants that they be served wine to loosen their tongues. His command was obeyed and as the two young men became merry with wine they exclaimed: “Messiah will not come as long as the two ruling houses in Israel, the house of the Exilarch in Babylonia and the house of the Nasi in Palestine, is not destroyed.” As proof of their statement they quoted a passage from the Bible. In great anger the Nasi replied: “Will you throw thorns in my eyes?”1)סנהדרין ל״ח א׳. As a result of this altercation the two young men never received ordination although they were both called “Amoraim of the West.”2)בבא בתרא ע״ה א׳. The older brother, Jehudah, is sometimes referred to as Rabbi in the Talmud, but this appears to be an error.
The two brothers died in their youth. It was also said that their birth was unusual, and although they were twins, one of them was three months older than the other (!). The older brother was born at the beginning of the seventh month of pregnancy, while the younger one was born at the end of the ninth month.3)יבמות ס״ה ב׳.
Together with their father Rabbi Chiya, the two young men came to Palestine from Babylonia when they were already of age and well versed in learning. It was then said that the learning in Palestine was in a decline and that Rabbi Chiya and his sons re-established it in the minds of the people.4)סוכה כ׳ א׳. It was also related that as long as they lived it was not necessary to thresh the flax in the country and because of their merit the wine never turned sour.5)חולין פּ״ו א׳, ירושלמי מעשר שני פרק ה׳ הלכה ה׳. When the land was affected by a drought, the Nasi declared a fast day and he commanded Rabbi Chiya and his sons to pray for rain out of conviction that God would not refuse their prayer.6)בבא מציעא פּ״ה ב׳.
After the death of their father the two sons engaged in tilling the soil,7)ביצה ט׳ ב׳. and being so far removed from the academy, they once expressed concern lest their father be troubled in his grave at their neglect of their studies.8)ברכות י״ח ב׳. This conversation is not entirely clear for, although they were not ordained, they were both known as prominent scholars. Jehudah’s name is often mentioned in the Talmud in connection with various legal matters. Ezekiah was mentioned even more frequently and it appears that he compiled a collection of “Boraithoth.” His opinions are quoted in the Babylonian Talmud with the introducing words “we have learned in the house of Ezekiah” and in the Jerusalem Talmud they are prefaced by the words “Ezekiah taught.”
Jehudah, the older brother, was a son-in-law of Rabbi Jannai Raba and he died during the lifetime of his father-in-law. Jehudah was in the habit of spending his days in the academy and of returning home only at nightfall. When he once failed to appear at the usual time, Rabbi Jannai ordered his bed to be covered believing him to have died.9)כתובות ס״ב ב׳. The reverence with which Rabbi Jannai regarded his son-in-law may be gauged from the following story which is told of their relations. Jehudah always visited his father-in-law each Friday and Rabbi Jannai would seat himself on the top of a high mountain to observe the approach of his son-in-law. As soon as he would see him coming in the distance he would rise out of respect. His disciples asked him for the meaning of his action and explained that his son-in-law equalled Mount Sinai in sanctity and that none was allowed to sit down in front of Sinai.10)ירושלמי בכורים פרק ג׳ הלכה ג׳.
Jehudah’s statements on various problems can best be understood when one considers the events of that time and the persecution at the hands of the Romans to which the Jews were subjected when their rights were denied, the academies were destroyed and unbearable taxes were imposed upon them. These persecutions were believed to be a punishment for the sins of man. When many people repented their sins, but the persecutions continued, Jehudah said: “Repentance avails against half of the punishment while prayer may undo all of it.”11)ויקרא רבה פּרשה י׳ פּיסקא ח׳. To this he often added that “the suffering of exile brings forgiveness for the second half of the sins, so that one should not suffer in the world to come.”12)סנהדרין ל״ז ב׳.
Because of the numerous afflictions it was at that time customary for a congregation to request one of its members to pray to God for deliverance, but when no aid was in sight many lost their faith. It was then that Jehudah declared that a “scholar who devotes himself to learning despite his needs, his prayers will surely avail.”13)סוטה מ״ט א׳.
Like most of his contemporaries Jehudah highly praised the worth of the Torah and compared it to a healing balm which cures all diseases unlike ordinary cures each of which is effective only for one limb.14)ערובין נ״ד א׳. Ezekiah expressed a similar sentiment when he said of the Torah that “its words are a crown for one’s head, an adornment for one’s neck, a joy for one’s heart, salve for one’s eyes and balsam for one’s wounds.”15)ויקרא רבה פּרשה י״ב פּיסקא ג׳.
The following are the most characteristic statements of Ezekiah:
“Most important of all is peace. All the commandments a man must observe if they are at hand. When one meets with a situation, he must act in a certain manner, but if he does not meet with it, he is absolved. But where peace is concerned one must go out of his way to seek for it. The value of peace is so great that the Bible refers to all the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert in the plural (ויסעו ויחנו) because they travelled in discord and they rested in discord, but when they reached Mount Sinai the singular is used (ויחן ישראל) for then they were at peace and united in one wish; it was then that God said: ‘Now the time has come that I should give the Torah to my children.’”16)ויקרא רבה פּרשה ט׳ פּיסקא ט׳.
“Well did the prophets do when they described the power of God by comparing the creation to the Creator. Thus they compared the voice of God to the roar of a lion or to the sound of mighty waters, for the human ear can conceive only that which it can hear. Man should likewise be shown only that which he can see.”17)מדרש שוחר טוב פּרשה א׳ פּיסקא ד׳.
“He who would add to what he had heard in order to strengthen its impression only succeeds in detracting from it. Thus God commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but when Eve spoke to the serpent she added that He had also commanded not to touch the tree. The serpent then pushed Eve until she touched the tree and seeing that she had not died the serpent said: ‘Touching the tree has caused you no harm, neither will you suffer any harm by eating of its fruit.’”18)סנהדרין כ״ט א׳.
After the Jews had made the golden calf, Moses prayed to God to forgive their sin and he reminded Him of His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to increase their offspring like the stars in the sky. Ezekiah formulated the prayer of Moses in the following words: “Had You sworn by heaven and earth, You could break your oath for heaven and earth may be done away with and You would be free of your oath. But since You swore by Your own name and You are eternal, Your oath is therefore eternal and You must forgive them.”19)שמות רבה פּרשה מ״ד פּיסקא ח׳.
We do not know where Jehudah lived, but mention is made that Ezekiah resided in Tiberias.20)מגלה ה׳ ב׳. Although Ezekiah was not ordained, he had prominent disciples among whom was Rabbi Jochanan. As long as Ezekiah lived, Rabbi Jochanan did not head an academy.21)תוספות גטין פ״ד ב׳.
Both brothers died about the same time and they were buried near their father Rabbi Chiya. Jehudah, the older brother, was buried on the right side of Rabbi Chiya and Ezekiah, the younger brother, on his left side.22)מועד קטן כ״ט א׳.