THROUGHOUT THE LIFETIME of Shmuel Yarchinaa, no one dared to attempt to instal another man as head of the academy of Sura instead of Rav. The academy of Nehardea therefore remained the only center of Jewish spiritual life in Babylonia. All decisions pertaining to religious conduct emanated from there and the political representation of the Jews of the Persian empire was concentrated in that city.
After the death of Shmuel Yarchinaa, the academy of Nehardea remained orphaned for although a scholar of the calibre of Mar Ukba was Exilarch and the people were compelled to obey him, he never commanded the same respect as Shmuel did. Nor was Mar Ukba the only one who participated in the leadership of Babylonian Jewry. Raba bar Avuha, another representative of Jewry also lived and was active at that time.*)The name Raba is an abbreviation of Rab Aba.
In his “Chronicle”, Rav Sherira Gaon lays claim to being a descendant of the Exilarch Raba bar Avuha. Some historians doubt this statement for if we assume that Mar Ukba was Exilarch, it would have been impossible for Raba bar Avuha to hold this office at the same time. Nevertheless such a situation is not altogether precluded. The office of Exilarch was of a political nature and its holder had to collect the taxes and to settle internal disputes. The government of Babylonia could easily have assigned to Mar Ukba and to Raba bar Avuha at different times.
Raba bar Avuha was a pupil of Rav (Aba Arecha) in whose name he quoted numerous statements. We may also assume that after the death of Rav many of his pupils went to Nehardea to continue their studies in the academy of Shmuel. But their devotion to the teachings of Rav was so great that even though they paid the highest respect to Shmuel, they did not quote any of his statements.
This was also true of Raba bar Avuha who later occupied a prominent position among the Jews of Babylonia and who probably conducted an academy of his own, even if we assume that he did not occupy the office of Exilarch. Aside from Rav Nachman bar Jacob, who quoted Raba about one hundred times, none of the other “Amoraim” ever mentioned his name. This situation may be explained by the fact that Rav Nachman was a son-in-law of Raba bar Avuha. But Raba bar Avuha was a friend of Rav Huna and Rav Jehudah with whom he studied at the academy of Rav.1)שבת קל״ד ב׳. When Rav Nachman and Rav Huna visited Raba bar Avuha during his sickness they utilized the opportunity to ask him concerning certain decisions of Rav.2)גטין ע״ב א׳, בבא בתרא קל״ו א׳.
Rav Nachman’s father was one of the judges in the court of Shmuel Yarchinaa. He frequently brought him to attend the trials and he later sent him to the school of Raba bar Avuha, who liked him so much that he gave him his daughter in marriage. The young man was beardless and some doubts were entertained as to his manhood. Raba bar Avuha then asked some scholars of Nehardea to investigate the matter.3)יבמות פ׳ ב׳. The scholars reported favorably and soon after that Raba bar Avuha gave his gifted daughter Yalta in marriage to Rav Nachman. The Talmud contains many stories about Yalta from which it appears that she wished to be treated as an equal and rebelled against the treatment then accorded to women. Thus it is told that Ula, a pupil of Rabbi Jochanan, once visited Rav Nachman and was invited to dinner. After the meal was eaten and grace pronounced, Ula handed the “beaker of blessing” to Rav Nachman, but the latter said: “Let us send it to my wife Yalta.” Ula refused to do so and quoted a statement of Rabbi Jochanan who held women in contempt. Yalta heard this remark and in her anger she wrecked four hundred barrels of wine. (!) “Let us send her another beaker”, Rav Nachman then said to Ula, but Ula replied: “Any wine that is contained in a barrel is like the wine of the beaker of blessing. If she wishes she may drink of it.” To this Yalta retorted: “From such wanderers one can hear only empty words and torn rags only harbor filth.”4)ברכות נ״א ב׳.
Another story is related concerning Rav Amram the pious who suffered much from the servants of the Exilarch. The latter were annoyed by his extreme piety. Weary of their tormenting, he left the palace of the Exilarch and spent the night on the snow. On the following day the servants asked him what he would like to eat and he asked for lean meat and wine mixed with water. The servants then brought him fat meat and undiluted wine. Rav Amram became sick as a result of eating this food and his body was covered by a rash. When Yalta heard of this she took the man under her care and he allowed her to cure him.5)גטין ס״ז ב׳.
On another occasion, when Rav Jehudah — a pupil of Rav and Shmuel — quoted Shmuel to the effect that one may not send greetings to a woman even through her husband, Yalta said to her husband: “Send away this person that you may not be confused with other Ame Aratzim.”6)קדושין ע׳ ב׳.
In addition it was said that she questioned her husband concerning the accepted rule that everything which the Torah forbade had a counterpart that was permissible.7)חולין ק״ט ב׳.
It is said that Raba bar Avuha met the prophet Elijah twice. The description of one of these meetings has a purely allegoriacl significance. Elijah took him to paradise and told him to remove his mantle. Raba did so and squeezing the garment he sold the extracted odor for twelve thousand ducats; half of this sum he gave to his sons-in-law.8)בבא מציעא קי״ד ב׳.
Shortly after Shmuel’s death there broke out a great war in the vicinity of Nehardea. A leader of a Roman robber band named Papa ben Netzer — referred to as Odenatus by Roman historians — attacked the city of Nehardea and destroyed it. The academy was then closed for some time and Raba bar Avuha together with his son in law were forced to leave the city. They wandered from city to city until they finally settled in Mechoza on the banks of the Tigris. In that city Raba bar Avuha organized a court and continued to guide the life of the Jews of Babylonia.9)שבת נ״ט ב׳, ערובין כ״ו א׳, יבמות קט״ו ב׳.
Two of Shmuel’s daughters were taken captive during the war on Nehardea and were led to Palestine. Despite Shmuel’s rule that a woman who had been held captive should not be trusted when she declares that she had not been defiled, the scholars of Palestine did believe his daughters when they declared that they were pure.10)כתובות כ״ג ב׳.
A third daughtr of Shmuel was also taken captive and married by a non-Jew. She tried to convert her husband and the son which she bore him is mentioned in the Talmud as Rav Mari bar Isur Giora or Rav Mari bar Rachel bath Shmuel.11)יבמות מ״ח ב׳. Later there occurred the question of the inheritance of this Giora for he was conceived before his father was converted.12)בבא בתרא קמ״ט א׳.
The above mentioned Odenatus succeeded in vanquishing the Persians in the district of Nehardea and he also interfered with their development. He thus rose from the status of a robber chieftain, which was punishable by death, and he became an important support of Roman rule in Asia Minor. The Roman government later recognized him as an independent ruler of Palmyra, a city that was built one thousand years earlier by king Solomon. With his power augmented, Odenatus declared a war against the Persian empire under the rule of king Sapor and he forced its king to abandon his capital Ktensiphon.
For six years Odenatus maintained himself in power and emperor Galianus had to recognize him as an equal in the rule of Rome. (264 C. E.) Then he was assassinated by one of his retainers and many believed that his wife Zenovia had a hand in the plot.
Christian historians relate concerning queen Zenovia that she was favorably inclined toward the Jewish faith. It was also said that in opposition to her husband’s policy of aiding Rome she sought to liberate the Asiatic possessions of Rome. But the Jews of Palestine did not support queen Zenovia and when emperor Aurelianus waged war against her, he was supported by the Jews.