AFTER THE PERIOD OF THE “TANNAIM” the first important figure in the period of the “Amoraim” is that Amora who is known not by his name but by his title “Rav”.
His name was Abba, and he was called by some “Abba Arecha” (Long Abba), because he was the tallest man of his generation.1)נדה כ״ד ב׳. It is possible also that “Arecha” was the name of Rav’s birthplace in Babylon.
His title “Rav” was the same as that of all his successors who were allowed by the “Resh Galuta” (the ruler of the Jewish Diaspora in Babylon), to preside over their own academy. Just as R. Jehudah ha-Nasi was called “Rabbi”, omitting his own name, so Abba Arecha was always called “Rav”.
It was Rav who founded the academy in the city of Sura. The ruler of Babylon at that time was the Persian king Artaban who was very friendly to the Jews and a great admirer of Rav. Rav’s academy quickly attracted over a thousand students from far and near.
Abba Arecha was born in the year 155 C. E. When he founded his academy which existed thereafter for seven centuries he was a man of 64. His family was of aristocratic stock and highly respected among scholars. By marriage he was related to the family of the “Resh Galuta” of Babylon, which was an even more important lineage than that of the “Nasi” in Palestine, because the family of the “Resh Galutha” (the “Exilarch”) derived from king David in the paternal line and the “Nasi” was descended from David only in the maternal line.
R. Jehudah Hanasi himself once admitted this when he said: “If Rab Huna, Resh Galuta, should ever come to Palestine, I will seat him higher than myself because he is descended from the tribe of Judah and I from the tribe of Benjamin, and in addition he is related to king David in the paternal line while I am related to king David only in the maternal line.”2)ירושלמי כתובות פּדק י״ב הלכה ג׳, בראשית רבה פּרשה ל״ג פּיסקא ג׳.
An uncle of Rav, R. Chiya Raba, owned a genealogical record which showed him to be descended from Shefatiah, a son of king David by his wife Abital.3)תענית ד׳ ב׳, בראשית רבה פּרשה צ״ח פּיסקא י״ג. To be sure, there is a quotation to the effect that it was R. Jehudah Hanasi who was descended from Shefatiah, and that R. Chiya derived from Shimi, a brother of David.4)כתובות ס״ב ב׳. But we have the personal statement of R. Jehudah Hanasi, which we quoted above, against this source.
It should be stated, also, that Rav’s family tree had wide connections and a great number of scholars were found in it in later generations.
Rav’s father was called Ibo ben R. Acha Karsela of Kafri. He was only a half-brother of R. Chiya Raba. R. Chiya’s mother had a daughter by a former husband named “Imma” and Rav’s father married this daughter of his step-mother. Consequently R. Chiya had the same father as Rav’s father and the same mother as his mother.
This relationship had a great influence upon the course of Rav’s life, for he was always with R. Chiya. He was brought up in his home, and when R. Chiya went to Palestine, Rav accompanied him. And just as R. Chiya was Rav’s teacher in Babylon, so he continued to teach him in Palestine. On the other hand Rav supervised all of R. Chiya’s business and had a hand in everything he did.
R. Chiya took care of Rav so devotedly because he was his sister’s son. It seems that our scholars at that time held that it was every man’s duty to take an interest in his sister’s son. And even though Rav was R. Chiya’s brother’s son, which should perhaps have been more important because they were sons of the same father, R. Chiya called him always “my sister’s son” and other scholars did likewise.5)סנהדרין ה׳ א׳, בראשית רבה פּרשה ל״ג פּיסקא נ׳.
Rav and R. Chiya showed great similarity in their way of living and their character, which demonstrates the influence of R. Chiya in Rav’s life, and in his aims and the ideals of his academy, as well as those of his descendants and pupils.
Many of Rav’s remarks and the utterances of his pupils are preserved only in the Jerusalem Talmud, because before he founded his academy in Sura, many of his greatest pupils and their pupils left Babylon and emigrated to Palestine where they spread the wisdom of their teacher.
Out of the great respect of the scholars of that time for Rav, many would send their children to him to be blessed.6)מועד קטן ט׳ ב׳. Since his views were often opposed to those of the Mishnah, people said about him: “Rav is a Tanna, but a dissenter,” that is even though he might have been counted as a Tanna of the Mishnah, he differed from them nevertheless in his opinions.7)ערובין נ׳ ב׳, כתובות ח׳ א׳, גטין ל״ח ב׳, בבא בתרא מ״ב א׳.
As we have said, Rav was related by marriage to the Exilarch. They were equals in status. After them the family ramified very widely and most of the scholars until the last generations of “Amoraim” were descendants of their family. When Rav once put a question concerning human conduct to R. Chiya, R. Chiya called him ״בר פּחתי״ (Son of Aristocrats).8)ברכות י״ג ב׳, שבת ג׳ בי.
Once in speaking about the great leaders of the Jews, Rav said, that every generation must have three such leaders, sometimes two of them in Babylon and one in Palestine and sometimes two in Palestine and one in Babylon. The Talmud relates that the scholars who heard him turned their eyes toward his grandsons, his daughter’s children, Rabana Ukba and Rabana Nehemiah, of whom we know only that they were the students of R. Chisda, signifying that these were the two great leaders whom the Jews needed in Babylon.9)חולין צ״ב ב׳.
Rav laid great stress on the matter of lineage. A student quoted him as saying that the verse about the descendants of Asher, calling them chosen warriors, chiefs of the captains, (Chronicles I, 7:40) and signifying their standing in the army and the battlefield was written so that their reputation and prestige of the ancestors might protect them in battle.10)קדושין ע״ו ב׳.
This was the general attitude of Rav’s family in the question of lineage. Another of Rav’s students quoted him as saying that “since genealogical records have been lost, scholars have lost their ability and the light of their eyes has been extinguished.”11)פּסחים ס״ב ב׳.
In spite of its high place Rav’s family used to conduct themselves very modestly and they had a marked tendency to make friends among all classes of people. Rav himself did not discriminate among his friends because of position and would try to make friends with men of lower origin. It was characteristic of Rav’s family to respect the dignity of women more than had been customary among Jews. This tendency is best seen in his legal decisions limiting the rights of a father with regard to his daughter and of a brother with regard to his orphaned sister.
Women were mentioned by their own names in his family, like “Judith”, R. Chiya’s wife, “Pazi” and “Tabi”, R. Chiya’s daughters, “Imma”, Rav’s mother. It is probable that this custom of calling women by their own names was the rule in the homes of the Jewish aristocracy, the “Nasi” in Palestine or the “Resh Galuta” in Babylon, because the other women who are mentioned by name in the Talmud or in the Midrashim were also of the same family, like “Yalta”, the wife of R. Nachman of Nehardea, or “Chova”, the wife of R. Huna.
This family also followed the custom of naming children after dead parents and near relations, as was the custom of aristocratic Gentiles of that time, as well as of the “N’siim” in Palestine and the “Resh Galuta” in Babylon.
Various customs of an extraordinary sort were prevalent in this family because of common ideals or the influence of ancient traditions. Such, for instance, was their love for the education of the younger generations. All the members of Rav’s family took a broad interest and had a fine understanding of the problems of education and devoted to it all their time and energy.
These people also had an accent different from that of others. In general, their accent was similar to that of the “Galileans”; like them they slurred the “gutturals” in their speech and obscured the differences between them. They would use an “h” where it was not written and omit it where it was needed, had difficulty in pronouncing the ע׳ and jumbled the sounds of the letters זסצ״ש.
When R. Chiya once told R. Shimeon bar Bari that if R. Shimeon were a “priest” it would be wrong to permit him to give the blessings from the pulpit, because he had a hoarse voice, R. Shimeon’s father said to tell R. Chiya that he himself should not even be permitted to read from the Bible in the synagogue because he spoke indistinctly and he could not pronounce the ח׳ correctly.12)מגלה כ״ב ב׳.
Rav was a strong and healthy man and of a healthy family.13)חולין פּ״ד א׳. This is clear also, if one considers what he suffered during his life, how much wandering he did and what he did for Jews by personal intercession. In spite of all his troubles he lived a long time and reached a great age in perfect soundness of body and mind. He had a penetrating eye for people and events. He understood the central importance of every event and weighed everything accurately.
He was also a great student of nature and loved to observe the course of the stars and to investigate the behavior of all sorts of creatures. He made friends gladly with shepherds and hunters because he saw that their company could enrich his knowledge. He used to listen to their proverbs with great curiosity because it was his way to consult everybody’s opinion.
Being interested in human needs, Rav was always aware of the limits of human capacities. Thus he was interested in the differences of character in the cities which Jews inhabited at that time and tried to discover the differences in their essential nature. For this reason he was called ״גבר בכולא״ meaning that he was great in every sort of knowledge.14)חולין נ״ד א׳.
When teaching his students, Rav would keep close watch on all their expressions. He knew just how attentive each one was at any time. Whenever his eye caught any student behaving strangely, he would want to know the reason immediately, whether the student was worrying about some personal difficulties at home.15)ירושלמי נדה פרק א׳ הלכה ג׳, בראשית רבה פּרשה ב׳ פּיסקא י״ד. With his deep instinct Rav could sense a student’s secret meaning through the intonation of his words. Thus he was once incensed when he saw his pupil R. Cahana dressing his hair during class, because he felt that it was distracting his attention from study.16)סנהדרין קי״א א׳.
Endowed with varied abilities and many-sided knowledge, he was also a great statesman and a man of practical affairs. He spent much effort in settling Jews in Sura where he founded his academy. At the same time he managed his own large weighing business and the enterprises of his uncle R. Chiya. He built toll bridges and dealt in wheat and other goods. On certain occasions he also served as Judge and in addition he composed a large number of prayers for the holidays. Since his voice was good, he was also a „פּוסק סדרא״ (a reader in the synagogue), as well as a ״מתורגמן״ (a translator).17)יומא כ׳ ב׳. Only a person with a melodious voice could be chosen for this position.18)קהלת רבה פּרשה ז׳ פּיסקא י״ב.
In many of his ways Rav imitated his uncle R. Chiya, of whom it was told that he once hired mule-drivers to bring him some flax. They brought him damp wares which he could not use. R. Chiya said to Rav, “Go out and give them their wage. But tell them I am paying them not because I must, but because I do not choose to insist on my rights.19)ירושלמי בבא מציעא פרק ו׳ הלכה א׳.
A similar occurence once happened to Rav. His widowed daughter-in-law came to him to demand that her marriage portion be given to her. He told her, “If I were not an open-handed person I would tell you that even the small adornments you wear on your head belong to me.”20)ירושלמי גטין פרק ד׳ הלכה ג׳.
Generous himself, Rav always watched other people to see which ones gave freely and which were stingy. His own lavish charity often seemed to him to be “wasteful”, and in order to have some control over his expenditure, he instructed his agent that whenever he was ordered to give a person some gift which he—the agent—did not think the recipient needed, he was to consult Rav a second time before making the payment.21)ירושלמי בבא מציעא פרק ד׳ הלכה ב׳.
In spite of the accepted rule that a student must not express his opinion in the presence of his teacher, Rav gave his students full permission to decide legal cases and instruct pupils to the extent of their ability. He would often take many of his pupils to judge cases with him. He said, “A man may teach a student and at the same time have him act as an associate judge in his court.”22)סנהדרין ל״ו א׳. In the same vein he said, “If a student is capable of teaching others and he does not do so, it is as bad as murder.”23)סוטה כ״ב א׳. On another occasion, he said, “Whoever prohibits his students from practicing any commandments is as bad as if he robbed him of his inheritance.”24)סנהדרין צ״א ב׳.
Rav wished to be kind to everybody and thought better of people than they deserved. He also loved truth and tried to speak only the truth even when it brought him personal harm. It is said that his wife used to torment him because she never would cook what he wanted to eat. When his son Chiya was grown up he used to bring his mother his father’s orders for each meal. He used to change his father’s orders in repeating them to his mother, so that she gave him just what he wanted while trying to give him the opposite of what he had asked for. Once Rav said to his son, “It seems to me that your mother is getting better.” “I am to blame for that,” answered Chiya. His father understood that the son had twisted his orders to his mother, so that he would get what he wanted. This disturbed him and he said, “Nevertheless, you mustn’t do it any longer, because you create a tangle of lies.”25)יבמות ס״ג א׳.
Rav’s colleagues and students sometimes caught him contradicting what he had said on another occasion. When they would bring it to his attention he would be silent, not answering until he thought the matter out. In such cases the Talmud says, “Rav was silent.” Even in other instances when Rav had a difference of opinion with some other scholars, he would be silent very often, and since he considered that not allowing oneself to be drawn into a dispute to be a mark of a high-born family, he said: “The silence of Babylon is its nobility.”26)קדושין ע״א ב׳.
Nevertheless he was frequently violently angry. Sometimes a matter did not seem to bother him for a long time, and all at once the same thing would make him burst out in a fury of rage.
Thus he was once reading from the Bible in R. Jehudah Hanasi’s synagogue. While he was in the midst of his reading, his uncle R. Chiya came in and he began over again for him. Later R. Jehudah Hanasi’s son came in and he began all over again once more. Afterwards Bar Kapara came in and he had to begin all over once more. Thus he had to begin reading the same chapter of the Bible three times. To cap the climax R. Chanina entered and asked him to begin the reading again. At this he burst out in anger, “How often do I have to begin reading from the beginning?”
His anger was only momentary, however, for when he had time to consider he hastened to seek out the one whom he had “insulted” and apologized to him; and—as the story goes—R. Chanina refused to accept his apology. For thirteen years after that Rav went to R. Chanina on Yom-Kippur-eve to apologize for the insult offered and it did no good. Another story relates that Rav had an argument with a butcher who also refused to accept his apology.27)יומא פּ״ז א׳.
A similar incident occurred when Rav acted as an interpreter for Rav Shila. In the course of the lecture Rav translated one word differently from Rav Shila’s wish, even though Rav Shila had told him expressly how to translate, and in spite of the rule that “when one works for another he must even wash his wet wool.”28)יומא כ׳ ב׳.
In his anger Rav would sometimes utter a curse. Once the municipal judge annoyed him with childish questions, and Rav wished that he might grow a horn out of his eyes. Another time Samuel of Nehardea took him to his house and gave him food that spoiled his digestion, and for that Rav said that he hoped he would never have any children.29)שבת ק״ח א׳.
The slightest reflection on his honor would often infuriate him. But even more than of his own honor he was touchy and jealous of the honor of the Bible and of the Jewish faith. He would curse people who allowed themselves to do things which other scholars declared were forbidden.30)שבת ק״כ ב׳. He once cursed a man who planted a tree during Purim.31)מגלה ה׳ ב׳.
Because Rav often withdrew what he had previously said, it was an accepted rule that “sometimes he said yea and sometimes nay.” Many of his opinions are related by different students in dissimilar versions not because the students introduced differences in their quotations, but because he himself changed his formulation.
In general Rav believed that any person might change his mind about a matter while dealing with it, and he stated a rule that “when a person began an action conditionally and stopped it unconditionally we may assume that he had abandoned his original intention.”32)כתובות ע״ב ב׳. When a merchant once complained that he had been cheated in the price of some goods that he had sold, he told the “cheated” merchant that he was probably fully aware of the fact at the time and nevertheless he had accepted the lower price because he needed money, and therefore his present change of mind could do him no good.33)בבא מציעא נ״א א׳.
Rav went to Palestine from Babylonia twice. The first time was during a strong wave of migration of the Babylonian Jews. For some reason everybody there was seized with a sudden hankering to wander. Economic conditions in Babylonia were normal at the time and there was no pressing need for anyone to leave the country. But the reports from Palestine were bad, and it seemed to the Jews in Babylonia that the Torah was sinking into oblivion in Palestine, and they had to go there in masses in order to revive its study. At that time there came to Palestine people of energy, strong will, and warm hearts. Their presence brought about a revival of life. The seat of the “Nasi” was occupied at the time by R. Jehudah, the “editor” of the Mishnah. And still there must have been something wrong if the Talmud later said that “when the Torah had been forgotten in Palestine, R. Chiya came with his children and they revived it.34)סוכה ב׳ א׳.
This R. Chiya was Rav’s uncle, as we have already said, and when he went to Palestine he took along with him his two sons, Hezekiah and Judah, his brother’s son Rabah bar Chana, his colleagues R. Chanina bar Chama, R. Simlai, and our Rav. It seems that all these scholars were descendants of ancestors who fled from Palestine during the persecutions of Hadrian or perhaps during later persecutions. They all kept together in Babylonia and together they returned to Palestine.
At that time everybody felt the need to continue the systematization of the Jewish faith through the principles of the “Mishnah” and Rav, of course, took part actively in this work. His thoughts were concerned with the effort to understand Jewish life clearly. The wish arose in him to lend a hand to the new systematization of the Jewish faith. The frenzied turmoil of events stirred Rav’s soul to constant anxiety about the Jewish position. His whole life circled in a long chain between desperation and hope. His only desire was to see his people secure in its national existence.
One may see this aim in every act of his life, even while he was still a student in the synagogue and his abilities were just beginning to reveal their splendor—especially in his questions to the teachers under whom he studied. One may see the same thing in his later life when he began to think independently and all the older scholars under whom he had studied were dead.
He came to Palestine with his uncle R. Chiya and several other scholars from Babylonia. It was said then that the purpose of their coming was to aid in the people’s development. In this common aim each one had his own method: one wished to restore the spiritual soundness of the masses, another was concerned about the political situation, still another was busy protecting Jews from pagans and another one tried to set an example by his own good deeds.
The arrival of those scholars in Palestine was a great blessing for the people, especially the coming of R. Chiya. Palestine profited doubly by his presence, economically and culturally, for in addition to his activity as a teacher he was also active in commerce. He bought land and had it cultivated at his own expense or rented it out to tenants. Then he exported many divers goods from Palestine and sold them in foreign lands. He employed many people, both relatives and strangers. He had connections in the most distant countries, and a lively trade developed between Palestine and the neighboring countries. This made a living for those who helped him and also stimulated others to follow in his foot-steps.
R. Chiya’s chief item of trade was flax. It is related that once he did not wish to sell his flax for the prevailing price because he hoped for a better price later. The merchants offered his flax at the price of next Purim when flax was usually at its dearest. R. Chiya asked R. Jehudah Hanasi whether such a transaction was permissible. R. Jehudah Hanasi said that such a profit could be called “usury” and was therefore illegal. Later, therefore, R. Chiya declared that such a transaction was a transgression against the Jewish law.35)ירושלמי בבא מציעא פרק ח׳ הלכה ו׳.
When R. Chiya and his friends came to Palestine they did not settle in Sephoris, where R. Jehudah Hanasi had the seat of his power but they went to live in Tiberias. It is supposed therefore that R. Chiya’s arrival in Palestine and his activity there was not entirely pleasing to the Nasi. He did not wish another spiritual power to grow up in Palestine beside his school in Sephoris, headed by a person who reckoned his descent from king David.
Other historians, however, see no significance in the fact that R. Chiya settled in Tiberias instead of Sephoris near the “Nasi.” They say there were no ulterior motives for this act, but that the Babylonians who were accustomed to a warmer climate could not stand the atmosphere of Sephoris. They believed that most people die of colds in Sephoris.
People in Palestine used to say, also, that since the arrival of R. Chiya with his sons and students, the hurricanes and earthquakes ceased, the wine had stopped turning sour, and the flax had not spoiled.36)חולין פּ״ו א׳.
While Rav was in Tiberias with his uncle he spent a great deal of time with the students of R. Meir, R. Shimeon ben Eleazar, R. Shimeon ben Chalafta, and Symachos, from whom he acquired several of R. Meir’s sayings, which he repeated in R. Meir’s name as though he had heard them directly from R. Meir.
Thus Rav always used to say: “A man must accustom himself to think that whatever the Almighty does is done for the best,”37)ברכות ס׳ ב׳. or that “One should always try to teach students as briefly as possible.”38)פּסחים ג׳ ב׳. On other occasions he would say that “one should always leave the house when the streets are light.”39)פּסחים ב׳ א׳.
The sayings which Rav learned from R. Meir’s students and which he quoted in the name of R. Meir were usually such as dealt with human conduct and the aims of life. Rav loved life and did not regard it as a passing phase of universal existence.
After R. Chiya had settled in Tiberias he often took Rav with him to visit R. Jehudah Hanasi in Sephoris. The trip from Tiberias to Sephoris and back took a certain amount of time, besides which they would stop frequently during the trip because someone wished to be enlightened on some subject about which the Nasi could not be consulted at that particular time. In this way a sort of travelling religious center was established, which often changed the scene of activity. When R. Jehudah Hanasi died R. Chiya considered himself a more competent religious authority than the later “Nasi” Rabban Gamliel (the son of R. Jehudah Hanasi) or his brother R. Shimeon. He was hurt therefore that he was not chosen for some position of national leadership.
The arrival of R. Chiya and his family and students in Palestine was an event of great importance, because besides the effect of their teaching they brought new life to the crushed spirits of the Palestinians, who had almost given up all hope of a free life. Since the Babylonians were in a better position at that time than the Palestinians, R. Chiya’s group did not have bent backs, and their free manners influenced the Jews of Palestine.
The Palestinians saw a revival of the Torah in the coming of R. Chiya. At the same time the social life of the scholarly groups was revived, they began to visit each other and meet in conference.
During his trips with R. Chiya, Rav satisfied his interest in king David, and in tracing all the places where he hid from Saul and where he waged war on the Philistines, Rav acquired a precise knowledge of Palestinian geography as well as of the differences in the situation of the Jews and their customs in different places.40)ירזשלמי כתובות פרק ט׳ הלכה ט׳.
While Rav was travelling abroad with his uncle, his sharp eye studied the life and culture of different nations. He gained an understanding of the Jewish situation in various countries,41)קדושין ע״א ב׳. and learned the customs of idolatry in different places in Palestine, Babylon and Media.42עבודה זרה י״א ב׳, ירושלמי עבודה זרה פרק א׳ הלכה ב׳.)
It is probable that Rav stayed in Palestine no more than five or six years the first time that he came there with his uncle, R. Chiya, and his students. Then he returned to Babylonia for a short time. It seems that this voyage to Babylonia had no influence upon the later course of his life or upon the history of the Jews.
The reason for his return to Babylonia, it seems, was his desire to be married. Although it is not expressly stated, one can infer it from his leave-taking from R. Chiya. R. Chiya said to him in farewell, when he left his uncle to return to Babylonia, “May the Almighty protect you from a fate worse than death!” Later Rav wondered what could be worse than death, until he remembered the verse in Ecclesiastes (VII, 26) which states that “Woman is more bitter than death.” One may infer therefore that his uncle wished to warn him to be very careful in picking his wife.43)יבמות ס״ג א׳.
When Rav was about to leave Palestine, R. Chiya said to R. Jehudah Hanasi: “My sister’s son is going to Babylonia, may he teach there?” The Nasi answered, “He may.” Then R. Chiya asked, “May he give judgment?” The Nasi answered, “He may.” Then R. Chiya asked whether he might give judgment concerning the first-born of clean cattle and the answer was, “That he may not do.”44)סנהדרין ה׳ א׳.*The question concerning the first-born of pure cattle was this: After the Temple was destroyed Jews could not slaughter the first-born of pure cattle unless it had suffered some injury. The extent of such an injury necessary to enable it to be slaughtered had to be certified by a court. R. Jehudah Hanasi permitted Rav to give judgment on all sorts of matters except in this case.
For almost the whole period that Rav remained in Babylonia the first time he returned, he stayed in the city of Nehardea where he continued his studies. He used to correspond with R. Jehudah Hanasi and introduced certain religious problems in his letters.45)ירושלמי גטין פרק ה׳ הלכה ג׳.
A short time later, when Rav had returned from Babylonia, R. Jehudah Hanasi died. This occurred around 190 C.E. Not long afterwards R. Chiya, Rav’s uncle, also died. After R. Jehudah Hanasi’s death his son Rabban Gamliel took his place and occupied the position of Nasi about ten years. Rav continued to sit in the Nasi’s school as a student. He later quoted a great deal of what he had learned from Rabban Gamliel. Only after Rabban Gamliel died and R. Jehudah N’siah the First was chosen to take his father’s place, did Rav feel that he no longer wished to remain in Palestine and he returned to Babylonia, where he remained until the end of his life.
The deteriorating political situation of the Jews in Palestine had a great influence upon Rav’s final decision to return to Babylonia permanently. Because of the political situation, R. Chiya once said that the Almighty knew the Jews would not be able to stand the persecutions of Edom, that is of the Romans, and therefore he dispersed them into Babylonia where they could live in better political circumstances.46)פּסחים פּ״ז ב׳.
We may infer from this statement that if R. Chiya had not felt too old and weak to go to Babylonia, he might also have left Palestine. Still the difficult political situation was not the only reason why Rav returned to Babylonia. We may assume that a great part in his decision was due to the fact that R. Jehudah N’siah did not grant him any particular position in his school; for patiently as Rav may have suffered his low position up to now, he surely did not wish to stand it any longer and therefore went away from Palestine.
It should be mentioned also that when Rav returned from Babylonia, R. Jehudah again allowed him to grant releases from vows and give judgment in cases of feminine cleanliness. When R. Jehudah Hanasi died, Rav asked his successor, Rabban Gamliel, to allow him to grant permission about the use of first-born cattle. Rabban Gamliel answered, “I cannot give you more than my father gave you.47)חגיגה ה׳ א׳.
Even though Rav was “ordained” only in a lesser degree, he was often invited to sit with the “Sanhedrin”, and since he was then the youngest of them all, he was always asked his opinion first when the opinions of the judges of the “Sanhedrin” were asked for.48)גטין נ״ט א׳.
R. Jochanan used to tell a story about Rav’s importance at that time. He said that when he sat in R. Jehudah Hanasi’s school, he sat seventeen rows behind Rav. During the discussion sparks used to fly from Rav’s mouth to R. Jehudah Hanasi’s mouth and from R. Jehudah Hanasi’s mouth to Rav’s mouth, and R. Jochanan would listen carefully to them and not understand a word.49)חולין קל״ז ב׳.
It appears also that others of R. Jehudah Hanasi’s students were awed by the greatness of Rav. The story goes that R. Chanina bar Chama once had a dream in which Rav was placed on a palm tree. That was counted as a sign of future greatness. R. Chanina began to fear that he would be outgrown. He wished therefore to send him away from Palestine back to Babylonia.50)יומא פּ״ז ב׳.
After the death of Rabban Gamliel, R. Jehudah Hanasi’s son, the first period in Rav’s life in which he was a pupil, ended and he wished to play the role of a teacher. Not having the same respect for R. Jehudah N’sia as he had had for his grandfather, R. Jehudah Hanasi, and his father, Rabban Gamliel he no longer wished to stay with him as a pupil.
The time when Rav returned to Babylonia was a period in which the mutual influence of the scholars was at its greatest height. And at the same time there was great friction and sharp differences of opinion between them. Even then there were several different spiritual centers and academies. Besides the academy of the Nasi in Sephoris, there were academies in Tiberias and Caesarea. R. Jehudah Hanasi attempted to concentrate all religious authority in his own hands, and since there were many scholars who rivalled the Nasi in learning, he was very sparing in granting “ordinations” and such scholars as Levi ben Sisi, Samuel of Nehardea, as well as Hezekiah and Judah the two sons of R. Chiya were not “ordained” and never entitled to be called “Rabbi”.
In the meantime things went from bad to worse politically. After the death of the Emperor Commodus (192 C. E.) Pescenius Niger tried to seize power in Rome. He was defeated in open warfare by Septimus Severus. It is hard to know today with whom the Jews sided in the warfare just as it is not known whether either of the rivals promised certain national concessions in the event of his victory.
Judging by the circumstances and the documents of that war which have remained, we may say that the Jews did not even dream of national liberation. They felt in an instinctive manner, however, that they ought to take the opposite side in this war from the side taken by the heathen inhabitants of Palestine (Romans, Greeks, and Syrians), who supported Pescenius Niger. The Samaritans of Shechem did the same—and there is only a hint in a saying of Rav as to the side which the Jews took, when he said: “I am for Sufianus.”51)ירושלמי ברכות פרק ט׳ הלכה א׳.
At the same time severe fighting broke out between the Jews and the Samaritans in which a great deal of blood was shed. When Septimus Severus won and became the Emperor of Rome, the followers of Pescenius Niger were severely punished. In the year 200 when Septimus Severus returned from the field after having laid waste the Parthian lands, he passed through Palestine and issued repressive laws against the Gentiles and Samaritans.
Concerning the Jews he said merely that “if they persist in their stupid faith, they may preserve their stupidity without interference. But if a Gentile living shall allow himself to be converted to Christianity or Judaism, such an act shall be punished by death.”
Still Palestine continued to be the scene of wars and slaughters. A certain Claudius of whom nothing is known except that the Romans called him “ladro”, which means “bandit”, became the leader of guerrillas who operated in Syria and Palestine. From their lairs in the hills of Judah they would swoop down upon passers-by or upon neighboring cities and rob and murder at will.
And since many Jews were found among these guerrillas for some reason or other, the Roman government demanded that R. Eleazar ben R. Shimeon ben Yochai and R. Ishmael the son of R. Jose ben Chalafta help them discover the Jewish bandits in their caves and turn them over to the government.
At this R. Joshua ben Karcha sent the following message to R. Eleazar ben R. Shimeon: “You vinegar, son of wine, how long will you hand over the people of our God to be murdered?” R. Eleazar answered: “I am merely uprooting the thorns in the vineyard.” To which R. Joshua replied, “Let the owner of the garden come and destroy the thorns himself.”52)בבא מציעא פּ״ב ב׳.
As we said Rav supported Septimus Severus. But before he left Palestine he said, “It is better to be a subject of Ishmael than of Edom.”53)שבת י״א א׳.*The text of this remark, which is quoted by Raba bar Machasia in the name of Rab Chama bar Gurya, who heard it from Rav, is certainly incorrect. It says, “It is better to be subject to Ishmael than to Edom, to Edom than to a “Chabar”, to a “Chabar” than to a scholar, to a scholar than to a widow and an orphan.” The part which says “to Edom than to a Chabar” is of a later period than Rav’s referring to a time when the Babylonian fire-worshippers, the “Chabarim”, persecuted the Jews, and the Jews preferred the sufferings inflicted by the Romans to those of the Persians. But the following passages are simply meaningless in the context. Since the whole quotation comes to us at third hand, and the hand of the censor also did its share of damage, we may state with assurance that the end is an apocryphal addition, and God knows who its author is.
About the year 219 C. E., when Rav (Abba Arecha) was sixty-four years of age, he returned to Babylonia from Palestine for the second time and remained there for the rest of his life.
It is possible that he considered returning to Palestine at some time because it is said that he once told his son Chiya to build him a house in Palestine. It was in this connection that he discussed the boundaries of the land which may properly be called “Eretz Israel”. We may infer that Rav dreamed of leaving Babylonia and never succeeded in accomplishing his desire; and Chiya never carried out his father’s wish.54)בראשית רבה פּרשה ט״ז פּיסקא ה׳.
Before Rav arrived in Babylonia, according to legend, Samuel and Kama, who were judges in Nehardea, were once standing beside the “King’s River”, that is the canal which king Hammurabi (Amraphel, king of Shinear) had constructed for a connection between the Tigris and the Euphrates. The water of the “King’s River” was dark and stormy. The two scholars knew by this sign that a man was coming to Babylonia who would stir up the whole Jewry.
No sooner had Rav arrived than there was falling-out between him and the other two scholars which ended in Rav’s curse which we have already mentioned. Later Rav always tried to be friendly to Samuel of Nehardea and treated him with great respect, even though Samuel always seemed to try to say directly the opposite of Rav. The story goes that they were both guests at a circumcision once and Rav did not wish to precede Samuel into the house, and Samuel wished to yield to still another scholar who accompanied them. Rav then took Samuel upon his shoulders and went into the house with him.55)בבא קמא פּ׳ ב׳.
As we have already stated the academy at Nehardea was called “Sidra” at that time, and its head was Rav Shila. When Rav came to Babylonia, Aba bar Aba, the father of Samuel of Nehardea, was still living. And since Rav was unsuited to be the “Reciter” (פּוסק סידרא) or the “Interpreter” (מתורגמן) he tried to make a living in another field. The Exilarch appointed him as supervisor of the municipal market to check the weights and measures, to appraise the value of goods, determine their price, to protect buyers from being deceived. It was his duty also to see that the wine brought to market should not be adulterated.
But Rav did not fit this position either. He felt that it was his duty only to regulate weights and measures, not the price or the quality of the goods, and he felt that if a buyer let himself be deceived concerning the price or the quality of his wares, nobody had a right to interfere, for these were matters which concerned only the individual buyer and not the general welfare. For these views the Exilarch removed him from his post and since he had not obeyed the orders of the Exilarch precisely, he was arrested.56)ירושלמי בבא בתרא פרק ח׳ הלכה ה׳.
After Rav Shila’s death Rav left the academy in Nehardea to Samuel and went to Hutzel where R. Achi bar Jashiah had been “head of the academy.” Since R. Achi’s pupils lacked a leader at that time, Rav was appointed as head of their academy. Hutzel was the first landmark of Rav’s independent activity in Babylonia. From then on his words were heard and his name began to be known among the scholars. And when Rav founded his academy in Sura later, the students of Hutzel were the first who came in droves to Sura.
It is hard to tell why Rav chose the valley of Sura and the city Matha Machasia for the site of his work. The academy in Sura had a loftier title than the one at Nehardea, being called not “Sidra” but “Mesivta”, even though the area of Sura was sparsely inhabited and served as a home for a pack of suspicious characters, most of whom were robbers and thieves. Rav’s academy brought culture and the security of life to the place. With the arrival of so many scholars, sources of livelihood opened for the inhabitants, who became civilized under the influence of the academy.
The place had a very hot climate as was natural for a valley of that sort. Palestinians used to say, “The Babylonians are fools who live in a dark country;”57)פּסחים ל״ד ב׳, יומא נ״ז א׳. but the hot climate of the place was not stable and the rainy season was not regular. Therefore people said: “Just as the Babylonians are liars so are their rains.”58)תענית ט׳ ב׳. Yet the whole area was rich in water. Besides the stormy Tigris and the quiet Euphrates, the whole countryside was covered with a network of lakes and ponds whose shores were covered with reeds from which they wove mats and many workers were employed at cutting these reeds.
Various strange creatures were found among those reeds: worms and mosquitoes which spread all sorts of contagious diseases throughout the region. Many epidemics broke out near Sura, but it is related that none of them prevailed in Rav’s vicinity.59)תענית כ״א ב׳. The reason probably is that the Jews knew methods of warding off the disease. They usually planted groves of date-palms which cleansed the atmosphere with their scent. Once the forests were planted they had other uses also. Various vessels were made of their wood. A beer was made of the dates, and the twigs and branches were used for weaving baskets.
Beer drinking was very prevalent in Babylonia. It was usually made of dates. Other beers were brewed from hops in which the country carried on a widespread commerce.60)בבא מציעא צ״ב ב׳. A malt beer is also mentioned.61)פּסחים ק״ז א׳. Many of the Babylonian scholars made beer and grew rich. In general beer was considered a sort of wine substitute, and a problem arose whether ״קידוש״ (the sanctification of the Sabbath) might be pronounced with beer. Rav said that “Kiddush” might not be pronounced with beer, but ״הבדלה״ (the separation of the Sabbath) might.62)פּסחים ק״ז ב׳.
Babylon had very little olive oil, and when R. Tarphon said that Friday night candles could be made only out of olive oil, R. Jochanan ben Nuri rose and asked: “What are the Babylonians to do, who have only sesame oil?”63)שבת כ״ו א׳.
The various oils which the scholars allowed to be used for Sabbath candles were all to be found in Babylonia. There were various sorts of aromatic plants also as we may infer from the blessing which Rav composed for good scents.64)ברכות מ״ג א׳, ירושלמי ברכות פרק ו׳ הלכה ו׳.
There was also a great deal of wheat in the vicinity of Sura. Other parts of Babylonia would import wheat from there when they lacked it. The country also had a great deal of fruit and, as we have said, enough water to enable them to transport fruit easily from one place to another. Thus the Talmud says: “Who brought it about that the storehouses of Babylon are full of grain?” and answers: “The country has vast water resources.” And Rav added, “Babylonia is rich and fruitful even without rain.”65)תענית י׳ א׳.
Rav and his students as well used to work in the fields and plant gardens with their own hands. For this work they would borrow money in the month of Tishri and pay their debts in grain in the month of Tebet at the price of Tishri.66)בבא מציעא ע״ב ב׳.
It may be assumed that Rav tried to make his students self-supporting so that they would not have to depend on the charity of kind-hearted people, who made gifts to scholars in order to share in the reward of their learning. Therefore Rav set aside only two months of the year for study — the months of Adar and Elul — and made the people work for their living the rest of the year. He probably chose those two months because in Babylonia one could not work or study during the summer because of the great heat: only in Elul, when the air had begun to cool off a bit could one begin to think of studying. The second month, Adar, always came after harvest which took place during the months of Tebeth and Shvat. There was an additional advantage in studying during those two months in that they could review the laws of the approaching holidays.
Babylonia was a country of broad pastures and there was range for the breeding of large numbers of cattle. Rav’s students did a great deal of cattle herding and Rav himself was greatly interested, in his research, in lightening the religious prescriptions about the observance of Sabbath which made it difficult to allow the men to graze cattle during the Sabbath. Thus he spoke about the problem of saving an animal which had fallen into a pond on the Sabbath67)שבת קכ״ה ב׳. and about tying an animal to a stake on the Sabbath.68)שבת קי״ג א׳.
As we have said, Rav could not or did not wish to remain in Nehardea and he chose Sura for the center of his future work. Since then Sura was called “Rav’s place” and just as Babylonia itself was divided geographically into the upper hilly region and a lower region of valleys, the leadership of the Jews was divided between Sura and Nehardea.
The center in Sura quickly became the more important and most of the communities in the country accepted Rav’s theories and regulated their lives according to them. The Nehardean scholars often tried to put their ideas over but without success.
Rav did not remain content with merely the work in his academy. He travelled from city to city throughout Babylonia trying to establish his policies. His students after him did the same, settling in over twenty cities, and in spite of opposition they succeeded in propagating Rav’s religious views. By the revolutionary struggle and the wanderings of these people over the broad prairies and sandy wastes of Babylonia the region of Sura became thickly populated with Jews. Over night Jewish settlements sprang up there.
Together with the Jews a cosmopolitan mass of different peoples also came, and drove the earlier inhabitants, the “Parthians” out and settled in their place. In many parts of Babylonia Jewish tribes declared themselves politically independent and set up rulers out of their midst. Elsewhere the Heathen persecuted the Jews and the Jews bent their backs under the yoke of oppression. Frequently the Jews sowed the fields and cultivated them, only to see other peoples come and take over the fields with the aid of a new government. A new law based on the right of power developed and whoever seized a field was its lawful owner until someone stronger came and seized it for himself.
When Rav came to Babylonia, king Artaban, a friend of his, ruled there. After the death of this king, Babylonia was captured by a foreign tribe named the “Sassanides” who set up their own king, Ardjir Babegan, upon the throne. Under his rule the condition of the Jews quickly deteriorated. Power was in the hands of the old Aramites, who regarded themselves as descended from the ancient Babylonians who destroyed the first Temple and drove the Jews out of Palestine.
There was a strong hatred between the Jews and the Aramites, and most of the “Anti-Gentile” passages in the Talmud were directed against them.*It should be noted that most of the censors who supervised the printing of the Talmud did a great deal of destruction in erasing the word “Arami” (Aramite), and substituting עכו״ם (idolator) as one may see in the texts printed by R. N. Rabinowitz in his book “Dikdukei Sofrim” for which he used a Talmud manuscript of the year 1502. Jews ordinarily regarded them as murderers and highway-robbers. Jews did not even trust their doctors, as Rav said: “Whoever wishes to become blind, may have his eyes treated by an Aramite doctor.”69)נדה ל״ה ב׳, ירושלמי עבודה זרה פרק ב׳ הלכה ב׳.
At the same time there was a tendency among those peoples to be converted to Judaism, in order to enjoy the rights of a ״גר״ (proselyte) among Jews. Rav, as well as the other scholars of that time, protested sharply against the acceptance of proselytes for fear of mixture of races.
In addition to his fear of racial mixture Rav was also afraid of the confusion of cultures. He continually issued warnings against those who followed the ways of the “Magics” (אמגושיים) who occupied themselves with star-gazing and grave-robbing for magical purposes. They believed, also, that the dead continue to live in another world, get married and eat just as though they were alive. In addition to the Magics, Rav cautioned the people against imitating the ״חברים״ that is the Persians who later overran the whole of Babylonia.
Because of the change in the political situation in Babylonia, from which the Jews suffered severely, Rav was often afflicted with a feeling of desperation. He used to say: “A time will come yet when the Torah will be completely forgotten by the Jews.”70)שבת קל״ח ב׳.
At first the customs of the “Magics” and the “Chaborim” struck the Jews as being very queer. A proverb concerning the Magics said that “They jabber they know not what.”71)סוטה כ״ב א׳. Nevertheless Rav was afraid that the Jews might learn their ways and he waged a lively war against this. He said that when the Almighty promised a son to the Patriarch Abraham, Abraham took his horoscope and saw that he could not have any children, and the Almighty told him: “Do not stargaze, for a Jew should not believe in destiny.”72)שבת קנ״ו א׳, נדרים ל״ב א׳.
On another occasion Rav said: “In the next world there is no eating and drinking, no trade or commerce, no jealousy, hatred or intrigue; the good sit with crowns on their heads and partake of the glow of the Holy Spirit.”73)ברכות י״ז א׳.
When Rav saw that the people refused to heed his words, and insisted on believing in a new sort of life after death, with food and drink, as the “Magics” persuaded them to believe, he said; “My son, be happy in what you have now, for there is no pleasure in the pit, and when death comes, one cannot tell him to wait. Men are like the grass of the field, some sprout and others wilt.”74)ערובין נ״ד א׳.
It should be remarked also that when Rav arrived in Babylonia, the moral condition of the people in Nehardea and its vicinity was very low. Living mainly in the cities where luxury was rife, the people were much given to sin. A legend relates that one of the “Amoraim” once met the Prophet Elijah and asked why he delayed his coming. The Prophet Elijah answered him: “How can Messiah come when there is so much sin among you even on Yom Kippur?”75)יומא י״ט ב׳.
In many places in the vicinity of Nehardea, men’s clothing was made after women’s styles because of their loose morals, so that mingling of the sexes should be unnoticeable. Promiscuity was so widespread and so uncontrollable that a rule was actually adopted that a witness could not be disqualified because of moral turpitude.76)סנהדרין כ״ו ב׳.
Before Rav’s arrival in Sura the people there were rather wild, and are described as having been bold, immodest, and obscene in their speech. It was only because they were mostly shepherds and farmers that they were not as dissolute as the Nehardeans. Rav expended much effort in teaching morals, especially regarding sexual relations. When speaking on this subject Rav always clothed his remarks in real-life allegories; he threatened the sinners with God’s severest punishment saying that it was precisely because of crimes of this sort that Jerusalem was destroyed.
Religion as well as morality stood at a low level in Sura. Rav instituted a number of regulations designed to strengthen religious feeling. He was very strict in demanding that the commandments be obeyed and religious duties performed. His strict regulations are known as “Rav’s prohibitions”.77)ירושלמי שקלים פרק ז׳ הלכה ב׳, עבודה זרה פרק ב׳ הלכה ה׳.
He would curse anybody who permitted any act which ought to be prohibited.78)מגלה ה׳ ב׳. He was convinced that if a person was suspected of a crime he was probably guilty, even if not entirely then in part, and if he had not even partially committed the crime, then he had contemplated doing so.79)מועד קטן י״ח ב׳.
After Rav came to Sura the city was rebuilt in a beautiful style. Rav made a regulation that the synagogue should be the highest structure in the city. R. Chama bar Guria says of this, quoting Rav, that “a city which builds the roofs of its houses higher than the roof of its synagogue, is doomed to destruction.”80)שבת י״א א׳. It is known that Rav loved beauty in general, and it is said he always wore handsome silk robes.81)סנהדרין ד׳ א׳. His clothes were embroidered with jewelry82)ירושלמי ברכות פרק ד׳ הלכה א׳. and his seal signature had the form of a fish.83)בבא בתרא קס״א ב׳.
His school had a garden planted around it, just as his city and even the cemeteries were encircled by gardens. He built an anteroom all around his school which was walled up to a balcony. He had over two thousand students, all of whom ate at his table,84)כתובות ק״ו א׳. and he built the wall because he didn’t want chance passers-by to look at them and put a curse upon them. In addition he had the place where his students ate supplied with mats for them to sleep upon.85)ברכות כ״ה א׳.
It seems probable also that Rav’s school was situated in a high place for the expression “they went up to Rav’s house” is often used.86)ירושלמי ברכות פרק ו׳ הלכה ו׳, מועד קטן פרק ג׳ הלכה ו׳. He also ordered the synagogue to be built in the center of the town, so that all the houses should be near the synagogue.87)בבא מציעא ק״ז ב׳.
By studying Rav’s teachings one soon learns that he had an individual system. A great difficulty in reconstructing this system is the fact that most of Rav’s utterances are not handed down directly from himself but only in the form in which his students have quoted them. The only conclusion which can safely be drawn from all the material we possess concerning Rav, is the conclusion that when Rav issued judgment upon any legal problem, he tried first of all to understand the spirit of the legal rule which could be applied to that problem. This method is particularly clear in cases where he tried to discover the author of a certain anonymous “Mishnah”. He would ask “From what Tanna does this Mishnah derive?” and in his further analysis of the problem, Rav showed himself to be the greatest of all the previous scholars.
He knew that there were certain definite rules in the system of the Mishnah which defined the stand which any Tanna would take on a given problem. Knowing the rule defining a Tanna’s bias from the Mishnah’s in which his name was mentioned, Rav could easily discover the author of any anonymous “Mishnah” which bore the unmistakable stamp of the same tendency. In the discussion of the law concerning the “vermin and reptiles” which were forbidden food for a Jew, it is stated that if a Jew caught or wounded one on the Sabbath, providing this catching or wounding was not necessary for his own use, he was innocent of a sin. Rav then asked: “On the basis of whose legal opinions has this law been constructed? — for this was an anonymous Misnah. And he answered that the Mishnah agreed with the opinion of R. Shimeon (ben Yochai) who stated, “Some work which is not necessarily for one’s personal needs, is not considered a sin when it is done on the Sabbath.”88)שבת ק״ז ב׳.
This method of seeking out the author of all anonymous Mishnahs remained the system of the academy in Sura until it went out of existence. In Nehardea, on the other hand, there was never any interest in the authorship of any Mishnah. For them it was the law itself which was important without regard to its origin and authorship.
Rav also had a fine style both in Hebrew and in Aramaic. Everything he said seemed to be carved out of a single piece. Even today it is an aesthetic delight to study any of Rav’s utterances, whether the contents are of interest or not.
Concerning the scope of the term “sacrilege” Rav declared that a man like himself would be guilty of that transgression “if he bought some meat from a butcher and did not pay immediately,” because the butcher might think that Rav had simply robbed him of the meat, and that might lead him to think lightly of the crime of robbery himself.89)יומא פּ״ג א׳.
In speaking of the precise meaning of the term “idler” Rav said that “an idler means a man like R. Samuel bar Shilet*It is somewhat strange, to be sure, that Rav should have chosen a person like R. Samuel bar Shilet to illustrate the meaning of the word “idler,” because it is believed that this R. Samuel bar Shilet was neither a rich man nor an idler, but a teacher of children who lived on what his pupils paid him. Rav probably meant that a man like R. Samuel bar Shilet had all his needs provided for him in his house and did not need to work in the fields to get his food, as the other scholars in Babylonia had to do, and therefore he could sleep quietly in his bed as though it were a palace and the tax collector knew him not. who eats of his own and drinks of his own and sleeps like a prince in a palace and the tax collector never comes to his door.”90)כתובות ס״ב א׳.
When asked to what extent a man is obliged to preach to his fellow men, Rav answered, “Until the hearer begins to beat the preacher.” When they mentioned the rule that a person who travels a good deal ought to put up always at the same house and the question was raised, “How long should he continue to do so?” Rav answered, “Until they beat him there.”91)ערכין ט״ז ב׳.
In Rav’s opinion a man ought to perform his religious duties consistently and not be deterred by any hindrances which might bar his way. He was consequently very severe and would have anybody flogged who disobeyed him. He paid special attention to the morals and protection of women. It is said that he flogged anyone who married a woman simply through intercourse, or when a man met a woman in the street and married her without a prior agreement about the wedding contract. He did the same when a man revoked his divorce or declared that the divorce which he had given to his wife was invald. He also had a man flogged who lived with his wife in his father-in-law’s house.92)יבמות נ״ב א׳, קדושין י״ב ב׳.
Although Rav tried to make his words and his meaning clear, he ordinarily spoke so briefly that his students understood very little of what he said. Yet they were afraid to ask him to go back. The only ones who summoned up enough courage to ask him to explain his statements were Rav Cahana and Rav Asi. When he explained his meaning to them, they asked why he hadn’t used those words previously. He said it was because he had not supposed that they needed an explanation.”93)מגלה כ״ז א׳, נזיר י״ט א׳, סוטה י״ב ב׳, סנהדרין י׳ ב׳.
In citing the text of the Mishnah Rav would hardly ever say what, in his opinion, the Mishnah meant, or why he supported one interpretation rather than another. He would do this only when his students asked him. He never explained anything of his own accord because he assumed that the matter was as clear to his audience as it was to himself. Occasionally in study it was discovered that a certain law would have been reversed if the action to which it had referred had taken place in a different region. Rav left such apparent contradictions unexplained, and even when questioned about them he was silent.94)ביצה ו׳ א׳.
It seems that the habit of reading things into the Mishnah which were not there often displeased him. He said therefore that the words “all the days of the poor are evil” refer to those who deal with the “Gemara” while “the good of heart live a continual feast” refers to those who get their knowledge from the Mishnah.95)בבא בתרא קמ״ה ב׳.
In Sura every word Rav spoke was heard in pious awe and hardly ever questioned. It was different in Nehardea. His sayings often seemed queer to the scholars there. Because of this he said, “I sometimes have to declare the reason for what I say so that the future generations may not criticize me.”96)שבת ע״ה ב׳.
As we remarked, Rav encouraged his students to teach others and sit in judgment without interference. This, too, he did in opposition to other scholars who tried to limit the rights of their students and insisted that during their lifetime no student of theirs was to pass any judgment without consulting them first. Rav would say to his students: “You may advise on any legal matter that comes to your attention, because a judge can know only that which his eyes see.”97)ירושלמי נדה פרק ב׳ הלכה ז׳.
Before he opened class he always said the prayer of “Sh’ma” and when he would refer to God, he experienced his greatest exaltation of spirit. He said that a blessing without mention of God was no blessing.98)ברכות מ׳ ב׳, He said also that God’s name contained the ten attributes of God, with which, as it were, He created the Universe: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, power, fury, strength, justice, law, grace, and mercy.99)חגיגה י״ב א׳. He felt that an oath taken in court was useless without mention of God’s name, for he felt that the mention of God’s name in an oath frightened a witness.100)100) שבועות ל״ח ב׳.
It is said that when he stood praying, his whole body would quiver and his soul would fill with a peculiar joy. He always said at such a time “where there is rejoicing there must be trembling.”101)101) ברכות כ׳ ב׳, יומא ד׳ ב׳. Before he rose to pray, he would always try to cleanse his thoughts and he set up a rule that “if one knows that his thoughts are troubled, he should not pray.”102)102) ערובין ס״ח ב׳. Once he proclaimed a fast for rain and it did him no good. When another person rose to pray in the synagogue and his prayer was granted, Rav immediately tried to find out what were the good deeds of the petitioner whose prayer the Almighty had heard and granted rain.103)103) תענית כ״ד א׳.
We can not be certain how much of his later life Rav lived in Babylonia. According to the “Epistle of R. Shrira Gaon” Rav headed his academy in Sura for 24 years. Other historians estimate the amount of time which Rav spent in Babylonia after his second term from Palestine at 28 years. We may assume that both opinions are correct, for it is possible that he did head the academy for not more than 24 years. There were four years between Rav’s return to Babylonia and the time he founded the academy in Sura, during which he was an “Interpreter” for Rav Shila on Nehardea and a supervisor of the municipal market.
In any case it is certain that Rav reached a ripe old age and he had the good fortune to see many of his ambitions realized during his life. His academy developed in a brilliant fashion and his opinions were accepted everywhere. Large groups of students, old and young, many of whom later became prominent scholars, always surrounded him when he walked in the street or came into the school. Everybody paid him the greatest respect. His academy was called a “minor holy place” and he himself “Our Great Rabbi.”
His opponents made peace with him and wherever he himself did not abandon his opinion, as he often did, his authority was recognized in various religious decisions. Even Samuel of Nehardea, who always defended exactly the opposite point-of-view from Rav, later began to submit to Rav’s opinion in the interpretation of many laws.104)104) בבא מציעא ק״ז א׳.
It is characteristic that Samuel treated Rav’s opinions with scorn when he heard them from one of his students. At such times he would not call him by the name of Rav but Abba. Once R. Chiya bar Joseph told him some opinion of Rav’s and Samuel replied: “If Abba said that it proves he knows nothing about the laws of the Sabbath.”105)105) שבת נ״ג א׳. In the same manner Samuel said to the same student about a case in impure foods: “If Abba said that it proves that he knows nothing about the laws of impure foods.”106)106) חולין מ״ה ב׳.
It is related that a man once came to Rav and asked what his status was among Jews since his mother had conceived him by an “Aramite”. “You are a proper Jew,” said Rav, because he believed that “When a Heathen or a slave has sexual relations with a Jewish woman, the child of such a union is a good Jew.” No sooner had Rav declared his opinion that R. Chama bar Gurya, a pupil of Rav, said to the man: “Get away from here as fast as you can before Samuel arrives, because as soon as Samuel comes and hears what Rav has said, he will decide against you.”107)107) ירושלמי קדושין פרק ג׳ הלכה י״ב.
Rav studied day and night. People said the same of him as was said of king David, that he slept no longer than sixty breaths.108)108) סוכה כ׳׳ז א׳. Since he was always wanted on business, he would say; “Scholars never have any rest, neither in this world nor in the next.”109)109) ברכות ס״ד א׳.
As we said, Rav had great influence with king Artaban who was his personal friend. It was through the support of this friend that Rav founded the academy in Sura. When king Artaban died, Rav said: “The bond is loose,” referring to their tie of friendship, just as R. Jehudah N’siah said when Emperor Antonius died.110)110) עבודה זרה י׳ ב׳, י״א א׳. It is certain that the later rulers of the country respected the academy in Sura, and in spite of the changes which took place in politics as well as in rulers, the academy was not suppressed. It is certain too however, that the Jews were greatly afflicted outside the academy, and Rav groaned in pain at the evil lot of the people. He said, for example: “If all the seas were ink and all the reeds in the swamps were pens, they would not suffice to describe all the evil torments which a ruler can invent for his subjects.”111)111) שבת י״א א׳.
As we said Rav believed in a comfortable and quiet life and he used to say of certain people that “their life was not worth living” as, for instance, of “tent-dwellers and those who wander in the desert.”112)112) ערובין נ״ה ב׳. or “people who are merciful, emotional and sensitive.”113)113) פּסחים קי״ג ב׳. Food and clothing were matters of the highest importance for Rav. Therefore he always prayed that “the Almighty give him a life of peace, a secure living, so that he could straighten his bones, a life of wealth and honor, of which he need not be ashamed.”114)114) ירושלמי פרק ט׳ הלכה ז׳.
What he said of food and clothing is also typical: “A man should sell even the balconies of his house so that he may wear shoes on his feet. If he has had himself bled and has nothing to eat to revive himself, let him sell his shoes and buy food.”115)115) שבת קכ״ט א׳. We have it recorded, also, that Rav ate meat like bread, salted and dried meat.116)116) שבת ק״מ ב׳. He used to fill out his repast with a few young doves stuffed with meal.117)117) פּסחים קי״ט ב׳. In addition he liked to eat fish. He followed strictly the instructions given him by an old fisherman as to the best time for catching fish and when they are good to eat.118)118) מועד קטן י״א א׳.
Just as important as food and fine clothing for Rav was a life without humiliation. He used to say “Shame shortens men’s lives.”
Like all other Babylonians Rav seems to have had stomach trouble. It was said that “more people die of a full pot than an empty belly.”119)119) שבת ל״ג א׳. and Rav was certainly among those who suffered as we may see from his remark, “A man can stand any sickness except kidney trouble; any pain can be borne except the pain of the heart, any ache but a headache.”120)120) שבת י״א א׳.
In his later years Rav’s eyes were weak. He lived at the time with his grandson, Shimi bar Chiya. He was unable to see the people who spoke to him and had to recognize them by their voices. His eyes were never cured even though they were treated with a special salve.121)121) חולין קי״א ב׳. His memory was poor at the same time and people said, “He has forgotten his knowledge.” To a certain question he himself replied: “We had a citation for that and we have forgotten it.”122)122) זבחים נ״ט א׳. Seeing that he sometimes forgot what he himself had said made him realize that a person might sometimes forget a commandment and could be reminded of it if something should happen to which that commandment might apply.123)123) פּסחים ס״ו א׳, סנהדרין פּ״ב א׳.
Nevertheless his reason was unclouded until his last day. He used to defend his earlier views with an especial stubbornness and he would say: “Anybody who feels competent to answer me, may come and do so.”124)124) ירושלמי כתובות פרק ט׳ הלכה ט׳. Once he had a debate with one of his pupils concerning a law and was defeated. He said: “Even though he has defeated me, I feel that the law should be as I say.”125)125) ירושלמי סנהדרין פרק ז׳ הלכה י״א.
When his health was completely undermined, Rav became desperate. He would say that an old man who walks with a bent back and his eyes fixed on the ground “tries to find what he has not lost.”126)126) שבת קנ״ב א׳. and also that “when a man’s end approaches anybody can be his ruler.”127)127) נדרים מ״א א׳.
Later on Rav died. The whole of Jewry was shocked and when the news was told to Samuel of Nehardea he tore thirteen suits of clothing and said: “The man whom I feared is dead.”128)128) מועד קטן כ״ד א׳. Thousands of scholars from all over Babylonia came to Rav’s funeral. All of them tore their clothes and bewailed the great misfortune which had befallen the Jews. All the Jewish communities resolved to mourn Rav’s death twelve months, and in sign of mourning they did not carry palms and myrths to their children’s weddings as they had been accustomed to do.129)129) שבת ק״י א׳.
After Rav’s death his students continued to associate with each other. Each one would repeat what he had heard from Rav, and any one who could repeat something clever of Rav’s felt proud and was honored by the other students. A long time thereafter Sura remained without a leader, even though it did not cease to exist and continued to be called “Rav’s house”. Still the academy in Nehardea became authoritative in all religious decisions in the life of the Jews of Babylonia, and questions which were too difficult for Sura were referred to Samuel in Nehardea.
The acting head of Sura was Rab Hamnuna; as the Talmud says, wherever one sees it written, “Rav’s house says,” the person meant is Rab Hamnuna,130)130) סנהדרין י״ז א׳. and Rab Hamnuna himself was known as “the old man of Rav’s house.”131)131) בבא קמא ע״ה א׳.
Rav’s influence on later generations of the Jewish people was particularly strong because of his splendid prayers which he used to compose extemporaneously while praying in the synagogue as representative of the congregation, or before opening his class. His faith in the power of prayer was enormous. Nevertheless he seldom prayed for any personal benefit, but always for the general welfare or in behalf of other people.132)132) ירושלמי נדרים פרק ט׳ הלכה ג׳. He would say, “Whoever can pray for his fellow man and does not do so, must be called a sinner.”133)133) ברכות י״ב ב׳. He said, also, that there are three transgressions from which a man cannot be saved and one of these is the delusion “that if one has prayed earnestly the Almighty will surely be compelled to grant his prayer.”134)134) בבא בתרא קס״ד ב׳.
Rav’s prayers usually contained thanks for the grace which the Almighty shows unto his people Israel, from the days of Abraham till the time when Messiah will come; and the greatest kindness of all these was the fact that He chose the Jews so that they may stand before Him, thank His Blessed Name, and confess Him as their only God. In his prayers Rav would ask further that the Almighty might at length open the eyes of the Heathens and make them realize they worshipped idols that were of no use. Then the whole world would realize the greatness of Israel’s God, who did the Jews the great kindness to choose them from among all the nations, and who from the beginning of time had set aside for them so precious a heritage as the Torah, which was the very purpose for which the Universe was created.135)135) סנהדרין צ״א ב׳.
On other occasions Rav would pray that just as He had cast His fear on all the nations when the Jews were delivered from Egypt and when He led them for forty years in the wilderness, so may he again cast His fear upon all His creatures, so that all men together might make one bond to serve the Almighty; for if the Heathens feared the Jews, they would also fear God.
Four sorts of people, said Rav, were especially obliged to thank God for his Grace: one who completed a voyage on the ocean, or across the desert, one who is released from a prison, or arises from a sick-bed.136)136) ברכות נ״ד ב׳.
Rav was a great stylist and his prayers often rival the prophets in their simplicity. It is characteristic of Rav that he mentioned the end of the Jewish dispersion in most of his prayers. Thus he ordained that every day one should say: “Break off the yoke of the Heathens from our necks and lead us in pride into our own land.” He added to the Sabbath prayer these words: “Let the Almighty bring us in joy into our land and plant us in our own boundaries.” Similarly for the prayer on holidays: “Gather up our scattered remnants from among the Heathens and our dispersed ones from all lands of the earth.”
It is typical of Rav’s prayers that rather than asking for future favors, he expresses his gratitude for what the Almighty has already done. Merely the privilege of being allowed to praise God he felt, was itself a cause for thanks. He ordained, therefore, that we say, “We thank Thee our God for having led us out of Egypt, delivered us out of bondage, and Thou hast even permitted us to render thanks unto Thy great name.137)137) ירושלמי ברכות פרק א׳ הלכה ו׳.
If a person undertakes a fast, said Rav, he must declare in his prayers what is the purpose for which he undertook to fast. It is not sufficient that he knows the Almighty is aware of the purpose of his prayer, but he must declare it expressly.138)138) ירשלמי ברכות פרק ב׳ הלכה ג׳. Rav had the same thing in mind when he ordained that whenever there is an additional prayer (מוסף) the purpose of the “Musaf” must be declared in praying.139)139) ירושלמי ברכות פרק ד׳ הלכה ו׳, פרק ט׳ הלכה ב׳.
In the controversy whether the Creation of the Universe took place in the month of Nisan, which is called the first month in the Bible, or in the month of Tishri, when the Babylonians celebrated their New Year, Rav argued for “Tishri”. It is an accepted tradition also that Rav arranged the verses of the מלכיות, זכרונות, שופרות which we recite during “Musaf” on New Year, and in the Talmud they are called ״תקיעתא דרב״. 140)140) ראש השנה כ״ז א׳, ירושלמי ר״ה פּ״א ה״ג, עבודה זרה פּ״א ה״ב, ויקרא רבה כ״ט א׳.
In the introduction to the so called סדר מלכיות he says: “Rule Thou o God, over the Universe with Thy glory, rise up in Thy splendor over the earth, and shine forth in Thy sublime strength over all those who inhabit Thy earth, so that every creature may know that Thou hast created it, and every thing that has the breath of life in its nostrils may say that the God of Israel is the only King of the Universe and His Majesty rules over all.”
As an introduction to the so called ״סדר זכרונות״ he ordained that the following be said: “O God, Thou rememberest all the happenings on earth and the creatures of all time. To Thee are revealed all dark and hidden things, the secrets of Creation, for in the seat of Thy Glory there is no forgetting and nothing is hidden from Thine eyes. Thou recallest everything that has happened to every creature, everything is apparent and known to Thee, for Thou lookest and seest all unto the end of all the generations. Thou hast also set aside a time of reminding for all Thy creatures, wherein various events and infinite multitudes of creatures shall be called to mind, which Thou hast long known and already revealed. This day is the beginning of Thy work; a memorial of the first day of Creation for the Jews, wherein the God of Jacob sits in judgment over man. This day the judgment of the kingdoms is set forth, which to the sword and which shall have peace, which shall have hunger and which shall have fullness. Who is not mentioned on this day? The memory of every living thing comes before Thee today, and Thou recallest every human deed, every thought of a man, every human deception. Happy is that man who forgets Thee not and holds fast to Thee, for they who pray to Thee are never deceived and they who trust in Thee are not shamed forever.”
Besides all these prayers Rav also arranged the “Haftaroth” to be recited from the Prophets after the reading of the Pentateuch every Sabbath and Holiday.141)141) מגלה ל״א ב׳.
It was the general opinion of scholars concerning Rav, which nobody presumed to contradict, that “he was worthy to have had the Holy Spirit rest upon him”. This was not possible however because “he lived in Babylonia.”142)142) מועד קטן כ״ה א׳.
It is related too that Rav did a great deal of travelling. He was continually touring various cities in the interest of the Torah and its propagation, both in Palestine and later on when he was in Babylonia. He therefore spoke frequently about proper behavior on a trip or when a man puts up at an inn. Wherever he travelled Rav acquainted himself with conditions and appreciated the hospitality which he encountered everywhere. He frequently warned people against the dangers of journeying and he would say, “No person should go out alone at night.”143)143) ברכות מ״ג ב׳. Another time he said that “if one accompanies his friend who is setting out on a journey even so short a distance as four ells within a city, the traveller will meet with no harm.”144)144) סוטה מ״ו ב׳.
In everything that Rav ever said about human conduct his intention to protect the weak against the strong is apparent, he tried in the first instance to make women independent and equal in their rights with men so that they should not be dependent on man’s caprice. At that time a man had the right to divorce his wife on the slightest pretext. The concept of “scandalous thing” (Deuteronomy, 24:1) was so interpreted that the slightest cause could serve as grounds for a divorce. It was enough for a man to see a more beautiful woman than his wife for him to divorce her.145)145) גטין צ׳ א׳. But the woman could never get rid of the husband whom her father or older brother had chosen for her.
The scholars introduced many changes in these laws, to enable a woman to demand a divorce under certain conditions and gave the courts the right to force her husband to grant it to her: for instance if her husband was disabled or lost an eye or a hand, or broke his leg; or if his trade gave him an unpleasant odor. There was even one opinion which said that even if a woman knew of her husband’s disabilities or unpleasant occupation and still agreed to the match, she could declare that she did not understand at the time how much she would have to suffer and that later she perceived her error.146)146) כתובות ע״ז א׳.
All these aids for the woman in getting a divorce were not enough for Rav. He was dreadfully hurt when he saw a woman who was bound to a bad husband without any chance of release because he did not have any of the faults mentioned above. He added, therefore, a number of causes for divorce, saying that “when a man takes a vow that he will no longer seek any pleasure in his wife, he must divorce her immediately and pay her the sum of her contract.” In such a case one need not wait to see whether the man cannot get a release from his vow, but he must divorce her immediately.147)147) כתובות ס״א ב׳.
A man’s duty to feed his wife and provide her with everything she needed was regarded by Rav as the most important part of the marriage contract, and he declared that if a man said to his wife: “I will no longer feed you!” one should not wait until he carried out his threat, but the court must order him to give his wife a divorce and pay her the sum of her contract.148)148) כתובות ס״ג א׳, ע״ז א׳.
In order to prevent such mishaps between man and wife as much as possible Rav said that “a man must not marry off his daughter when she is young and cannot tell whom she would like to marry.”149)149) קדושין מ״א א׳. In addition he forbade the marriage of one’s daughter to an old man or the marriage of a son who had not reached authority.150)150) סנהדרין ע״ז ב׳. Married life was the most sacred thing he knew and he was always thinking of ways to preserve its sanctity. He considered it woman’s duty to be devoted to her husband and to see to the bringing up of her children. He said in this connection that a woman is elevated by the lofty character of her husband, but she must not allow herself to descend to his level if he degenerates.151)151) כתובות ס״א ב׳. He used to say also that “one should be careful not to hurt his wife, for, being quick to weep, a woman feels herself agrieved at the smallest trifle.”152)152) בבא מציעא נ״ט א׳.
It was Rav’s greatest care to keep people removed from all temptations and even to prevent them from putting themselves in a position where they might be tempted to sin.153)153) סנהדרין ק״ז א׳. He used to keep himself from thinking about temptation. When walking with his pupil R. Judah once, they saw a woman walking before them, and Rav said to R. Judah: “Let us hurry and pass this woman so that we need not continue to walk behind Gehenna.”154)154) קדושין פּ״א א׳. For the same reason he would never attend debates with those of a different faith, and he would say: “Happy is he who repents while still in his full manly vigor.”155)155) עבודה זרה י״ט א׳.
Rav kept himself clean not only from any sin with regard to women, but he was also very scrupulous in all his other actions. He used to say: “A man should never have a lighter and a heavier measure, so that he has never a chance to use them.”156)156) בבא בתרא פּ״ט ב׳. In the same way he would say: “if one has a coin whose metal has been lightened, he should not keep it with him, because he may have a chance to use it in a transaction and thereby swindle people.”157)157) בבא מציעא נ״ב א׳. Concerning a similar matter Rav said; “Whoever lends anything to another person without a witness, tempts the borrower to deny the loan, and this is equivalent to placing stumbling blocks before the blind.”158)158) בבא מציעא ע״ה ב׳. More than anything else, however Rav fought against corrupt manners and loose morals. He ordained the severest laws and when he saw that their effect was slight, he tried to influence people by little stories which we would weave into his lectures from time to time.
One of these stories is as follows: There was once an apprentice who coveted his master’s wife. The master needed a loan of a certain amount of money to continue his work. The apprentice said to him; “Send me your wife and I will lend you the money you need.”
The master sent his wife off to the apprentice to fetch him the money. The apprentice kept her days. Then the master came to the apprentice and said: “Where is my wife whom I sent to you?” The apprentice answered: “I was through with her immediately and sent her home. But I have heard that a band of young men seized her on the road and misused her.”
“Then what shall I do now?” said the master.
“If you will hear my advice,” answered the apprentice, “you should divorce her.”
“Unfortunately I cannot divorce her,” said the master, “because her marriage contract calls for a large sum of money, and I haven’t got so much.”
“Then I will lend you the money to pay her contract,” answered the apprentice.
The apprentice did as he had promised and lent his master the money to pay his wife’s contract. Thus the master divorced his wife and the apprentice married her immediately afterwards.
When the time came for the master to pay his debt to the apprentice, he had no money to pay and the apprentice forced him to serve him as a slave until he had worked off his debt. Then when the apprentice and his wife sat at the table and entertained each other with food and drink, the master had to stand behind them and watch them kiss each other while he served them — and when he would bring them wine his tears would fall into their cup.
The Almighty could not allow such a crime to go unnoticed and at that moment the doom of Jerusalem was sealed, and the place where such a thing could occur was condemned to be destroyed.159)159) גטין נ״ה א׳.
Rav related such another tale in a lecture of his: There was once a man who fell sick of desire for a certain woman. Doctors were consulted. They said the man could not be cured until he possessed that woman…. The scholars said: “Let him die, but he shall not have the woman!”
The doctors said: “If you show him the woman undressed there is a chance he may get better.” The scholars replied: “Let him die, but he shall not see the woman undressed.”
At last the doctors said: “Just let him speak with the woman over a screen.” The scholars answered: “If his desire is so strong, he must be allowed to die, but he cannot be permitted to converse with that woman over a screen.”160)160) סנהדרין ע״ה ב׳.
Besides the question of women, Rav paid a great deal of attention to education. He once set the age for beginning school in his remark to R. Samuel bar Shilet, who was a school teacher in Sura: “Until a child turns six, do not begin to teach him, and if you should ever want to strike a child, use only the sole of a shoe.161)161) בבא בתרא כ״א א׳. Study too was considered highly important by Rav. He would say: “A man should not willingly stay even one hour away from school.”162)162) שבת פּ״ג ב׳.
Rav was a “rationalist” in questions of religion, and he used to say: “The Almighty gave us the commandments in order to refine the Jews, as the goldsmith takes gold in his crucible and refines it of the dross.”163)163) מדרש שמואל פּרשה ד׳.
Rav fought shameless conduct with all his strength. He inveighed in the strongest terms against those who went in false ways and he frequently could not restrain himself from cursing them. He considered backsliding from religious faith to be a form of lax morals. But above all Rav fought for social justice, to protect the weak against the strong. He stood in principle for the workers’ right to freedom of movement when they were hired by the day and he said: “A worker may change his mind about a job he has undertaken even in the middle of the day.”164)164) בבא קמא קט״ז ב׳, בבא מציעא י׳ א׳.
He attacked employers sharply when they oppressed their workers and he said: “For four things the property of householders comes to ruin: when they withhold the wages of their hired workers, or when they deceive their employees, or when they shift the burden of public service to others, and when they are proud.”165)165) סוכה כ״ט ב׳. Rav’s fight against those who refused to shoulder their share of public burdens was particularly bitter. This was a consequence of his own nature, for he himself was always prepared to assume responsibility for any community interest. He wanted to see the same sort of devotion on the part of officials to their posts as to the persons whom they loved. The leaders of the people should not feel themselves superior to ordinary folk. Rav said: “Any representative of the people who creates an atmosphere of fear around him, and not for the sake of Heaven, will never have the fortune of seeing his son become a scholar.”166)166) ראש השנה י״ז א׳.
Rav was particularly angry about proud people and he said: “Whoever is proud and considers himself too good for other people, loses his learning, if he is a scholar,167)167) פּסחים ט״ו ב׳. and if someone was proud, even though he was not a scholar, Rav said: “Whoever struts about in the garb of a scholar, and is not a scholar, will never be admitted into the company of the Almighty.”168)168) בבא בתרא צ״ה א׳.
As badly as he hated boastfulness and vanity, Rav dis-liked people who caused excessive fear in their own household. He said: “Whoever causes excessive fear in his own house, drives people to laxity of morals, shedding of blood, and desecration of the Sabbath.”169)169) גטין ו׳ ב׳.
Speaking about the inhabitants of neighboring cities whom he considered dangerous thieves, he said: “If a citizen of Geresh ever kisses you, count your teeth to see if you have them all. If anybody from K’far P’kud falls into step with you, it is surely because he is pleased by your cloak and wants to take it away from you. If a man from Pumbaditha accompanies you, change your inn, so that he will not know where you are staying.”170)170) חולין קכ״ז א׳. When he was told of a man who came to Babylon and could not get either food or work, he said: “The rich men of Babylon are destined for hell; they are descended from the mixed multitude of Egyptians who went out with the Jews from Egypt, for only merciful people are descended from father Abraham.”171)171) ביצה ל״ב ב׳.
As we have said Rav traveled a great deal in Palestine as well as in Babylonia, and even though he considered his voyages burdensome and would say that “A man’s traveling is more difficult than a woman’s traveling,”172)172) כתובות כ״ה א׳, סנהדרין כ״ו א׳. he loved the work of spreading the Torah with which he occupied himself on his travels. It seemed to him that “the Almighty has made everyone’s trade delightful in his own eyes.”173)173) ברכות מ״ג ב׳. Still it seems that he grew tired of the traveling and consequently he said: “Any town where the roads go up and down hills makes man and beast old too soon.”174)174) ערובין נ״ו א׳. Rav learned the value of hospitality on the road, he would often speak about the Patriarchs and their behavior towards strangers and wanderers. He praised Barzilai the Gileadite who brought king David various utensils and foodstuffs when he was in flight before his son Absalom (Samuel II, 17:28). Since the verse mentions the word ״קלי״ twice, Rav concluded that Barzilai brought two kinds of cooked food and stewed fruits.175)175) עבודה זרה ל״ה ב׳.
He interpreted the fact that David sent ten of his men to Nabal the Carmelite (Samuel I, 25) saying that because Nabal gave the ten to eat, although the Bible does not mention the fact, God granted him ten more days to live in return for the meal.176)176) ראש השנה י״ח א׳. Rav said also that if Jonathan, son of Saul, had given David two loaves of bread when he told him to flee from his father’s wrath, David would not have had to take any bread from Ahimelech and the priests of Nob would not have been slain.177)177) סנהדרין ק״ד א׳.
As we have said Rav was friendly with hunters and shepherds, from whom he learned a great deal about wild and domestic animals.178)178) מועד קטן י״א א׳, סנהדרין ה׳ ב׳. Rav allowed his own son Chiya to shoot with a bow.179)179) נדרים ע״ו ב׳. In general hunting was not uncommon among the Jews of Babylonia. The story goes that a certain “Tabi Rishba” would set out nets and snares to trap birds and animals,180)180) שבת י״ז ב׳. and another named “Joseph Rishba” engaged in the same trade.181)181) שבת ק״ל א׳.
Rav’s aphorisms are very instructive:
“The curse of a scholar,” he said, “even if spoken conditionally will always be realized.”182)182) מכות י״א א׳. When a person gives a present to his friend, he should tell him about it.183)183) שבת י׳ ב׳. Even the casual conversation of a scholar demands careful analysis.184)184) סוכה כ״א ב׳, עבודה זרה י״ט א׳. The camel wanted to have horns so the ears he had previously were cut off.185)185) סנהדרין ק״ו א׳. A prisoner cannot break jail by himself.186)186) ברכות ה׳ א׳, סנהדרין צ״ה א׳. You need not be surprised that your offspring can sometimes teach you wisdom.187)187) יבמות ס״ג א׳. One should not speak insultingly of a Gentile in a Proselyte’s presence.188)188) סנהדרין צ״ד א׳. “If a hound barks at you, you may enter the house, but if a bitch barks at you, do not enter the house.”189)189) ערובין פּ״ז א׳. This quotation is ordinarily explained as meaning that a person may enter his son-in-law’s house even if he growls like a dog, but should not enter his son’s house if his wife howls like a bitch.
A Jew, even though he has sinned, is still a Jew.190)190) סנהדרין מ״ד ב׳. On another occasion Rav advised one of his students to take to skinning carcasses in the streets rather than be dependent on charity.191)191) בבא קמא ק״י א׳. Whose hope lies on another person’s table lives in a world of gloom.192)192) ביצה ל״ב ב׳. Pious people regard their money more highly than their lives, for they come by their money with difficulty since they do not practice robbery.193)193) סוטה י״ב א׳.
Rav’s aphorisms which speak of things which are found in threes, are particularly interesting:
Three sorts of people should be guarded: sick men, brides and grooms.194)194) ברכות נ״ד ב׳. There are three sins from which one cannot guard oneself: thinking of sin, inattention during prayer, hearing or repeating gossip.195)195) בבא בתרא קס״ד ב׳. Three on whom God should have mercy, so that they may be not spoiled: a good king, a good year and a good dream.196)196) ברכות נ״ה ב׳. Three things shorten men’s lives when a person is offered the privilege of reading from the Bible in the Synagogue and refuses, when he is offered the privilege of blessing the wine and he refuses, and when he lives in grand style.197)197) ברכות נ״ה ב׳. Three things which lengthen men’s lives if much time is spent on them: prayer, eating at the table, and cleaning the body.198)198) ברכות נ״ד ב׳. Three sorts of persons whom God loves: one who never gets angry, one who never gets drunk, and one who is not stubborn.199)199) פּסחים קי״ג א׳.
Rav dealt with hundreds of religious problems, as well as with problems of ordinary human conduct; in addition he had to settle hundreds of disputes concerning property, or the sale or purchase of various objects. He even had to judge a case once in which a thief sold his loot to the original owner.200)200) בבא מציעא ט״ז ב׳.
We can see that Rav had a sharp eye for people and events. He was incomparably sympathetic and interested in all phases of life. He always kept the limits of propriety in mind. His dearest wish was to see the Jewish people secure in their national existence. He overestimated people in his kindness and yet he was very concerned for the truth. He took a deep interest in the differences in human character and tried to learn the true worth of all human occupations. When teaching his students he was very watchful of their behavior and immediately detected any inattention. He was very strict in demanding religious regularity and did not recognize any obstacles in the way of observance.
It is related that when Rav came to Babylonia, he saw how lightly the Jews treated certain commandments, for instance, how they would mix meat and dairy dishes as though there were no law on the subject which forbade one to leave meat without special care. Consequently he was “severe” on all these questions even though in other cases he tried to make the legal prescriptions easier when he saw that times required it. In these matters he was very meticulous in discovering exactly the proper change required by the times or the case. For instance, when a case arose concerning oaths, he ruled differently concerning the oath a person took to guard anything that was given or lent to him, and which he later loaned to another or refused to return, and concerning the oath a person took to do or not to do something.201)201) ירושלמי שבועות פרק ח׳ הלכה ב׳. Rav also ruled differently concerning “sacred property” when it was something which a person had voluntarily decided to give to God, that is to the priests, and when it was the gifts which a person was obliged to give to the priests.202)202) ירושלמי דמאי פרק ז׳ הלכה ו׳. Rav made the same distinction in dealing with the difference between selling and giving away an object.203)203) בבא בתרא נ״ג א׳. He said also that if a man transfers his property to his wife he may no longer have its profits. But if he sells his field to his wife and she pays him with her own money, he may have the use of its fruits.204)204) ירושלמי כתובות פרק ט׳ הלכה א׳.
Rav’s ruling was also quite different in the case of an “original marriage contract,” which he considered as the price which a man had to pay for his wife, and an “addition to the contract,” which he considered a gift. In questions concerning the transfer of property he considered it to be of the highest importance by whom and under what circumstances the property was being transferred.205)205) כתובות פ״ו א׳.
These laws seemed particularly important in Rav’s eyes because of the difference in the rights of a priest and an ordinary Jew, as well as between a Jew and a Gentile, or when an ordinary Jew owned something which he had inherited from his mother, which his mother had from her father, who was a priest.206)206) ערכין ל״ג א׳.
Rav held likewise that a man might change his mind in the middle of a transaction. He therefore established a rule that “if a man begins something conditionally and then stops it unconditionally, we may assume that he has changed his mind.”207)207) כתובות ע״ב ב׳.
Since Rav felt the responsibility of a leader of his people he worried about the regulations governing all the Jewish cities and all the academies, the field work and the draining of swamps. At the same time he enacted laws concerning Jewish life and settled disputes.
The rules which tradition has handed down as those which guided Rav in his decisions are very interesting. Rav said that no man would lie about an event that had occurred in public.208)208) בכורות ל״ו א׳. A man does not leave an oath as an inheritance to his children, since children cannot perform an act for their father which their father had sworn to do.209)209) שבועות מ״ח א׳, ירושלמי שבועות פרק ז׳ הלכה ז׳.
He felt also that a dying man would not lie.210)210) ירושלמי בבא קמא פרק ט׳ הלכה ז׳.
If a person changes the conditions of a thing or sets it down in a place which is unsuited for it and it is later damaged by a second person, the latter is not required to pay the damages.211)211) בבא קמא כ׳ א׳.
Although a Jew is forbidden to receive interest on money loaned, he may lend his own children money at interest so that they may know the feelings of one who has to pay it.212)212) בבא מציעא ע״ה א׳.