June 21, 2024
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Sukkah 46

One of my favorite songs growing up was from Rechnitzer Rejects (vol 2), “Home on the Blatt,” sung to the tune of “Home on the Range.” It starts: “Oh, give me a daf, where the sugya’s not taff [tough], where the Rashi and Tosfos is small; where seldom is heard, an Aramaic word, and my rebbe is always on call.” One stanza that is on point for this column goes, “Oh, give me a page, where machlokes don’t rage, and Abaye and Rava agree…” These lyrics humorously reference the idea that disputes between Abaye and Rava are a common feature of the Talmudic page.

Abaye and Rava were fourth-generation Babylonian Amoraim. To break this down a bit, the rabbis in the generations after the finalization of the Mishnah were Amoraim. Some lived in Babylonia, some lived in Israel, and at some point their discussions were collected into the Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud. The concept of a scholastic “generation” is a cohort of rabbis who consider each other colleagues and study and argue together. That cohort learned Torah from earlier rabbis (who they make inquiries to or cite), and those earlier rabbis form an earlier generation. This is difficult to truly capture, because every year individuals were born, and each individual interacted with other individual rabbis in different schools in different ways. Still, academics try to cluster these rabbis broadly together into scholastic “generations.” In understanding the methodology of a particular rabbi, it can be helpful to know what academy he belonged to, who his teachers and students were, and his general generation.

On Sukkah 28a we are told praise of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai (30 BCE-90 CE), that he didn’t neglect any aspect of Torah study. The extensive list of his mastery extends to דָּבָר גָּדוֹל וְדָבָר קָטָן. The Gemara elaborates that the “great matter” was the mystical design of the Divine Chariot while the “small matter” is no small matter at all, but the disputes of Abaye and Rava. This seems anachronistic, for surely Abaye and Rava were born long after Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai’s death (278 and 280 CE respectively)! Rashi explains that matters that were questions and of doubt to Abaye and Rava were clear to him since he focused on it, but it was forgotten by the times of the Amoraim. My suggestion is similar. The Tannaitic sources most often present disputes by presenting concrete cases and conflicting rulings rather than by stating the underlying principle of dispute. For instance, the Tannaitic dispute on Sukkah 33a— too many berries on a hadas invalidate, but what if they were removed on Yom Tov? Tannaim take alternate views and the Talmud proposes different halachic theories underlying the dispute.

For instance, Bava Metzia 21b: Abaye and Rava argue about יֵאוּשׁ שֶׁלֹּא מִדַּעַת Generally, one who loses an item surrenders ownership upon learning of its loss and despairing of recovering it. What if he doesn’t yet know of the loss when the finder picks it up, but if/when he discovers the loss would certainly despair? Abaye declares this invalid despair, so the finder cannot keep it, while Rava declares it valid. Unwitting despair isn’t explicitly discussed in Tannaitic sources, but Abaye and Rava each try to show how Mishnayot/braytot work with their theory and not with their opponent’s, until Rava is ultimately conclusively refuted. We typically rule like Rava but the Talmudic Narrator informs us the halacha is like Abaye in ya’al kegam, a mnemonic for the six cases where Abaye wins.

We might think that these particular legal theories of Abaye and Rava are retrojected onto these earlier sources, and that the Tannaim weren’t thinking in terms of unwitting despair. Yet, we are told, these disputes between Abaye and Rava were current even in the early days of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.

Rashi (Bava Metzia) lists the six instances Abaya prevails as:

יֵאוּשׁ שֶׁלֹּא מִדַּעַת דְּהָכָא עֵד זוֹמֵם לְמַפְרֵעַ הוּא נִפְסַל בְּסַנְהֶדְרִין (דַּף כז.) לֶחִי הָעוֹמֵד מֵאֵילָיו בְּעֵרוּבִין (דַּף טו.) קִדּוּשִׁין שֶׁלֹּא נִמְסְרוּ לְבִיאָה בְּקִדּוּשִׁין (דַּף נא.) גִּלּוּי דַּעְתָּא בְּגִטָּא בְּגִטִּין (דַּף לד.) מוּמָר אֹכֶל נְבֵלוֹת לְהַכְעִיס פָּסוּל לְעִנְיַן עֵדוּת בְּסַנְהֶדְרִין (דַּף כז.):

However, others (Rabbenu Tam, Chachmei Narvona) each identify a different dispute for lamed.

Despite the song, there are plenty of instances where Abaye and Rava agree. The phrase אַבָּיֵי וְרָבָא דְּאָמְרִי תַּרְוַיְיהוּ, “Abaye and Rava both say,” occurs 37 times across Talmud. (Still, part of the impetus for saying “they both say” is that they are frequent disputants.) And despite the mnemonic, there are other times the halacha is like Abaye. In Bava Metzia 36b, Abaye and Rava have opposing traditions as to what Rabba (their teacher) said, and we rule like Abaye. In our own sugya, Sukkah 46a, tefillin are worn all day but are removed when using the bathroom. Does one bless each time one dons them? Abaye says yes while Rava says only one blessing is made all day. We rule like Abaye, since someone testified that Rava himself would bless repeatedly. Perhaps this no longer counts as a dispute? Perhaps the yaal kegam mnemonic refers only to times the Talmudic Narrator itself brought proofs and ruled like Abaye. (Thus, the dispute about lamed, which is the least explicit.) That doesn’t preclude other instances, where the Narrator is silent, in which case this cannot be used as a general rule of psak.

By Rabbi
Dr. Joshua Waxman

 

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