July 21, 2024
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Bava Metzia 107a: Rav Yosef as Abaye’s Anonymous Master

Last week, we observed that Abaye often referred to his uncle and teacher, Rabba bar Nachmani, as “Mar/Master.” Thus, when on Bava Metzia 107a, Abaye said “the reason for Rabban Shimon is like Mar, for Mar said (some means of working one’s worked field fertile via crop rotation),” and Rashi explained that “Mar” is Rabba, Rashi stands on extremely solid ground.

Even so, there is room for uncertainty within that evidence. To summarize last week’s caveats, most instances of “Rabba” have manuscript variants which read “Rava.” Most instances are Abaye addressing Rabba in first person, where he’d certainly use “Mar” instead of a first name. Among the few instances where Abaye refers to an authority as “Mar,” it is usually ambiguous, since neither Rabba nor his other teacher Rav Yosef is mentioned explicitly; in the one instance Rabba is explicitly mentioned, it is by the Talmudic narrator—noting a contradiction with something explicit Rabba said. There is also “Bei Mar,” the house or academy of Mar. This is also usually ambiguous, but in one instance is contrasted to that of Rav Yosef, and in another has Rabba (or Rava) sending Abaye to deliver mishloach manot. Finally, there are instances of Abaye referring to Rav Yosef, to colleagues and to an external source, such as “Mar.” We didn’t enumerate those instances, so we’ll consider them now.


Mar as Rav Yosef

Other times, “Mar” is clearly Rav Yosef. In Pesachim 52a, Abaye travels with Rav Yosef and they encounter someone who traveled from Sura academy to Pumbedita on the rabbinic Yom Tov Sheini of Shavuot. Rav Yosef excommunicates him, but Abaye suggests that “Mar” should instead merely flog him.

Talking directly to Rav Yosef, in Beitza 7b, Abaye proposes to Rav Yosef that “Mar” and Rabba are arguing about something Rabbi Zeira I said. This seems significant, for in a choice between Rabba and Rav Yosef as “Mar” here Rav Yosef wins. It needn’t be so significant, because this is Abaye directly addressing the listener as “Mar,” not describing Mar to others.

In Shabbat 107b, Abaye questions Rav Yosef based on something Mar said, that Hashem sustains everything, from the horns of wild oxen to lice eggs. Now, we see this precise statement in Avodah Zara 3b by Rav Yehuda citing Rav, and sometimes, we see a citation chain of length three: Rav Yosef citing Rav Yehuda citing Rav, so perhaps Abaye is quoting Rav Yosef to himself. Still, this might just be a way of citing an Amoraic statement (and see below).

In Megillah 28b (and Sanhedrin 10b), Rav Yosef taught a baraita, that the three, five and seven people who read from the Torah correspond to the three guards of the door, five of the officers who saw the king’s face (in Melachim II, 25:19), and the seven officers who saw the king’s face (in Yirmiyahu 25:25). Abaye asked, “Why didn’t Mar teach it to us this way before?” Rav Yosef replied, “I didn’t know you needed it. Have you even asked me something and I didn’t tell you?”

In Moed Katan 28a, since death between the ages of 50 and 60 can be attributed to karet (punishment by premature death). When Rav Yosef turned 60, he made a feast for the Sages for having escaped “karet.” Abaye said to him, “Though Mar has escaped karet of years, has Mar escaped karet of days (that is, sudden death)?” Rav Yosef replied, “At least I’ve grasped half!”

In Bava Metzia 8b, our own masechet, Abaye said to Rav Yosef, “How can Mar resolve a case of one who sits on an animal via proof from one who sits in the wagon?” Rav Yosef responds… Note that this is an internal variant girsa, אִיכָּא דְאָמְרִי. In the first version, Rav Yosef tells Abaye that he raised this objection to his own teacher, Rav Yehuda, saying, “How can Mar resolve …?” and Rav Yehuda responded.

In Bava Batra 95b (and the three Bavas are a single tractate called Nezikin), Rav Yehuda says, “One recites hagefen on wine sold in shops, despite it not being the highest quality,” Rav Chisda says that wine over which has formed a film (and isn’t so high quality), so, “Why should I recite a blessing?” Abaye says to his teacher, Rav Yosef, “We’ve heard Rav Yehuda’s position and Rav Chisda’s position. Whom does Mar (meaning Rav Yosef) maintain like?” Rav Yosef responds by citing a baraita.

In Sanhedrin 66b, Abaye’s son, the fifth- and sixth-generation Rav Bibi bar Abaye said to Rav Huna bar Rav Yehoshua, Mar doesn’t explain Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s statement like you just did! The Talmudic narrator interjects with, “Who is this ‘Mar?’” It is Rav Yosef! Read this together with Chullin 43b, where Rav Pappi says Mar doesn’t explain (something else) in this way, and the Talmudic narrator interjects that, here, Mar refers to Rav Bibi bar Abaye.

In Shavuot 13b, Rav Yosef explains the mishna in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Abaye asks him, “Does Mar mean this as specifically in accordance with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi as opposed to Rabbi Yehuda (beRabbi Illai), or does Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi hold like his teacher, Rabbi Yehuda?”

In Zevachim 62a, the appellation is reciprocated. In discussing the dimensions of Moshe’s altar, Rav Yosef said it was one cubit. (Maybe this was after Rav Yosef was stricken by an illness which caused him to forget some of his Torah.) Those in the study hall mocked him, since Shemot 27:1 explicitly gives those dimensions as five by five square. Abaye said to Rav Yosef, “Perhaps Mar was speaking about the area for arranging wood (and was misunderstood)?” Rav Yosef replied, “Mar (that is, Abaye) who is a great man, knows what I mean to say.” Thus, Abaye generally uses “Mar” when speaking directly to Rav Yosef. The one exception is Abaye’s son speaking to others.


To Contemporaries

Meanwhile, fourth-generation Abaye will employ “Mar” when respectfully speaking directly to Amoraim of the same or previous generation. We may have many examples of this in last week’s article, for each case where Abaye spoke to Rabba, but it was really Rava. Further, in Brachot 28b, Rav Avya failed to attend Rav Yosef’s lecture, so Abaye asked him why—addressing him as “Mar.”

Similarly, in Eruvin 59b, Abaye asks fourth-generation Rabbi Zeira II, asking why he (Mar) established an eruv in Rabbi Chiya’s city without leaving a section out. In Temura 14b, Abaye’s contemporary Rav Dimi brings a report of Rabbi Yochanan’s statement in which ולשלמיכם

includes a nazir’s shelamim (peace offering), and Abaye says, “And let Mar interpret ולשלמיכם as the shelamim accompanying the korban Pesach.”

Finally, in Yoma 42b, Ulla (likely third-generation Ulla I, or perhaps Abaye’s colleague Ulla II) says that throughout the passage of the red heifer, מַשְׁמָע מוֹצִיא מִיַּד מַשְׁמָע, וּמַשְׁמָע מִמֵּילָא, in certain phases, new conditions implied by the verse preclude previously stated conditions; in other phases, the conditions stand and their own and continue forward in time. On 43b, Abaye says, כֵּיוָן דְּאָמַר מָר—“Since Mar (Ulla) said X (the above), then Y follows.” I think this is directed to others; but it is also a quote of an earlier text and idea, so that an אמר מר as a quotation form is appropriate.


Quoting External Source

“Amar Mar” is a frequent Talmudic phrase, when quoting a source from elsewhere. Especially when that source has appeared in proximity—as part of another discussion—and the Talmud brings further analysis to that source, it may be introduced with “Amar Mar.” Often the source will be Tannaitic, but it needn’t be.

My strong suspicion is that—in our sugya—when Abaye began his statement with כִּדְמָר דְּאָמַר מָר, he was invoking neither Rabba nor Rav Yosef. Rather, it’s akin to Yoma 43b above, invoking an Amoraic idea discussed elsewhere. It’s akin to Shabbat 107b above, where Abaye says וְהָאָמַר מָר—assuming he wasn’t referring to Rav Yosef, but to Rav Yehuda citing Rav. Finally, it’s akin to Zevachim 96b. There, while the Torah excludes vessels used for terumah from requiring scouring and rinsing, a baraita requires it. Amoraim grapple with the contradiction. Abaye says that this biblical exclusion is only necessary for that דַּאֲמַר מַר—“Which Mar said,” and targets a law from an Amora, Rami bar Chama, just above. Rava resolves it with לדאמר מר, baraita on Zevachim 22a. Rabba bar Ulla resolves it as required לדאמר מר—tapping a law in the following mishna.

Admittedly, in our sugya, that external rabbinic citation is confusing, because the quote isn’t found anywhere else. Abaye may know rabbinic sources even if they don’t make it to our edition. I’d be happier if Abaye began כדאמר מר—instead of just כִּדְמָר—since that would more strongly suggest it’s an external citation, rather than a person. That variant indeed occurs in Vatican 117.

In conclusion, Rashi stands on strong ground in identifying “Mar” as “Rabba.” Still, much of the evidence of “Mar” as “Rabba” is direct address, which applies equally well to his other teacher and to colleagues. I’d consider Rav Yosef a plausible candidate, but would favor it being an external Amoraic statement.

Rabbi Dr. Joshua Waxman teaches computer science at Stern College for Women, and his research includes programmatically finding scholars and scholastic relationships in the Babylonian Talmud.

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