On Beitza 19a, Rava encounters a group of talmidei chachamim, namely the “rabbanan devei Rav,” interpreting a troublesome brayta detailing a dispute between a tanna kamma and Rabbi Shimon Shezuri. The tanna kamma says that if a vessel was ritually impure before Yom Tov, one may not immerse it during twilight. One may not immerse this vessel on Yom Tov. Rabbi Shimon Shezuri reacts to this and says that even on a weekday, we don’t immerse it, for it requires nightfall for the vessel to become pure. The strange implication would be that the tanna kamma doesn’t require nightfall, yet this cannot be so.
The rabbanan devei Rav were sitting and discussing this brayta, and explained it as a case where the person was running with the vessel in hand. This action reveals the person’s intent, and his knowledge that he must complete the action before nightfall. Rabbi Shimon Shezuri would explain away that running as pertaining to completing his work. Rava relates that he objected to them that everyone (including Rabbi Shimon Shezuri) agrees that one’s intent is evident from his actions, but they are arguing about a person who, from other inquiries posed to rabbis, betrays a lack of knowledge of halacha.
Who are these rabbanan devei Rav? This is a machloket between Artscroll and Koren. Artscroll translates, “I met the disciples of the yeshiva.” Koren translates “I found the sages of the school of Rav.” Each translation has merit.
The phrase itself is ambiguous. We see this construct in terms of other amoraim. For instance, we have רבנן דבי רב אשי, the rabbis of the academy of Rav Ashi, in Menachot 30a, Shabbat 41a, etc., and of Rav Yosef’s academy in Pesachim 116b. Along this pattern, Rav, the first-generation amora, could have students and an academy. However, “Rav” also means master/teacher, and “bei rav” has associations of a yeshiva in general. In Taanit 23b, the Sages would send יָנוֹקֵי דְּבֵי רַב, schoolchildren, to Choni HaMeagel’s grandson, to grab his hem and ask him for rain. In Bava Metzia 71a, Rav Yosef teaches that a widow may not raise a dog or allow a yeshiva student (בר בי רב) to lodge in her home. Rashi, on our daf, comments לתלמידים שבבית המדרש, “to the students of the beit midrash,” selecting this second meaning. Since Rav is a first-generation amora and Rava is a fourth-generation amora, Rashi wouldn’t expect Rava to encounter Rav’s students.
Yet, in Sukkah 17a, אָמַר רַבָּה: אַשְׁכַּחְתִּינְהוּ לְרַבָּנַן דְּבֵי רַב דְּיָתְבִי וְקָאָמְרִי. Rabba encounters this group explaining that airspace invalidates s’chach in three (handbreadths) and pasul s’chach invalidates in four (handbreadths). This seems to contradict the preceding mishnah, which had three handbreadths for airspace and four cubits for pasul s’chach, so Rabba contends with them. Rashi comments on רבנן דבי רב that this was משמיה דרב, “in Rav’s name.” This could indicate that these are direct students of Rav, or members of his academy. However, see that the Rosh incorporates these words into his text, so perhaps this is Rashi’s text rather than commentary. (See also Shabbat 85a / Eruvin 89b.) Also, see that the Munich 141 manuscript interjects instead אמר רב, which is easily an erroneous duplication of the preceding word וְקָאָמְרִי. Still, they respond to Rabba saying that both Rav and Shmuel interpret the mishnah otherwise, as referring to a curved wall. The implication might be that you, Rabba of Pumpedita, are coming against us from the school of Rav, but Rav and Shmuel interpret your prooftext otherwise.
There are several sugyot with this template, in which: אַשְׁכַּחְתִּינְהוּ לְרַבָּנַן דְּבֵי רַב דְּיָתְבִי וְקָאָמְרִי—an amora relates that he encountered these rabbis interpreting one way. Then, וְאָמֵינָא לְהוּ אֲנָא, he relates his dispute with them. Sometimes they respond. Sometimes, at the end, another Amora (Abaye/Rav Yosef) weighs in to challenge the Amora’s position. This pattern occurs in Beitza 19a, Sukkah 17a, Ketubot 90b, Bava Kamma 85a/90b, and Niddah 27a, 47a, and 53a. Mainly, the amora is Rabba or Rava, but manuscripts often have the variant, so perhaps it is always Rabba. We might disambiguate based on who argues, such as Ketubot 90b, where Rav Yosef argues with him. An outlier is Niddah 47a, where the amora encountering this fellowship is Rav Huna b. Rav Yehoshua, a fifth-generation amora. How could he interact with the students of Rav?
Rabba, Rava, Rav Yosef and Abaye were all heads of, or otherwise associated with, the Pumbedita academy. Rabba studied first from Rav Huna at Sura, then from Rav Yehuda at Pumbedita, before becoming head of Pumbedita himself (so he is more compelling than “Rava”). Rav Huna b. Rav Yehoshua studied under Rava at Pumbedita. The רַבָּנַן דְּבֵי רַב, then, indicates the Sura academy, and the point is this interaction between academies. (Note also that Sukkah 17b ascribes this account to Sura, while the Nehardeans had a different presentation of the underlying ideas.)
In Sanhedrin 17b, the Gemara relays a tradition that when we encounter אמרי בי רב, “they say in Rav’s academy,” it refers to Rav Huna (despite being plural), Rav’s second-generation student. Yet, they point out, on occasion Rav Huna himself says אמרי בי רב. Rather, it refers to Rav Hamnuna II, another second-generation student of Rav. However, this is not the same expression as the rabbanan devei Rav, where the plural is carried out throughout the discourse.
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.