Sunday, September 25, 2022

On Ketubot 10b, we encounter a small corpus of statements by Rav Chana of Baghdad, רַב חָנָא בַּגְדָּתָאָה. Rashi (Berachot 54b) explains the appellation as of a city, Baghdad (and Abraham Cohen describes this as possibly modern Eski Baghdad / Old Baghdad). Elsewhere, (Yevamot 67a) Rashi explains בַּגְדָּתָאָה as a either a contraction for master of aggada, or a place name.

Rav Chana of Baghdad was a second-generation Babylonian Amora. He was Shmuel’s student and Rabbi Yehuda’s colleague. One case where he cites Shmuel is Shabbat 147b. Rabba bar bar Chana, a third-generation Babylonian Amora, who became a talmid muvhak of Rabbi Yochanan, often traveled back and forth between Israel and Bavel to convey the Torah of Israel to Pumpedita and to Sura (Berachot 24b).

In this incident, Rabba bar bar Chana arrived in Pumpedita. He didn’t attend Rav Yehuda’s lecture there, so Rav Yehuda sent his attendant, Adda, to drag Rabba bar bar Chana to lecture. When Rav Yehuda lectured, as per the Mishna, that one may not reset a bone on Shabbat, Rabba bar bar Chana spoke up to cite Rav Chana of Baghdad, who cited Shmuel, who taught (based on his version of the Mishna) that one may reset a bone. Rav Yehuda exclaimed, “Chana is ours, and Shmuel is ours. Wasn’t I right to drag you to lecture?” That is, Rabba bar bar Chana was bringing local Pumpeditan Torah to lecture — rather than statements of Rabbi Yochanan — but that was valuable, for Rav Yehuda hadn’t heard it himself. Rav Yehuda was a latecomer to Nehardea, having first studied under Rav and then Rav Asi until their respective deaths, and then studied for 10 years from Shmuel.

When Shmuel wished to promulgate a halachic matter — that one is able to transfer ownership of an object to a fetus, he instructed Rav Chana of Baghdad to gather 10 men and he would tell Rav Chana in front of them (Bava Batra 142b; cited in Yevamot 67a and Ketubot 7b). Shmuel does the same to inform Rav Chana that libations which become impure are burned on their own wooden pyre in the Temple courtyard (Zevachim 92a).

In Eruvin 81b (cited also in Eruvin 95b), Rabbi Yehuda (the Tanna) declared that the requirement, that an eruv be established only with a person’s knowledge, applied to an eruv techumin, but not an eruv chatzeirot. Rav Yehuda lectured about Shmuel’s position — that we rule like Rabbi Yehuda here — as well as in all aspects of eruvin. Rav Chana of Baghdad, who should perhaps know Shmuel’s position, asked a clarifying question: “Did Shmuel say this about an alleyway whose cross-beam or side-post was removed on Shabbat?” (Rabbi Yehuda had ruled it was permitted, since they entered Shabbat in a permitted state.) Rav Yehuda then distinguishes in his citation between eruv (the former cases) and partitions (the latter case).

He seems prominent amongst the second-generation Amoraim (whether in Nehardea or in Pumpedita?). When Rav Yehuda fell ill and recovered (Berachot 54b), Rav Chana and the (other) Sages visited him and blessed Hashem, “Who has given you to us and not to dust.” Rav Yehuda responded that by hearing their alternate formulation, he had thereby been exempted from saying HaGomel. (The Gemara adds that Rav Yehuda had answered: “Amen!”) Regardless, Rav Chana led this delegation of Sages.

In our sugya (Ketubot 10b), Rav Chana declares that dates have five qualities: “מְשַׁחֲנָן מַשְׂבְּעָן מְשַׁלְשְׁלָן מְאַשְּׁרָן וְלָא מְפַנְּקָן — they warm and satiate, loosen the bowels, strengthen but do not pamper.” I don’t know if this is cultural or medical knowledge —see Ulla’s experience with dates as satiating (particularly useful for Torah scholars) and loosening bowels (unfortunately) in Taanit 9b — derived somehow from the name (note ש repetition sounds); or derived from the verses. More than a millennium later, a leading Baghdadi chacham, the Ben Ish Chai, in his Ben Yehoyada commentary, explains his landsman’s statement. “He comes to proclaim their praise, so that those engaged in Torah study can make regular use of them. For he was of the residents of our city, Baghdad — may Hashem protect it — which was a prominent city in Babylonia, in which many dates were found.” Ben Yehoyaha relates the five attributes of dates to the five attributes that a righteous person must possess.

Rav Chana of Baghdad also lists five attributes of rain (matar): “מַשְׁקֶה מַרְוֶה וּמְזַבֵּל וּמְעַדֵּן וּמַמְשִׁיךְ — it irrigates, saturates, and fertilizes the land, refines the fruit and causes it to proliferate.” Again, these are five attributes, which therefore might be part of the exposition’s form. Despite some sound similarity, Rashi (in brackets) asserts that the exposition is based on logic (sevara) rather than מטר’s letters. (Compare with the juxtaposed exposition from Rabbi Eleazar, which more certainly is based on letters.) Another Amora, fifth-generation Rava bar Yishmael or Rav Yemar bar Shelemya, provides a Scriptural allusion, from Tehillim 65, which provides a basis for all five attributes. I wonder if the same might be true of dates, from one verse or aggregating attributes from across Tanach. Let us note that Rava bar Yishmael’s verse contains“ נַחֵת,גְּדוּדֶיהָ” perhaps, a reference to Rav Chana of Baghdad. Compare this with also Moed Katan 6b, where the same uncertain character provides Scriptural support for another second-generation Amora’s (Rav Yehuda) identification of the “ishut” creature.

Rav Chana of Baghdad also seemingly provides an etymology of “אלמנה — widow,” based on her receiving a maneh (100 dinar) in her ketubah. The Talmudic narrator questions this, since a widow from betrothal would receive 200 dinar, then answers plausibly that one is an etymological extension of the other. The Talmudic narrator asks that “אלמנה” is a Biblical word, then answers that the biblical usage is based on the future enactment by the Sages granting the widow a maneh. Note: whether the ketubah is a biblical or rabbinic dispute may only be regarding the betulah. Regardless, Rav Chana should be consistent with his teacher, Shmuel, who considers ketubah to be rabbinic (Ketubot 10a). Finally, we might distinguish between Rav Chana’s statement and the subsequent Talmudic back-and-forth. Could Rav Chana be explaining the Mishna’s use of “”אלמנה here, omitting the divorcée and ḥalutza, saying that this was a stand-in for the class of 100 receivers?

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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