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Thursday, December 08, 2022
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Can you argue with your rebbe? It may seem that a student having a halachic dispute with his teacher is disrespectful. Also, if there is mesorah, tradition, being transmitted, how could a student disagree? Yet, this is a frequent occurrence in the Talmud, where Abaye challenges Rabba or Rav Yosef; where Rav Chisda argues with his teacher-colleague Rav; or Reish Lakish challenges his teacher-colleague Rabbi Yochanan. Especially where there is a new idea under discussion, and/or they are trying to figure out how Tannaitic sources are evidence for or against a certain proposition, we can find such argument1.

Despite this, the assumption seems to be that students should agree with their teachers. Thus, in Yoma 43b, Rabbi Yochanan is certain that all shechita can be performed by a non-kohen, so much so that when a “Tanna” (by which we mean an Amora who recites Tannaitic sources such as braytot in the study hall) said that shechita of the para aduma was an exception, he told him to recite it outside—meaning that he rejected the Brayta. And, continues the Talmudic Narrator, Rabbi Yochanan was so certain of this that he even argued with his teacher, אֲפִילּוּ לְרַבֵּיהּ לָא צָיֵית. For Rabbi Yochanan had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak, אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יְהוֹצָדָק, that the para aduma was an exception.

I discussed this phenomenon in my recent article on Ketubot 52b, “On Behalf of,” where I wasn’t so certain that Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak was his teacher, and that can account for why Rabbi Yochanan didn’t defend his “teacher” when the latter was insulted by Reish Lakish (Sanhedrin 26a). I suggested that the word מִשּׁוּם is simple citation within Tannaitic texts, and that the citation will be מִשּׁוּם rather than אָמַר even in a citation chain, as soon as we reach a Tanna or someone from the transitional Tanna/Amora generation. When used regarding Amoraim, it can indicate citation without endorsement.

Thus, on behalf of. Also as discussed there, 15 times in the Talmud, a proposed solution to an internal inconsistency within a Sage’s position is הָא דִידֵיהּ הָא דְרַבֵּיהּ, “this is his position, while that is his teacher’s position.” For instance, in Rosh Hashanah 34b, Rabbi Yochanan differs with Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak about a significant pause in shofar blasts, where Rabbi Yochanan holds it doesn’t matter, while Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak holds it does matter for reading Megillat Esther or Hallel.

It is typically the Talmudic Narrator who suggests this, but the Talmudic Narrator is both bold and humble. Bold, in grappling with and contending with ideas proposed by Amoraim, and humble, in usually only channeling or repurposing ideas first used by named Amoraim. For הָא דִידֵיהּ הָא דְרַבֵּיהּ, this is first used by Abaye in Zevachim 78b-79a. There, the Gemara frames a dispute within positions attributed to Rabbi Yehuda about nullifying liquids of same or similar type between a Mishna and Brayta. Abaye says הָא דִידֵיהּ הָא דְרַבֵּיהּ, pointing to where Rabbi Yehuda says mishum Rabban Gamliel that blood doesn’t nullify blood; spittle, spittle; nor urine, urine. Rava resolves the contradiction otherwise, by making the cases different, so that in the Mishna’s case, the bucket is internally pure and externally impure. Similarly, in Chullin 137b, Abaye challenges a report brought from Israel by Rav Dimi, about positions of Rav and of Rabbi Yochanan mishum Rabbi Yannai. Abaye says אַנְחַת לָן חֲדָא וְאֶקָּשֵׁת לָן חֲדָא, you’ve made one statement work nicely for us and one statement difficult for us. Likely Abaye himself, or else the Talmudic Narrator on his behalf, explains that the internal contradiction within Rabbi Yochanan is fine because הָא דִידֵיהּ הָא דְרַבֵּיהּ, he is merely citing rather than endorsing his teacher Rabbi Yannai.

In our sugya, Nedarim 19b, there’s an apparent contradiction between two statements of Rabbi Yehuda, in a Mishna vs. in a Brayta, about interpreting ambiguous nedarim based on local meaning and knowledge of rare terms, e.g. teruma meaning the Temple collection. Rava offers one suggestion, then Rav Ashi addresses the contradiction with הָהִיא רַבִּי יְהוּדָה מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן, that the lenient position is based on Rabbi Yehuda’s citation without endorsement of Rabbi Tarfon. Now, the words הָא דִידֵיהּ הָא דְרַבֵּיהּ aren’t employed, but the concept is the same. With Abaye and Rav Ashi taking this approach, there’s ample precedent for the Talmudic Narrator. And, at least in many instances, the Talmudic Narrator could be Rav Ashi himself, rather than a Savoraic or later stratum.

Note the citation is mishum Rabbi Tarfon. This adds to all 15 cases of הָא דִידֵיהּ where mishum is employed. This correlation of mishum with citation without endorsement suggests that this might, sometimes, be its meaning. However, we should distinguish between recall (sensitivity) and precision (specificity). Yes, out of 15 examples of הָא דִידֵיהּ, in 15, the citation term was mishum. However, out of all examples of mishum, how many are citation without endorsement? We’d have to tally these up and haven’t yet done so.

Finally, what’s the relationship between Rabbi Yehuda (ben Rabbi Illai, fifth-generation Tanna) and Rabbi Tarfon? Especially since some suggested (contrary to my suggestion) that mishum means hearing indirectly, and others have suggested it means it is a primary teacher—did they actually see one another? While Rabbi Tarfon was a fourth-generation Tanna, Rabbi Akiva’s teacher—as discussed in “Now the Student Has Become the Colleague” on Ketubot 84—Rabbi Yehuda did interact with Rabbi Tarfon in his youth. He relates how, as a minor, he read the Megillah before Rabbi Tarfon and the elders in Lod (Megillah 20a), and often cites Rabbi Tarfon or describes interactions. Despite this, I’m not persuaded that that makes Rabbi Tarfon his rebbe muvhak, over and above Rabbi Akiva, or that mishum needs to have this implication.


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.


1 That isn’t to say that students don’t often agree with their teachers. I think we find plenty of instances where there’s an argument amongst colleagues, X and Y, and then find X’s students assume like X’s position in ensuing discussions, and the same for Y.]

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