March 3, 2024
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A mishna on Nazir 5a declares that an unspecified nezirut (abstinence from wine) is for 30 days. In the Gemara, Rav Matnah and Bar Pada present competing numerical derivations, and, perhaps, conclusions. Rav Matnah explains that Bamidbar 6:5 says קָדוֹשׁ יִהְיֶה, “holy shall he be,” and the gematria the two yuds and two hehs sums to 30. In contrast, Bar Pada says that that we count the occurrences of the word “nazir” and “nizro” (and neder, and its various forms) in the Torah (actually, in the parsha in Bamidbar 6), which sum to 29, thereabout1.

What do we know about Rav Matna? First, let’s consider his name. Koren vocalizes it as מַתָּנָא/Mattana, while Artscroll vocalizes it מַתְנָא/Masna (using the Ashkenazic and typical Yeshivish pronunciation). I’d understand it as a shortening of Mattanya, which was King Tzikeyahu’s name before Nevuchadnezzar renamed him (Melachim II 24:17). It’s related to the name “Mattityahu,” gift of Hashem.

Two Amoraim were named Rav Matna. One was a second-generation Babylonian student of Shmuel. The other was a fourth-generation Babylonian student of Rav Chisda and colleague of Abaye. There is also Rabbi Matanya, a fifth-generation Amora of Eretz Yisrael. Given that in Nazir, this scholar argues with (Rabbi Yehuda) Bar Pada, a first-generation Amora, we are speaking of second-generation Rav Matna I.

Rav Aharon Hyman, in Toledot Tannaim veAmoraim, notes that the redactor placed Rav Matna and Bar Pada out of chronological order in Nazir 5a . However, I wouldn’t consider this an error. Occasionally, the Talmud will deviate from chronological order for structural purposes. Here, 30 days is the simpler, obvious and default position, also gaining prominence from its being the straightforward meaning of the mishna. The Gemara repeatedly states regarding Tannaitic sources: בִּשְׁלָמָא לְרַב מַתְנָא נִיחָא, אֶלָּא לְבַר פְּדָא קַשְׁיָא. If we examine the parallel Yerushalmi, transitional Tanna / Amora Bar Kappara (who is Bar Pada’s maternal uncle) gives the Rav Matna position and exposition, and is listed first. Meanwhile, third-generation Tiberian Amora Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman cites Rabbi Yehonatan with the Bar Pada position and exposition.

In a separate entry for מתנה, Rav Hyman mentions that Rabbi Shin Shalom—in his glossary to Yuchsin—notes he saw in a concealed scroll from Mar Nissim Gaon (990-1062, Kairouan), that Rabbi Yochanan had 10 sons, and all of them died, and one son that remained to him was named “Rav Matna.” And Rabbi Yochanan sent him to Bavel to study before Shmuel, and he was a colleague to Rav Yehuda. And, perhaps, this is the plain Rav Matna.

Indeed, assuming the account is legitimate, the talmid muvhak of Shmuel/colleague of Rav Yehuda would be Rav Matna I. Yet, it’s surprising that this isn’t ever mentioned in the Talmud. Rabbi Yochanan would carry about a bone from his 10th son, who died (Brachot 5b) with the implication that all of them had died. Kiddushin 71b relates that Rabbi Yochanan had a daughter, whom he tried to marry off to Ze’iri. We don’t find mention of a son.

Also—as Chullin 95b details—initially, Rabbi Yochanan considered Shmuel a mere colleague. He was finally impressed by Shmuel’s knowledge of hilchot tereifot and acknowledged him as a teacher, resolved to travel to Bavel, and asked a child to recite a verse he had learned (a kind of permitted divination). The child recited ושמואל מת (Shmuel I 28:3) from which Rabbi Yochanan deduced that the Amora Shmuel had died, so he did not go. Meanwhile, Shmuel hadn’t died, but this result was to spare Rabbi Yochanan the trouble of the journey. Based on this, I wonder why Rabbi Yochanan would send his son to Shmuel, a mere colleague, or to a teacher—one he thought was deceased.

We can filter Talmudic occurrences of Rav Matna to those which are clearly Rav Matna I, based on who he’s grouped with. He cites Shmuel Berachot 36a (that one recites Shehakol on raw gourd and barley flour); Eruvin 6b (concurring with Rav Yehuda’s citation of Shmuel—that within Chananya, within Beit Hillel—that an alleyway open on two sides requires a door on one side, that door needn’t be locked); Chagiga 23a (that a mishna describing vessels fashioned and completed in purity, were completed by a chaver); Menachot 33a (that it’s a mitzvah to place the mezuzah in the upper third of the doorpost); 40b (that techeilet aren’t subject to shatnez concerned, even when attached to an exempt cloak); Niddah 27a (relating an incident in which the Sages attributed an afterbirth to a birth ten days previous); and Yerushalmi Berachot 1:5 (explaining a mishna in Tamid that when the Temple official instructed the kohanim to recite one blessing, it was Birkat HaTorah). In some of these citations, Rav Matna appears in the middle of the chain. He also often cites Rav, and, occasionally, Shmuel’s father and Levi. Rabbi Zeira I often cites him.

After Rav and Shmuel’s death, when Rav Huna ruled in Sura and Rav Yehuda in Pumpedita, Rav Matna then went to Papunya and disseminated Torah there. Papunya was a city close to Pumpedita. Some incidents involving the Papunyans follow. Pesachim 42a: Rav Yehuda said that a woman may only knead (matzah) dough with mayim shelanu, water which had been left indoors overnight to cool. Rav Matna lectured in Papunya, and on erev Pesach, all Papunyan residents brought their jugs to him and said “give us water,” thinking that mayim shelanu meant “our water.” He clarified it for them by restating it in Aramaic.

In Chullin 139b, he fields multiple questions from the Papunyans: Is there shiluach haken from a nest on someone’s head? Yes, based on the verse in sefer Shmuel, ואדמה על ראשו. Moshe is alluded to in the Torah before his first plaintext appearance in בשגם הוא בשר where Hashem restricts human lifespan to 120 years. Moshe lives 120 years and has the gematria of בשגם. (Note this is gematria, just as Rav Matna’s יִהְיֶה gematria in our sugya.) Haman is alluded to via המן העץ; Esther via ואנכי הסתר אסתיר, and Mordechai from the Targum of Mor Deror, מירא דכיא.

Rav Yehuda seems to have been a better student of Shmuel than his colleagues. Moed Katan 26a, Eruvin 80a and Avodah Zara 39a (after following Rabbenu Chananel’s correct girsa) describe separate incidents in which Rav Matna isn’t able to answer posed to him—whereupon the questioner goes to Rav Yehuda, who answers with cites Shmuel’s position. Yet, in Kiddushin 70b, Rav Yehuda appeals to the authority of Rav Matna concurrence, that Shmuel, indeed, stated that anyone who claims Hasmonean ancestry is a slave. Obviously, he respects Rav Matna.


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 Pseudo-Rashi lists the occurrences, which also include variants of נדר, and notes a 30th occurrence, and explains that נזר אלקיו as referring to his עטרה, crown, as with the Targum. Indeed, in our Mikraot Gedolot, that instance is translated as כלילא. Though the precise Onkelos text at Mechon Mamre has נִזְרָא. The parallel Yerushalmi explains the deduction otherwise, that אחד לחידושו יצא, one is needed for the very novelty of nazir!

2 Most of what I write here—even unattributed—channels Rav Hyman.

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