June 22, 2024
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Rabbi Abba bar Zavda: Sukkah 25

The Mishnah (Sukkah 25a) relates that one engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from the obligation to sit in a sukkah. Thus, when Rav Nachman sat Rabba b. Rav Huna and Rav Chisda in a sukkah they deemed invalid, they didn’t object since they were attending the Exilarch’s pirka (learning event; Sukkah 10). Similarly, the pair slept on the Sura riverbank rather than in a sukkah for the same reason (Sukkah 26). This rule applies when one is preoccupied with a mitzvah, but not if one isn’t preoccupied or where the preoccupation is not particularly related to a mitzvah. In that context, the Gemara presents a statement by Rabbi Abba b. Zavda (second-third-generation Amora who frequented Israel and Babylonia) citing Rav (first-generation Amora), that a mourner is obligated in all mitzvot except for donning tefillin. Then, it presents a corpus of statements of Rabbi Abba b. Zavda citing Rav regarding mourners, people suffering in the sukkah, wedding parties and their respective obligations.

Rabbi Abba b. Zavda was a student of Rabbi Chanina, Rav, and Rav Huna (second generation, 216-297 CE). His colleagues were Rav Sheshet, Rav Gidel, and Rav Acha b. Yaakov. His father Zavda was probably the son of Levi (b. Sisi), and his two brothers were Rabbi Simon b. Zavdi and Rabbi Yehudah b. Zavdi. Throughout Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi he is a conduit for Rav’s teachings. Scholars are divided as to whether he heard these directly or via an intermediary. At play is a passage in Yerushalmi Shabbat 6b: אָמַר רַבִּי זְעִירָא לְרַבִּי בָּא בַּר זַבְדָא: חַכִּים רַבִּי לָרַבת, דְּאַת אָמַר שְׁמוּעָתָא מִן שְׁמֵי’. א”ל רַב אַדָּא בַּר אַהֲבָה אָמְרָן מִשְּׁמוֹ.

That passage praises Rabbi Zera (third generation) as punctilious in the train of transmission and in weighting the authority of statements. He doesn’t regard statements cited by Rav Sheshet as particularly authoritative, since Rav Sheshet lacked sight and couldn’t confirm who told him which statement. When Rabbi Yasa (third generation) cites Bar Pedaya (a transitional first-generation Amora), Rabbi Zera wonders at this generational skip and inquires, perhaps rhetorically, if he knew chakim Bar Pedaya directly, that he said statements in his name. Rabbi Yasa admits that he did not, but that he heard it via Rabbi Yochanan, a second-generation Amora. Similarly, Rabbi Abba b. Zavda related various statements of Rav, and Rabbi Zera questions him in order to know whether he knew Rav, that he says a statement(s) in his name. He admits that the transmission is via Rav Ada bar Ahava. He means Rav Ada bar Ahava I, a second-generation Amora and student of Rav who serves as a teacher and judge in Pumpedita. (According to Korban HaEidah and Penei Moshe, the question is whether they knew the citee personally, for perhaps those saying statements in their names lied. The answer is then that the intermediary is a trustworthy individual.)

Heilprin (Seder HaDorot) concludes that Rabbi Abba b. Zavda heard no statement directly from Rav. Hyman (Toldot Tannaim vaAmoraim) says that this was just questioning the provenance of specific statements. Both point to Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 7a, where Rabbi Abba b. Zavda finds a lost item—wine concealed in a leather bag—and takes it. He asks Rav if he acted well. (Spoiler: He didn’t.) Thus, he certainly interacted with Rav. Hyman writes that when Levi (b. Sisi, first generation) descended to Babylonia, in the middle of Rav’s days, as he presided in Sura, he brought his paternal grandson Rabbi Abba b. Zavda with him, and there the grandson learned before Rav, such that he cites numerous statements in Rav’s name.

He lived a long life and was more than 90 when Rava and Rami b. Chama corresponded with him (Bava Metzia 16a). He was prominent: He would open the public lectures and Rabbi Yasa and Rabbi Ami would conclude them. Rabbi Abba b. Zavda is the exception that proves the rule, that generally it is a student citing a teacher, someone of a prior generation. In Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 16b, we read רַבִּי בָּא בַּר זִבְדָּא רַבִּי אָבָהוּ בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי לְעֵזֶר הֲלָכָה כְּרַבִּי יוֹדָה דְּמַתְנִיתָא.  אִיקַלְס רַבִּי בָּא בַּר זִבְדָּא דְּמַר שְׁמוּעָה מִשּׁוּם דְּזָעִיר מִינֵיהּ, that is they praised him for citing something in the name of Rabbi Abahu (third generation) who was of a lesser stature than he was. Indeed, we find him learning from, and citing, colleagues on several occasions across Bavli/Yerushalmi.

He was a childless widower who did not remarry despite his contemporaries chiding him to do so in order to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation (Yevamot 64b). (Is this a case of an emotionally suffering mourner, exempting himself from mitzvot?) In words the Talmud treats as an evasion rather than a factual explanation, he said, “Had I merited, I would already have children from my first wife.” His statements include that the Jewish people, despite having sinned, are still called Israel; and that the child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is Jewish.

May we follow both in the ways of Rabbi Zera, who was punctilious in knowing who said what, and Rabbi Abba b. Zavda, who suppressed his ego and would learn, and relate, Torah from anyone.

By Joshua Waxman

 

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