April 14, 2024
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Rabbi Yishmael’s Academy: Yevamot 4a

On Yevamot 6b, we encounter a brayta from Rabbi Yishmael’s academy. It seemingly analyzes why the prohibition of kindling fire is singled out of all Shabbat prohibitions. The Talmudic Narrator (Stamma) interjects, explaining that if this were the concern, it could be explained in one of the standard ways (either לְלָאו or לְחַלֵּק). Rava answers the Stamma, explaining the brayta’s concern is with the conclusion of the Biblical quote: you shouldn’t kindle fire “in all your habitations.”


What’s Bothering Rashi?

Rashi comments, הָכֵי גָּרְסִינַן: וַאֲמָר רָבָא, that the correct text is “and Rava says.” This matches our printed text, perhaps due to his comment. Upon encountering “hachi garsinan,” I check manuscripts to see what alternatives Rashi rejected. What’s bothering Rashi? In Vatican 110, Oxford 367, and possibly Munich 95, I see אמר instead of ואמר. Oxford also has Rav instead of Rava.

What bothers me is Rava responding to the Stamma. Isn’t there Just One Rava? To answer, look to the parallel sugya, Sanhedrin 35b. There, Rabbi Yochanan, then Rava and Abaye, discuss whether capital punishment of a murderer overrides Shabbat. Rava explicitly introduces the Ishmaelite academy’s brayta, points out the issue with a simple interpretation, and reinterprets it. Sanhedrin, with Amoraic interaction, is original, and our sugya is transferred (a ha’avara). The Stamma thus “plagiarized” Rashi’s words. By requiring וַאֲמָר רָבָא, Rashi clarifies that this is all quotation of another sugya’s analysis, similar to the phrase אִיתְּמַר עֲלַהּ. Rava answers his own difficulty.

An alternative resolution could’ve been that the Stamma injected this reasoning as a prompt for Rava’s statement, in Yevamot and Sanhedrin. If so, what’s bothering Rava? Rava’s methodology includes careful analysis of the phrasing of Tannaitic sources (דַּיְקָא נָמִי). Rava might have noticed where the Biblical quotation ended. The full verse is “Thou shan’t kindle a fire in all your habitations on the Sabbath day.” The brayta quotes up to “habitations” and asks מָה תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר. In the printed Sanhedrin, it ends with “fire” but manuscripts all quote until “habitations.” Likewise, in Shabbat 20a, Rav Huna quotes up to “habitations” to interpret that phrase. In contrast, when Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Natan the Babylonian (in our sugya) interpret the basic prohibition, the quote is until “fire.”


Rabbi Yishmael’s Academy

Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha II was Rabbi Akiva’s contemporary, both fourth-generation Tannaim. They had competing methods of Biblical interpretation. Rabbi Akiva interpreted ribuy and miut while Rabbi Yishmael interpreted klal and perat; Rabbi Yishmael held the Torah speaks in natural human language, so certain repetitions shouldn’t spark interpretation, while Rabbi Akiva maintained otherwise. These differing analytical approaches led to different halachic conclusions.

Subsequent generations adopted approaches from each. However, fifth-generation Tannaim, Rabbis Meir, Yehuda, Eleazar, Yossi and Shimon, were primarily Rabbi Akiva’s students. Rabbi Yochanan notes (Sanhedrin 86b) that unattributed statements in Mishnah is Rabbi Meir; in Tosefta, Rabbi Nechemia; in Sifra, Rabbi Yehuda; in Sifrei, Rabbi Shimon; and all of them are in accordance with Rabbi Akiva. This comes to mind when I see a brayta of Rabbi Yishmael’s academy. Other braytot are of Rabbi Akiva’s “academy.”

Rabbi Yishmael’s statements are cited by Rabbis Eleazar, Yossi and especially Meir (whom Rav Aharon Hyman labels his talmid muvhak). Rav Hyman writes that after government decrees impacted even Usha, Rabbi Yishmael fled to the border of Edom, where he founded a great academy called Tanna deVei Rabbi Yishmael; the students there seem to be the fifth-generation Tannaim, Rabbi Yoshiya, who came from Bavel, and Rabbi Yonatan. They don’t appear in the Mishnah. Perhaps they were too tangential to Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s scholastic social network.

After the interruption, the brayta continues, מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אָמַר תַּלְמִיד אֶחָד. This may be original, or Rava’s indication of resumption. This unnamed student might be the aforementioned Rabbi Yoshiya or Rabbi Yonatan. I’ll mention Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s reminiscent statement (Eruvin 13a) that anywhere it says מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אָמַר תַּלְמִיד אֶחָד לִפְנֵי רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, this refers to Rabbi Meir who served both Rabbi Yismael and Rabbi Akiva. However, that’s because of rabbinic intersection. Here, the anonymous student is in an Ishmaelite brayta.

 While explaining why Rabbi Yishmael’s Biblical interpretation couldn’t target the singling out of kindling, Rava expressed uncertainty whether the singling out would be like Rabbi Yossi or Rabbi Natan. While singling out after a generality appears in Rabbi Yishmael’s Thirteen Hermeneutical Principles, unspecified is לְלָאו or לְחַלֵּק, appearing in the next Tannaitic generation. Rabbi Natan did interact with Rabbi Yishmael, but had unknown Tannaitic teachers in Babylonia, where he might have learned this. Rabbi Yossi may have gotten his position from Rabbi Akiva or developed it himself. See Keritot 4a where Rabbi Yishmael appears to take a לְחַלֵּק position against Rabbi Akiva, but the gemara mitigates this. Other gemarot in derasha-chains seemingly assume he holds לְחַלֵּק.


Rabbi Yochanan II

Unrelated, on Yevamot 7b, Rabbi Yochanan appears immediately after a brayta and argues. This bothers Tosafot, for Rabbi Yochanan isn’t a Tanna, to argue. They harmonize: the brayta’s language isn’t precise; Rabbi Yochanan comes to explain the brayta.

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. But, given the juxtaposition of statements, perhaps the brayta hasn’t ended and this is the rare fifth-generation Tanna, Rabbi Yochanan I, who appears in Nazir 65a and Gittin 62a. The problem is that Rabbi Yochanan uses Aramaic—אֲפִילּוּ עֲשֵׂה לֵית בֵּיהּ. However, Tosafot’s dibbur hamatchil has the Hebrew alternative, אֵין בּוֹ, so too in manuscripts.

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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