April 16, 2024
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Rabbi Yossi Prevails: Bava Kamma 24a

An ox typically has six legs: two legs in the back and forelegs in the front. However, the Torah also tells us of the shor hamuad, the forewarned ox. Since we know that praemonitus, praemunitus, “forewarned is forearmed,” the shor hamuad has 10 limbs. That is indeed an odd number of limbs for an ox!

The Mishna (Bava Kamma 23a) discusses what makes a goring ox forewarned. Is it a muad if (A) witnesses testified that it gored on three separate days or (B) that it gored three times, regardless of days? Does it revert to its tam (innocuous) status if (C) it reverses its behavior and doesn’t gore for three days or (D) children pet it without it goring them? Rabbi Yehuda asserts A and C, while Rabbi Meir makes it easier to become muad and harder to become tam, asserting B and D. In a brayta, their fifth-generation Tannaitic contemporaries adopt other permutations of these positions. Rabbi Yossi asserts A and D, while Rabbi Shimon asserts B and C.

Then, a third-generation Amora, Rav Nachman (bar Yaakov) cites second-generation Rav Ada bar Ahava I (of Pumbedita) that we rule like Rabbi Yehuda/A, and like Rabbi Meir/ D, because Rabbi Yossi agrees with each. In other words, like Rabbi Yossi. (Tosafot explain that Rav Nachman could have said that we rule like Rabbi Yossi, but was being Mishna-focused.) Rava, a fourth-generation Pumbeditan Amora and primary student (talmid muvhak) of Rav Nachman, asked why not rule with Rabbi Meir/B and Rabbi Yehuda/C, since Rabbi Shimon agrees with each? Rav Nachman explains he holds like Rabbi Yossi because נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּו, his analysis is with him, meaning that it’s sound.

This explanation and declaration may transform into a general decisive principle to rule like Rabbi Yossi over his colleague(s), except of course when we don’t. Exploring נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּו throughout the Talmud, ia the idea generally adopted?


Rav Nachman’s Source

Rav Nachman didn’t innovate this description. Rather, Issi ben Yehuda, a fifth-generation Tanna (though much younger than his colleagues) had names or descriptions of the great qualities of various Tannaim (a brayta in Gittin 67a). Rabbi Meir is a sage and scribe; Rabbi Yehuda is a sage when he wants to be. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov is concise and precise. Rabbi Yossi, his reasoning is with him. Skipping a few Tannaim, Rabbi Shimon grinds a lot and removes/extracts a little1.” A brayta elaborates that Rabbi Shimon would forget little of his studies and what he removed was chaff. Likewise, Rabbi Shimon would say to his students, “My sons, accept my rulings, for they are the finest of the finest of Rabbi Akiva’s rulings.” This accords with the idea of extreme grinding of flour, removing chaff and extracting only extremely fine flour.

Issi’s praises don’t automatically translate into ruling like Rabbi Yossi (or elsewhere, like Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov). However, contextually the brayta was cited on Gittin 67a to support such a halachic determination. Shmuel related that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi had ruled like Rabbi Yossi (that verbal directives are not transferred to an agent, so that agent cannot direct a scribe to write a get). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s son objected, as Rabbi Meir and another Tanna disagreed with Rabbi Yossi. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi replied: Be silent my son, be silent. You didn’t personally see Rabbi Yossi. Had you seen him, his reasoning is with him.

Rav Nachman thus can point to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi as precedent. Still, Rabbi Shimon’s description is also positive and explicitly a reason to rule like him. Rav Nachman innovated favoring Rabbi Yossi over Rabbi Shimon because נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּו.


The Stamma’s Application

All other instances of נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּוֹ are either asserted by the Talmudic Narrator, or a motivation ascribed by him to named Amoraim. In Bechorot 37a, Rav Chananel cites Rav that we rule against Rabbi Yossi regarding slaughtering a firstborn animal based on an expert. The Talmudic Narrator wonders why this is necessary, given that he is one Sage against many, then answers that we’d have thought to rule like Rabbi Yossi because נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּוֹ.

In Eruvin 14b, Rabbi Yossi had a unique position regarding lechi, that they need be three handbreadths wide, and regarding brine, that one may not prepare brine or salt water on Shabbat. There are two variants of the Gemara, recorded in the Gemara itself. In the first, אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל, Rav Yosef cites Rav Yehuda who cites Shmuel, that the halacha is not like Rabbi Yossi in either. Other Amoraim react to this. The second variant is taught by Rav Rechumi, who I take to be Rav Rechumi II, a sixth and seventh-generation Pumbeditan Amora and redactor, rather than Rav Rechumi I, a fourth-generation Mechozan Amora and colleague of Rava. In this variant, it is אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב שְׁמוּאֵל [בַּר שִׁילַת] מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב. The point is rather that there was confusion whether Rav Yehuda (bar Yechezkel) cited Shmuel, or whether it was a single Amora named Rav Yehuda son of Rav Shmuel. Despite not explicitly mentioning Rav Yosef, this variant modifies the above,2 so third-generation Rav Yosef again cites this Amora, that we don’t rule like Rabbi Yossi in either.

Later, they asked him (Rav Yosef, not Rav Rechumi) whether he said it, and he denied it. Rava exclaimed “Gosh! He said this, and I learned it from him.” The Talmudic Narrator explains that Rav Yosef retracted because רַבִּי יוֹסֵי נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּו. This is not Rava or Rav Nachman, but Rav Yosef, to whom this principle is ascribed.

In Eruvin 51a, third-generation Pumbeditan Amoraim, Rabba and Rav Yosef, were traveling before Shabbat, and wouldn’t arrive in the town in time. However, one can designate a Shabbat residence in a different location and thereby gain 2000 cubits of travel in each direction. One could travel 2000 cubits to that location and another 2000 cubits into the town. Rabba said “our residence will be under that palm tree which has another palm tree leaning on it. Rav Yosef said he did not know it. Rabba said: Rely on me, since there is a brayta in which Rabbi Yossi says that such a setup works, citing the brayta. The Talmudic Narrator continues with an astonishing comment, that it was not so—Rabbi Yossi didn’t actually say this. It was Rabba’s own position, but he falsely attributed it to Rabbi Yossi’s position, so that Rav Yosef would accept it from him, because רַבִּי יוֹסֵי נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּו.

As an aside, this idea that Amoraim would regularly make up attributions or Tannaitic sources to persuade is distasteful. Admittedly, there are sources such as the cryptic Pesachim 112a, אִם בִּקַּשְׁתָּ לֵיחָנֵק — הִיתָּלֵה בְּאִילָן גָּדוֹל, if you want to hang yourself, hang yourself from a big tree, which Rashi takes to mean that if you want people to accept some big idea from you, attribute it to a great person. This need not mean fabrication. I’ve done the same in the following sense: if I want to say a big and controversial, e.g. that kezayit is actually much smaller than what kashrut organizations send out on charts, I might search for where Rav Herschel Schachter says such a thing, and then quote3. I’m not fabricating Rav Schachter’s comment, but bothering to search for it and cite it, since people won’t listen to Josh (bar Abba).

For the Rabba-Rav Yosef incident, Tosefta Eruvin 3:13 has exactly this position for Rabbi Yossi about two travelers where only one knows the spot. There is scholarship that the Talmudic Narrator was unfamiliar with the Tosefta, so this could be another instance. Rabba didn’t make up a source or citation, but the Talmudic Narrator suggested that he did. (Indeed, I suspect this is a play on סְמוֹךְ עֲלַי, rely on me, both in a tree-knowing and halachic sense. The brayta with Rabbi Yossi may have been an earlier Stammaic stratum, explaining why Rabba said סְמוֹךְ עֲלַי, rather than Rabba’s own words, and the later Stamma took this as Rabba saying “depend on me because of the following brayta.”) Regardless, נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּוֹ is from the Talmudic Narrator, though as a belief ascribed to Rabba and Rav Yosef.

Rishonim often invoke נִימּוּקוֹ עִמּוֹ as a reason for ruling like Rabbi Yossi (e.g. Rosh on Rosh Hashanah 3:11) or a reason to be surprised that we don’t rule like Rabbi Yossi (Rashba on Chullin 80a). However, this decisive principle doesn’t seem to have had widespread adoption among named Amoraim.

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 There are a few significant differences in Avot deRabbi Natan 18:4. One is that Rabbi Shimon confronted him about this apparent insult before the scholars.Issi replied, “I said you learn a lot and forget a little, and that which you forget is irrelevant to your learning.”

2 See Toledot Tannaim vaAmoraim, entry of רַב יְהוּדָה בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר שִׁילַת who agrees.

3 https://www.yutorah.org/lectures/1077359 about 28 minutes in

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