June 8, 2024
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Rafram bar Pappa I: Bava Metzia 80b

The Gemara on Bava Metzia 80b discusses a later mishna (98b): “A borrower tells the lender שַׁלַּח—‘Send me the cow you promised to lend, with the person you said would deliver it.’” He sends it and it dies on the way. The borrower is liable for the cow. So too, if the borrower is returning the cow, and it dies en route, the borrower is liable. To this mishna, Rafram bar Pappa cites Rav Chisda: “This is only if the borrower returned it during the period of the loan, but afterwards, he is exempt, since he doesn’t have the status of a borrower.” Then, there are two variants in the Gemara—in which Rav Nachman bar Pappa either attacks, or supports the Rafram citing Rav Chisda.

Sefaria has a nice feature in which many of the Tannaim and Amoraim become hyperlinks, similar to what I do on my mivami website. Hover over the name and a dashed underline appears. Click, and biographical details appear on the sidebar. For Rafram bar Pappa, the sidebar has: “Amoraim—sixth generation; circa 375 CE to circa 425 CE; Rafram (I) was the son of Rav Pappa and a student of Rav Hisda. He eventually became the head of the academy in Pumbedita.”

In this particular instance, I disagree with the biography. It might conflate several Raframs identified by scholars. There is Rafram I (sixth-generation Amora, Pumbedita); Rafram II (seventh-generation, Pumbedita); Rafram bar Pappa I (contemporary of fourth-generation Rava, in Sura), perhaps Rafram bar Pappa II (somewhat junior to Rava); and sixth- and seventh-generation Rafram (bar Pappa) of Sichra. The above biography is entitled Rafram (I), acknowledging the existence of Rafram (II), who they explain is “a student of Rav Ashi and eventually became the head of the academy in Pumbedita; Amoraim—seventh generation—circa 425 CE to circa 460 CE.” They provide links to these two Sages based on Rafram (I) and Rafram (II) entries in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, but I’m not sure all details match up, and other scholars identify those other Raframs. We won’t explore every Rafram, but let us drill down into Rafram bar Pappa I and II.


Rafram bar Pappa I

My assumption is that Rafram is a contraction of Rav Ephram. I doubt he’s the son of the famous Rav Pappa. As I discussed in an earlier Jewish Link article (“Rav Pappa’s 10 Sons,” January 18, 2024), many of the “bar Pappa” Sages we invoke at a siyum are not fifth-generation Rav Pappa’s sons. Based on who they quote and who they converse with, they are third-generation Amoraim, and Rav Pappa did not have a time-machine. Note also that it is not “bar Rav Pappa.”

I would put Rafram bar Pappa I (henceforth Rafram) as a third and early fourth-generation Amora. He is always quoting Rav Chisda, who similarly spanned (second- and third-) generations, and who was second-generation Rav Huna’s student-colleague. Fourth-generation Rava asks Rafram to relate synagogue statements from Rav Chisda (Brachot 8). Rava also asks him to relate great deeds of Rav Huna (Taanit 20a), and Rafram replies that he doesn’t recall the deeds of Rav Huna’s youth, but does recall deeds of Rav Huna’s old age. The implication is that Rava relies on a somewhat older colleague for statements and stories of the past. The implication is also that he overlapped with an even younger Rav Huna, but just couldn’t recall the stories. There is also Niddah 61b, where Rafram cites Rav Chisda’s ruling and Rava asks Rafram whence the sava, “elder” knows this. The elder is understood to mean Rav Chisda, but could potentially be Rafram himself—depending on where we fix his scholastic generation.


Topics and Styles

While Rav Chisda said many things—which we hear directly or via other Amoraim—my own impression is that specific topics might have been discussed with different sets of students in different years. Or, different students may have been interested primarily in certain topics. These students may have collected statements in oral corpora and related them on demand.

We don’t necessarily have the full extent of these statements. Thus, in Brachot 8, Rava asks Rafram, לֵימָא לָן מָר מֵהָנֵי מִילֵּי מְעַלְּיָיתָא דְּאָמְרַתְּ מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב חִסְדָּא בְּמִילֵּי דְבֵי כְנִישְׁתָּא. That is, “Can Master—this might be according honor to a colleague or indication that he’s older—relate from those excellent statements he quotes from Rav Chisda in the topic of the synagogue?” Rafram replies with only a single synagogue-related statement. Depending on how you parse the statement, there are either many excellent statements of Rav Chisda in general, and Rava was interested in any that related to synagogues, or Rav knew that there were many synagogue statements, but we hear just one.

When surveying the Rafram quoting Rav Chisda statements, I therefore looked for common threads, and found a few. Often, statements clarify something in a mishna (as in our sugya, Bava Metzia 80b) or baraita. They are concerned with aligning the positions of different and identical Tannaim between mishnayot and baraitot.

On the topic of bathrooms (and perhaps synagogues), in Brachot 26a, Rafram quotes Rav Chisda that one may stand opposite a bathroom and pray. The Talmudic narrator harmonizes it with the preceding mishna about distance from human waste when praying, and an elaboration from Rav Huna (who was, again, Rav Chisda’s student-colleague). In Shabbat 81a, a baraita refers to three sharpened stones that may be taken into the bathroom on Shabbat to clean oneself1. Tannaim discuss the acceptable size of the stones, and Rafram quotes Rav Chisda aligning these Sages’ positions with their identical positions for a minimal etrog size.

In another food-measurement discussion (Eruvin 82b) the mishna recorded Sages disagreeing about the food volume to establish an eruv techumin. A baraita records other Sages disagreeing about the volume of a half-peras. Rafram quotes Rav Chisda aligning these Tannaim and volumes.

There’s the topic of nature changing for the worse after the Temple’s discussion. There’s a blessing for seeing the firmament in its purity (Brachot 59a), for which fourth-generation Abaye gives a practical definition when it happens, involving rainfall and a northern wind. The Gemara notes that Rafram quoted Rav Chisda that this pure firmament hasn’t occurred since the Temple’s destruction. Similarly (Bava Batra 25b), Rafram quotes Rav Chisda that, since the Temple’s destruction, the southern wind has not brought rain; separately, the rains no longer descend from the good storehouse.

On the topic of mourning, in Taanit 13a, Rafram cites Rav Chisda that anything prohibited because it’s a sign of mourning is prohibited in both hot and cold water; anything due to pleasure is only forbidden in hot water. In Ketubot 4a, he quotes Rav Chisda to clarify and restrict a baraita discussing a wedding where the father of the groom or the mother of the bride died. In Sanhedrin 48a, he quotes Rav Chisda clarifying a baraita regarding the permitted or prohibited use of a memorial monument built while someone was alive—if a row of stones was added after the person passed away.

Rav Aharon Hyman—in Toledot Tannaim vaAmoraim—also discusses Rafram bar Pappa II. He points to Brachot 50a, where Rafram bar Pappa got an aliyah to the Torah and said, “Barchu et Hashem” but didn’t conclude “haMevorach.” Everyone called out the correction. Rava chastised Rafram: “You black pot! Why are you involving yourself in this Tannaitic dispute2?” Rav Steinsaltz describes “black pot” as a “fond nickname for a Torah scholar who invests great effort in Torah study and worship of God.” However, Rav Hyman doesn’t believe Rava would refer to an older Amora in such a manner, so this Rafram must be a different Amora, younger than Rava. Rav Hyman says that this Rafram presided over Pumbedita academy after Rav Dimi of Nehardea—as Rav Sherira Gaon writes in his epistle. While Rav Sherira just calls this scholar Rafram, in the Raavad’s Sefer HaKabbalah, it is “Rafram bar Pappa.” The alternative—to my mind—is to follow Rav Steinsaltz’s understanding of the nickname, and make this the same as Rafram bar Pappa I.

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 Chazal knew the mystery of the three shells.

2 Since the fuller version of Barchu was acceptable to all the arguing Tannaim.

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