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Rav Chanina of Sura: Sotah 25a

Rav Chanina of Sura makes an appearance on Sotah 25a, one of a handful of appearances in Talmud. A dilemma was raised before the Sages: if a woman violated the Dat (precepts of halacha regarding modesty), does she require warning to lose her ketubah? The two sides are that she loses it for merely violating, or that a warning might cause her to repent. Several fourth-generation Amoraim (Abaye, Rava, Rav Yehuda of Diskarta) and one fifth-generation Amora (Rav Pappa) discuss proof from sequential quotations of the preceding Mishnah (which begins on 23a), and how the possible implication of warning isn’t there for losing the ketubah collection but for a different impact.

Finally, a sixth-generation Amora, Rav Chanina miSura, offers convincing proof from the very end of that Mishnah, which at long last explicitly mentions warnings: “And these are the women the court warns (in place of the husband): if her husband became a cheresh or shoteh, or was imprisoned. And this is not to make her drink, but to deprive her of her ketubah.”

The Talmudic Narrator wonders why the preceding Amoraim didn’t cite this part of the Mishnah, and explains what they might have thought. This wonder might be because the proof seems so obvious, but it might also be that Rav Chanina miSura is so late, and others should have suggested it a generation or two earlier.

Where else do we encounter Rav Chanina miSura? On Sotah 2b, he gave advice that, nowadays, no man should warn his wife against secluding with a particular man, for we might rule like Rabbi Yossi beRabbi Yehuda that a warning is effective even without witnesses. Since there’s no Temple nowadays, if she does subsequently seclude herself, she’d be prohibited to her husband with no means of rectification.

Commentators wonder—if maintaining like Rabbi Yossi beRabbi Yehuda is a doubt rather than certainty, then even in Temple times they wouldn’t be able to administer the waters. Answers include the existence of a Sanhedrin in Temple times. Another possible answer is that this was intended homiletically, counseling and impressing upon the husband proper conduct regarding expressing his jealousy, under the cloak of a chumra of worrying about a solitary opinion.

We find his personal history in Ketubot 63b. Ameimar (sixth-generation, reestablished Nehardea academy) maintained that a moredet, a rebellious wife, is only one who says that she wants to stay with her husband, but is only presently refusing him to cause him anguish, due to a dispute. If she says she is disgusted with him, we don’t compel her to remain1. Meanwhile, Mar Zutra (presumably sixth-generation, heading Pumpedita academy) maintains that we do compel her. Indeed, Mar Zutra ruled accordingly in a case, and the eventual child of that continued marriage was Rav Chanina miSura. Yet, states the Talmud, that positive result shouldn’t be taken as endorsement of such coercion, as there, it was due to Heavenly Assistance that this particular blessing came about. It could be experiencing an unhappy home growing up guided Rav Chanina in his homiletic advice that a man not declare jealousy upon his wife, and motivated him to discover the Mishnaic proof that a woman should get a warning before losing her ketubah due to violations of Dat.

In Berachot 52b, second-generation Rav Yehuda cites Rav explaining why the Mishnah said that, for Havdalah, one doesn’t recite the blessing over a lamp or spices of gentiles, explicitly stating that the latter is because of parties dedicated to idolatry. (The implication, stated by the Talmudic Narrator, is that the lamp was disqualified because it did not rest on Shabbat.) Rav Chanina of Sura, using the phrase מַה טַּעַם קָאָמַר, either disagrees with Rav or channels Rav, saying that the latter case, spices, provides the reasoning for the former case, lamp. In Shabbat 23, in analyzing two Mishnaic statements, that one may not light with shemen sereifa, and that one may not light with shemen sereifa on Yom Tov, third-generation Rav Chisda understands this as separate statements, while Rav Chanina miSura again says מַה טַּעַם קָאָמַר. In Ketubot 99a, Rav Chanina miSura again gives a proof (ת”ש) for a halacha, about whether an agent can perform half of his agency, from a Mishnah in Meilah.

In Bava Metzia 61b, Ravina arrives in Sura on the Euphrates (סורא דפרת), and Rav Chanina, of Sura on the Euphrates asks him why the Torah mentions the exodus from Egypt in the context of the prohibition of consuming creeping animals, and a conversation ensues. This isn’t a doppelganger, Rav Chanina II of Sura (of Perat), which would be surprising, or even the same person. Rav Hyman cites Rabbi Yechiel Heilprin, in Seder HaDorot, that this should read Rav Chaviva miSura deFrat, and “a sage is better than a prophet” for so it appears in Dikdukei Soferim and in She’iltot parashat Vayeira. We might add that in Moed Katan 20a, 24b, Bava Metzia 61b, 106b the text is Rav Chaviva miSura deFrat. All the printings have Chanina, but all the manuscripts have Chaviva. The letters bet and nun are similar to one another.

Which Scholastic Generation?

Rav Aharon Hyman, in Toledot Tannaim vaAmoraim, suggests that “Mar Zutra,” who in Ketubot 63b rendered the ruling keeping Rav Chanina miSura’s mother in the unhappy marriage, must be an earlier figure, appearing in Beitza 8a as “Mar Zutra Rabba” quoted by plain Mar Zutra. After all, Rav Chanina miSura seems to be a sixth-generation Amora himself, a colleague of Rav Ashi and Mar Zutra. I’d counter: While possible, we might rather have the disputants, Ameimar and Mar Zutra, be of the same generation. People don’t always fit neatly into a single scholastic generation, and you can have relatively older and younger people, earlier or later in their careers, in a passage or generation.

Consider Bava Batra 136a, a sugya spanning generations. Fourth-generation Rava asks his teacher Rav Nachman a question. Rav Nachman responds. Rava’s fifth-generation student Rav Pappi makes a halachic distinction. Rav Chanina miSura objects to the existence of Rav Pappi’s distinction, saying “Is there anything that we, the Sages, do not know, and the scribes know?” Then, Rava’s fifth-generation student, Rav Huna berei deRav Yehoshua, speaks. With this scholastic bracketing, Rav Chanina miSura might be either fifth-generation or sixth-generation. However, the gemara relates, in response to Rav Chanina miSura’s incredulity, that the Sages asked Abaye’s scribes, and they knew the distinction, and Rava’s scribes, and they knew the distinction. That makes me believe this happened in the fourth or fifth-generation, when Abaye and Rava’s scribes were around.

Why does Rav Hyman place him as Rav Ashi’s sixth-generation colleague? He uses the transitive property. Mar Zutra was Rav Ashi’s colleague, and Mar Zutra is Rav Chanina miSura’s colleague. Thus, in Menachot 31b, Rav Ashi says that Mar Zutra told him that Rav Chanina miSura raised a difficulty (קשי בה), in reference to some exchange with Rav Pappi. Similarly, in Niddah 62b, Rav Ashi again says that Mar Zutra said that Rav Chanina miSura raised a difficulty, קשי בה. (To interject: if there are two citations in play, couldn’t Rav Chanina miSura be fifth-generation? But Rav Hyman is already grappling with a Mar Zutra (Rabba) ruling causing Rav Chanina miSura’s birth.) Finally, in Niddah 67b, regarding whether a woman may wash her hair and immerse on the same night, Mar Zutra prohibits and Rav Chanina miSura permits. Rava’s fifth-generation student, Rav Ada tells Rav Chanina miSura an incident in which Rava’s fifth-generation student, Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, practically permitted the Exilarch’s wife to immerse.

Now, which “Rav Ada” related this incident? Printed texts have plain Rav Ada, Munich 95 has Rav Ada bar Ahava II (Rava’s short-lived student) with an alternative (ואמרי לה) of Rav Mar Zuri Sava, and Vatican 110 has Rav Ada Sava. Two fragments have Rav Ada Sava with a Mar Zuri (Sava). Running with Vatican 110, note that in Kiddushin 65b, Rav Ada Sava and his brother Mar Zutra2, sons of Rav Mari bar Issur, divided a shared property and then came before Rav Ashi with a dilemma. Rav Ada Sava might therefore help place Rav Chanina miSura in the sixth generation, further validating Rav Hyman’s approach.


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 Rather, as Rashi explains, he gives a get and she leaves without a ketubah; Tosafot mentions an interpretation that we compel him to divorce

2 Note that this Mar Zutra with a patronymic is different from the other Mar Zutras.

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