April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Rav Huna and Rav Must Agree: Bava Kamma 115a

Reuven’s smartphone was stolen and sold. Then, the police caught the thief. Rav, citing his uncle and teacher, Rabbi Chiyya, says Reuven’s claim is only against the thief. Rabbi Yochanan, citing his primary teacher, Rabbi Yannai, says the claim is (also) against the purchaser (Bava Kamma 115a). Several Pumpeditan Amoraim – Rav Yosef, Abaye, Rav Zevid and Rav Pappa, understand the Rav / Rabbi Yochanan discussion in different ways.

Rav Pappa’s explanation is that there exists a תַּקָּנַת הַשּׁוּק, decree for the integrity of the marketplace. (As Rashi explains, if a buyer overtly bought something in the marketplace, not knowing it was stolen, they institute a fix for him when he returns the item —the original owner refunds him the purchase price.) Rav, citing Rabbi Chiyya, holds they didn’t make the decree here, so Reuven must seek a refund only from the thief. Rabbi Yochanan, citing Rabbi Yannai, holds they did make the decree, so Reuven can also seek a refund from the original owner (who would then seek the money from the thief).

The Talmudic Narrator objects. After all, Rav Huna was a primary student of Rav, so should be consistent with his teacher. Yet, Chanan the Wicked stole a cloak and sold it. The case came before Rav Huna, who told the original cloak owner, “Go, redeem your pledge” (from the purchaser). The Narrator explains: Chanan the Wicked was poor, so he couldn’t have paid the money.

We might ask how the Talmudic Narrator, who is bold yet humble in generally only using facts and arguments expressed by named Amoraim, knows that Chanan was poor. He knows it from Bava Kamma 37a. Chanan the Wicked slapped someone, and came before Rav Huna for judgment. Rav Huna ruled that Chanan had to pay a half-dinar. Chanan only had a clipped dinar, and no one wanted to make change for it, so Chanan slapped the man again, and gave him the whole dinar! From here, we see that Chanan did not have available money to pay.

Rava states that there’s no תַּקָּנַת הַשּׁוּק  is the person is well-known to be a thief. The Talmudic Narrator objects that Chanan the Wicked was well-known. Presumably, this was based on his title, “the Wicked”. The Narrator answers that he was known for “wickedness,” not particularly for theft. Again, this could be based on his title or from the other incident where he slapped someone twice.


Parallel Sugyot

This idea, רַב הוּנָא תַּלְמִידֵיהּ דְּרַב הֲוָה, counter-intuitively works here to restrict Rav — or at least Rav Pappa’s interpretation of Rav — instead of restricting Rav Huna. Other instances of the phrase do restrict Rav Huna, as we’ll explore.

In Shabbat 128a, Rabbi Yehuda generally applies muktzeh more stringently to more cases than Rabbi Shimon. While salted meat is permitted to be moved, regarding unsalted meat, Rav Huna said it was permitted to move it while Rav Chisda prohibited moving it. The Talmudic Narrator wonders at this, for Rav Huna was one of Rav’s students, and Rav holds like Rabbi Yehuda in muktzeh. The Narrator answers that for food, Rav holds like Rabbi Yehuda only in terms of forbidding its consumption, but like Rabbi Shimon regarding its movement.

Here, the attack is on Rav Huna being able to hold the position. Also, this Rabbi Yehuda / Rabbi Shimon dispute is fundamental and far-reaching, so it makes sense that Rav’s students would follow him for this general framework. Still, the answer is to revise our understanding of Rav, thus restricting Rav.

In Beitza 40a, food on Yom Tov is subject to the techum travel limits of its owner. What if Reuven deposits food with his friend Shimon? Rav says the food follows Shimon’s limits, while Shmuel holds it follows Reuven’s limits. In a concrete case, Rav Chana bar Chanilai hung meat on the bar of his host’s door. He came to ask Rav Huna what law pertains. Rav Huna told him, “If you hung it yourself, go take it (because it follows your limits). If your host hung it, you cannot take it.” The Talmudic Narrator objects that Rav Huna is Rav’s student, yet here he seems to follow Shmuel. The Narrator answers that by the guest hanging it himself, it’s like the host designated a corner for him. Thus, even Rav would agree in this case.

Finally, in Sanhedrin 6b, Rav says that the law accords with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha (that it is a mitzvah to mediate a dispute rather than applying the strict letter of the law). The Talmudic Narrator objects that when litigants came before Rav Huna, he would ask them if they’d prefix a strict judgment or a mediation. The resolution: it’s a mitzvah to offer them a possibility of mediation.


Local Alternative

Throughout, it is the Talmudic Narrator rather than a named Amora raising this objection and its resolution. Do Amoraim share this view? Perhaps we can look to Bava Kamma 80a, where Rav Huna should act in accordance with Rav about raising small animals in Bavel.

May students argue with their teachers? The examples of the argument between Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan, Abaye and Rabba, Rava and Rav Nachman seem to show that students can. The answer may be that explicit argument is allowed, but absent a known dispute, we should assume that they agree. Alternatively, because Rav Huna was so much Rav’s student, taking over leadership of Sura, that he specifically should agree with Rav.

We won’t analyze every sugya for alternative explanations, but in our sugya, maybe there’s a difference between Rav Huna holding like Rav alone vs. holding like Rav, citing his teacher and uncle, Rabbi Chiyya, against Rabbi Yochanan citing his teacher, Rabbi Yannai. מִשְּׁמֵיה might function like mishum, as citation without endorsement.

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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