June 20, 2024
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Rav Nachman b. Yaakov’s Father

Beitza 26a discusses a firstborn animal that fell into a cistern on Yom Tov. While the Temple stood it would be given as a gift to a kohen who would bring it as a korban and eat its meat. Post-destruction, it could only be eaten if it first developed a permanent blemish, which invalidated it as a korban. Experts examined the animal for a qualifying blemish. The Mishnah and brayta discuss whether this examination can be performed on Yom Tov.

Rabba b. Rav Huna (third-generation Amora, head of Sura academy) lectured, דרש, that if a firstborn was born blemished, experts may examine it on Yom Tov. Rav Nachman (second-generation Amora, head of Nehardea academy) said to him, אַבָּא תָּנֵי אִם עָבַר וּבִקְּרוֹ מְבוּקָּר וְאַתְּ אָמְרַתְּ מְבַקְּרִין אוֹתוֹ לְכַתְּחִלָּה? That is, “Father taught (perhaps a brayta): if he transgressed and examined it, it’s considered examined, and you say this is appropriate to do even before the fact?”

Who is “Father”? Rashi explains that Rav Nachman was speaking of his own father. Steinsaltz mentions a fascinating alternative from Rabbi Yosef Chanina Meizlish, that “Father” refers to Rabba b. Rav Huna’s father. The question then becomes how Rabba b. Rav Huna could permit where his father, Rav Huna, forbids—a more compelling question than how he could argue with Rav Nachman’s father.

Yet, Rav Nachman certainly referred to his own father. Without a possessive pronoun, “Abba” most logically refers to one’s own father. Also, Rabba b. Rav Huna doesn’t shy away from disagreeing with his father, even leniently (e.g., Sukkah 10a, about the distance of a sukkah beneath another sukkah). Finally, Rav Nachman refers to his father as “Abba” in Bava Metzia 16b, in a recollection from his youth. Also, in Niddah 60b, Rav Nachman’s interlocutor is an entirely different person, Rabbi Chiyya b. Rav Mattana, and Rav Nachman uses the same formulation involving “Abba” in his reply.

Why should Rabba b. Rav Huna be impressed? They key might be found in the two versions of a sugya on Beitza 25a. In the first account, after Rabba b. Rav Huna cites Rav’s statement, Rav Chisda deduces a conclusion from that statement, saying מִדִּבְרֵי רַבֵּינוּ נִלְמוֹד, “from our teacher’s words we learn.” Rashi explains that “Rabbeinu,” our Rabbi, refers to their mutual teacher Rav, for Rav Huna, Rav Chisda and Rav Nachman were all Rav’s students. (Hyman interprets “Rabbeinu” more broadly as the teacher of all Israel.) Rav Nachman notes נְפַל חַבְרִין בְּרַבְרְבָתָא, “our colleague has stumbled into a complex matter.” Both Rav Chisda and Rav Nachman are second-generation Amoraim. In the second version, Rabba b. Rav Huna himself says מִדִּבְרֵי רַבֵּינוּ נִלְמוֹד, and Rav Nachman reacts with נְפַל בַּר חַבְרִין בְּרַבְרְבָתָא, “the son of our colleague has stumbled…” The third-generation Rabba b. Rav Huna is merely the son of their colleague, Rav Huna. In our sugya (26b), Rav Nachman objects that this young whippersnapper, not even a colleague, says something contrary to Rav Nachman’s father, a first-generation Amora.

Whatever explanation works here must also work in the Niddah 60b parallel. That reads: דָּרַשׁ רַב חִייָא בַּר רַב מַתָּנָה מִשְּׁמֵהּ דְּרַב :הֲלָכָה כְּר’ נְחֶמְיָה. אָמַר לֵהּ רַב נַחְמָן: אַבָּא תְּנֵי מַעֲשֶׂה בָּא לִפְנֵי חֲכָמִים וְטִמְּאוּם וְאַתְּ אָמַרְתָּ הֲלָכָה כְּרַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה? Rav Mattana was a second-generation Amora who transmitted teachings in Rav and Shmuel’s names. Rav Yehuda considered him a colleague alongside Rav Nachman and Rav Huna (Kiddushin 70b). Rav Chiyya b. Mattana would be a colleague’s son, forming a perfect parallel to the social dynamics in our sugya.

However, Rav Chiyya b. Mattana might not exist. Rosh’s girsa has Rav Chiyya b. Rav, as do the two manuscripts (Munich 95 and Vatican 110) in Hachi Garsinan’s website. Absent manuscript support, “Mattana” in our printing seems to be a false start for the מִשְּׁמֵהּ, influenced via dittography by Rav Mattana who appears earlier on the page. Bava Batra 151a has Rav Tovi and Rav Achdavoi, Rav Mattana’s sons, interacting with Rav Nachman; Rav Chiyya isn’t mentioned.

Rav Chiyya b. Rav is Rav’s son, a second-generation Amora who studied from Rav and Shmuel and many of Rav’s second-generation students such as Rav Yehuda. Arachin 16b discusses how he sat with his colleague Rav Huna before Shmuel when he complained that Rav Huna was hitting and kicking him; Shmuel instructed Rav Huna to stop. The social dynamics of Rav Chiyya then don’t precisely match our sugya, so perhaps we should look to the words דרש and תני to explain the objection.

To be comprehensive, in our sugya, Rav Nachman speaks to “Rabba” (thus, Rabbi Abba), making this a play on words. Also, Rav Nachman’s primary teacher was Rabba b. Avuah, he had a son named Rabba, a student named Rava, and was a student of Rav (Rashi, Beitza 25a), discussed below—whose name was also Abba. Hyman even considers and rejects Rav as our sugya’s Abba, because Rav Nachman wasn’t born, or was a child, when Rav died.

Rav Nachman describes his father as “one of the scribes of the judges of Mar Shmuel” (Bava Metzia 16b). This is a famous dispute (Gittin 31b) whether plain Rav Nachman is “b. Yitzchak” (Rashi) or “b. Yaakov” (Tosafot). There is overwhelming evidence that Tosafot is correct, including many instances where Rav Nachman argues with Rav Nachman b. Yitzchak, and Hyman correctly explains that Rashi never said otherwise; Tosafot reacted to an erroneous Rashi text.


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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