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Who Heeds You or Your Rabbi? Nedarim 59a

In Nedarim 59a, Rav Chisda forcefully rejects an idea from Rabbi Yochanan. Thus:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: לִיטְרָא בְּצָלִים שֶׁתִּיקְּנָהּ וּזְרָעָהּ — מִתְעַשֶּׂרֶת לְפִי כוּלָּהּ. יָתֵיב רַבָּה וְקָאָמַר לְהָא שְׁמַעְתָּא. אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב חִסְדָּא: מַאן צָאֵית לָךְ וּלְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן רַבָּךְ! הֶיתֵּר שֶׁבָּהֶן לְהֵיכָן הָלַךְ

Rabbi Yochanan said that a litra of onions which had been fixed by being tithed, but was then replanted and grew more, the new tithe incorporates all of it, including the original amount of onions. Rabba repeated this saying before Rav Chisda, who reacts with, “Who listens to you and your rebbe? The permitted (onions) among it; where has it gone?” Rabba responds and the dialogue continues.

It seems strange that Rabba bar Nachmani, a third-generation Amora of Bavel, should have Rabbi Yochanan, a second-generation Amora of Israel, as his teacher. As far as we know, Rabba never traveled to Israel Rav Aharon Hyman, in Toledot Tannaim vaAmoraim, says that this Gemara indicates that Rabba did study briefly from Rabbi Yochanan in Israel. (Two of his three brothers, Rav Chanania and Rav Oshaya, indeed moved to Israel and studied under Rabbi Yochanan. The third brother, Kaylil, died early, leaving Abaye as an orphan to be raised by Rabba. Kaylil might be a pseudonym for one who died, much as Machlon and Kilyon.) In his Jewish History in Daf Yomi podcast, Dr. Henry Abramson (alldaf.org/p/138658) discusses this sugya, and suggests that either Rabbi Yochanan is metaphorically Rabba’s teacher (for he relates his teaching), or else Rabba briefly visited Israel where he studied from Rabbi Yochanan. Let us examine this question utilizing both girsology as well as parallel sugyot.

Girsology

Firstly, despite the printed Vilna Shas text I provided above, it isn’t Rabbi Yochanan who says the statement directly. Rather, as we see in Munich 95 and Vatican 110-111, it is third-generation Rabbi Yitzchak who cites Rabbi Yochanan.

If so, Rabba didn’t necessarily repeat it directly from Rabbi Yochanan. He might have heard it second-hand from Rabbi Yitzchak. Indeed, typically repeating להא שמעתא is not independently saying something (even in the name of the source, Rabbi Yochanan), but rather exactly the preceding report. In turn, this lends credence to the idea that וּלְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן רַבָּךְ is metaphorical, not literal. In this teaching, as the eventual source of the statement, Rabbi Yochanan is your teacher, so who needs you or him?

Furthermore, while Munich 95 has Rabba, the third-generation colleague of Rav Chisda, Vatican 110 has Rava, the fourth-generation student of Rav Chisda. Rava is certainly no direct student of second-generation Rabbi Yochanan, as he is separated from him both geographically and temporally. Rava would have heard from third-generation Rabbi Yitzchak, and repeated the teaching in Rav Chisda’s academy. One final point we can consider is that he is יתיב וקאמר, he sits and says. Had it been יתיב קמיה דרב חסדא וקאמר, that he sat before Rav Chisda and said the statement, I would heavily lean towards Rava, since that phrase often indicates subservience. Here, it is ambiguous, but I still lean towards Rava with his metaphorical rebbe.

Parallel Sugyot

We should also consider the phrase “who will listen to you and X your rebbe” as it appears throughout Talmud. The pattern indeed repeats, in Pesachim 33b, Shevuot 10b, and Meilah 12a. In Pesachim, Rav Acha bar Rav Aviy(r)a sits before (יָתֵיב … קַמֵּיהּ) Rav Chisda and relates Rabbi Yochanan’s solution for rescuing pure wine from impure grapes. Rav Chisda responds directly to Rav Acha the citer, and says מַאן צָיֵית לָךְ וּלְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן רַבָּךְ. His argument is, “where has the ritual impurity gone?” Ritual impurity here replaces Nedarim’s permitted status. Rav Acha responds and the conversation continues, until finally Rava rejects Rav Chisda’s proof.

In Shevuot, Ulla cites Rabbi Yochanan about redeeming even unblemished lambs which had been consecrated for the daily offering, but which were unused during the fiscal year. Just as in Nedarim, Rabba sits and recites the שמעתא. But here, printings and manuscripts are divided as to whether it is Rabba or Rava. The Firenze 8-9 manuscript has Rava, but Munich 95, Vatican 140, and Vatican 156 have Rabba. Rav Chisda responds to Rabba/Rava, saying מאן ציית לך ולר’ יוחנן רבך. Again, the content of Rav Chisda’s objection matches the content of his objection to Rabba/Rava in Nedarim— וכי קדושה שבהן להיכן הלכה, with “sanctity” replacing “permitted status.” Based on form and content, we might expect the disputant in Nedarim and Shevuot to be identical.

Rav Chisda’s ambiguous interlocutor responds, and they argue back and forth, until eventually it seems that Abaye takes over, and says (Shevuot 11a) to Rava or Rabba about one of his suggestions, והא מר הוא דאמר הקדיש זכר לדמיו קדוש קדושת הגוף, “But wasn’t it Master [himself] who said that if he consecrated a male ram for its value, since it’s fit to be brought as an offering, it is consecrated with inherent sanctity?” The word master here may indicate that this is Abaye’s teacher Rabba, rather than his colleague Rava. On the other hand, this segment seems transferred from Arachin 5a, where there is a lengthy dialogue between Abaye and this person, so we might choose not to deduce anything from a transferred segment. Further, according to all printings and manuscripts of Arachin I’ve seen, the disputant there is Rava. “Mar” might just be a respectful way of saying “you yourself said this principle elsewhere.”

Finally, in Meilah 12a, Ulla cites Rabbi Yochanan about sacrificial animals which died becoming automatically excluded from meilah. According to the Vilna Shas, third-generation Ulla himself sat and recited this שמעתא, causing Rav Chisda to respond. However, the manuscripts don’t have this reading, instead having either Rabba or Rava reciting the report. Rav Chisda responds מַאן שָׁמַע לָךְ וּלְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן רַבָּךְ (though some texts have replace ציית), continuing his objection with “where has the sanctity gone?” And the conversation continues.

These all share Rav Chisda as the objector, some other Amora as the objectee, the idiom “who needs you and Rabbi Yochanan your teacher,” and the objection of “where has attribute A disappeared to?” If so, this is Rav Chisda’s common refrain when arguing against this common Rabbi Yochanan approach, and there is absolutely no reason to assume that the person repeating the שמעתא, often indirectly, is literally Rabbi Yochanan’s student. It could be Rabba, but I’d rather it be his student and son-in-law Rava who is a fusion figure, who studied from multiple third-generation Amoraim and spreads the intellectual wealth.


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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