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ABBAYE (d. c. 338), a leading fourth-generation Babylonian amora. Abbaye, who studied with his uncle Rabbah bar Nahmani and with Yosef bar iyyaʾ of Pumbedita, drew on teachings both from Babylonia and, indirectly, from Palestine; his teachings relay his erudition and subtle analytic ability. At Yosef's death (c. 323), Abbaye became the leading teacher in Pumbedita, where he taught legal, aggadic, and exegetical subjects to students individually and, in pirqaʾ gatherings held on sabbaths and special occasions, to the public at large. He applied rabbinic law in his role as judge of the local Jewish court and supervisor of the market's weights and measures.

With an independent mind, he evaluated both sides of issues and reportedly even resorted to curses to support or oppose a given opinion (B.T., Ber. 29a). Like Ravaʾ, Yosef's son, he used terminology to conceptualize the Mishnah's literary characteristics and taught baraitot, his own versions of formulated law that might dispute the Mishnah. Ravaʾ and Abbaye compared earlier teachings and assayed their underlying logic and relation to the Mishnah. The Talmud's records of these discussions may, however, have been shaped by postamoraic authorities. Because Abbaye refused to harmonize disparities between the Mishnah and other sources, he limited the Mishnah, saying its ruling did not apply to all cases, or admitted the inconsistency between the sources. This sensitivity to the text is likewise seen in his interest in assessing what are appropriate interpretations of scripture (B.T., ul. 133a).

Stories about Abbaye portray him as humble; dedicated to Torah study, even when poor (B.T., Git. 60b); solicitous of students (B.T., Shab. 118b119a), the elderly, and gentiles (B.T., Ber. 17a); and a doer of good works (B.T., R. ha-Sh. 18a). This reputation is reflected in his dictum that "to love the Lord your God" requires a person to make God's name become beloved by others, for people will attribute one's good deeds to one's devotion to God (B.T., Yomaʾ 86a). Related teachings of Abbaye assert that whoever follows the sages' teaching is called a saint, and Torah study and good deeds bring divine blessings and protection against evil. Reportedly exhibiting an awareness of God from his youth (B.T., Ber. 48a), he lectured on creation and the manifestation of the divine in the world as well as on sin and redemption, and taught that the divine presence is found in synagogues, though he elevated the piety of Torah study over that of prayer.

More supernatural stories circulated about Abbaye and Ravaʾ than about others in their generation, and in them he has contact with the divine realm even more frequently than Ravaʾ. People believed that Abbaye was protected from demons, a recipient of divine communications, a source of practical good advice, and, like some other ancient holy individuals, a juggler (B.T., Suk. 53a). On the other hand, later circles declared that the law follows Ravaʾ and not Abbaye in all but six cases (B.T., B.M. 22b).

See Also

Amoraim; Ravaʾ.


A comprehensive treatment and bibliography of Abbaye and his teachings may be found in Jacob Neusner's A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 5 vols. (Leiden, 19661970), esp. vol. 4, passim. Note in particular Jacob N. Epstein's Mavoʾ le-nusah ha-Mishnah, 2 vols. (1948; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 369381, on Abbaye's attitude to the Mishnah; and Raphael Loewe's "The 'Plain' Meaning of Scripture in Early Jewish Exegesis," Papers of the Institute of Jewish Studies (London) 1 (1964): 160165, on his attitude to scripture. See also David M. Goodblatt's Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden, 1975).

New Sources

Schwartz, Howard. Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis. New York, 1998.

Baruch M. Bokser (1987)

Revised Bibliography