Ashi

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ASHI

ASHI (c. 352424/7), the leading sixth-generation Babylonian amora. A student of Kahana, Ashi was reputedly based in the city of Mata Measya for sixty years. He served as judge of a local Jewish court and as community administrator, positions that enabled him to implement rabbinic law in many areas; he expounded scripture and taught oral law to disciples, whom he trained in his court, and to other Jews at large, whom he tried to persuade to follow rabbinic norms. His reported ability to enforce Sabbath and other laws previously not widely enforced by rabbis suggests that he had greater impact on Jewry than his predecessors. Disciples and colleagues in particular revered him and believed that he was respected by the exilarch (the lay Jewish leadership sponsored by the Persian government) and even in the court of the Persian king.

A Talmudic account mentions that Ashi ordered a crumbling synagogue to be pulled down but had his bed put into it to ensure that it be completely rebuilt (B.T., B.B. 3b). This story suggests not only a belief in his power but also the means to which he had to resort to activate the community. The dictum that he "combined Torah and greatness" conveys the rabbinic view that he took over prerogatives of, and even instructed, the exilarch. But this is inconsistent with sources that depict rabbis as solicitous of the exilarch's staff. In actuality, the exilarch may have brought his circles closer to the rabbis but, in the process, used them to bolster his own power.

It is as a teacher that Ashi is especially remembered. He extended rabbinic law to cover more refined issues in diverse areas from the liturgy to civil law and addressed personal ethics such as the importance of humility. As the dictum "Ashi and Rabinaʾ are the end of horaʾah [instruction]" notes, Ashi marked a turning point in intellectual development. The statement is usually held to mean that Ashi redacted the Talmud, although later editors may have restructured the discussions. In recent scholarship, Ashi is seen as not a redactor but the last named master who employed categorical statements, which later anonymous masters (between 427 and 500) expanded and wove into elaborate arguments and which final savoraic editors revamped and restructured. This new assessment credits Ashi with considerable impact, since it implies that rabbis after Ashi believed they could not teach independently but only rework earlier thinking.

See Also

Amoraim; Talmud.

Bibliography

A comprehensive treatment and bibliography of Ashi and his teachings can be found in Jacob Neusner's A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 5 vols. (Leiden, 19661970), esp. vol. 5. Ashi's mode of teaching is discussed in David M. Goodblatt's Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden, 1975). His role in the formation of the gemaraʾ is discussed in Goodblatt's "The Babylonian Talmud," in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2.19.2 (Berlin and New York, 1979), pp. 292, 308318, reprinted in The Study of Ancient Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, vol. 2, The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds (New York, 1981); and in David Weiss Halivni's Midrash, Mishnah, and Gemara (Cambridge, Mass., 1986).

New Sources

Kalmin, Richard Lee. "The Post-Rav Ashi AmoraimTransition or Continuity? A Study of the Role of the Final Generations of Amoraim in the Redaction of the Talmud." AJS Review 11 (1986): 157187.

Baruch M. Bokser (1987)

Revised Bibliography