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RAVAʾ (d. circa 352 ce) was a leading fourth-generation Babylonian amora, based in the city of Mahoza. The son of Yosef bar amaʾ and a student of isdaʾ, Nahman, and Yosef bar iyyaʾ, Ravaʾ gathered students in Mahoza after the deaths of Yosef bar iyyaʾ (c. 323) and Abbaye (c. 338). In his work he attempts to analyze and further disseminate earlier rabbinic teachings.

Through his function as a dayyan (judge) and market supervisor, Ravaʾ imposed rabbinic norms on Babylonian Jewry (B.T., Ket. 67a, San. 99b100a). He lectured in the pirqa' gatherings, where aggadic and halakhic topics were discussed. These were convened on sabbaths and special occasions especially for the general public, although students were also expected to attend (B.T., Pes. 50a). He instructed many students who attended the kallot (sg., kallah ), academic conventions that lasted several days. He trained disciples as well in his court and had them observe and emulate his personal practices (B.T., Ber. 6a; Goodblatt, 1975). Stories depict the students' deep involvement in learning and the insistence of Ravaʾ that they maintain family and community ties (B.T., Ket. 62b).

Ravaʾ also played an important part in transmitting earlier Babylonian teachings and possibly the third-century Palestinian traditions of Yoanan bar Nappahaʾ (Dor, 1971). With Abbaye, his fellow student and older colleague, he led in critically analyzing the logic of both sides of issues. Conventionally these discussions have been considered key building blocks of the Talmud, though recent research (by David Weiss Halivni and others) suggests they may have been shaped and especially preserved by postamoraic circles. Ravaʾ in particular recognized that to construe the Mishnah, one might have to emend the text or posit an ellipsis (Epstein, 1964). He particularly sought the biblical basis for various Mishnaic laws and practices (B.T., Sot. 17a, B.Q. 92ab)

Ravaʾ taught the full range of halakhic, aggadic, and exegetical topics as well as practical advice. In comments such as "a person when distraught cannot be held accountable" (B.T., B.B. 16b), he recognized the significance of a person's mental or psychological state. He spoke of God's place in the world and, in stressing public and private study, he claimed that Torah study, even more than good deeds, can counter demons (B.T., Sot. 21a). In emphasizing the respect and privileges due to Torah students, he asserted that rabbis, like the priests and Levites of Ezra's day (Ezr. 7:24), should be exempt from poll taxes (B.T., Ned. )

Ravaʾ stands out in his generation not only for a judicial role with extensive jurisdiction, his reportedly large number of students, and his unusual methods of teaching but also, with Abbaye, for the large number of supernatural stories told about him (B.T., Taʿan. 21b22a). People believed that Torah study and good deeds brought Ravaʾ divine blessings, protection against evil and demons, and divine communications in omens and dreams (B.T., Ber. 56ab). His great prestige is reflected in the Talmudic stories describing the gifts he received from the mother of King Shapur II and in the subsequent principle that his legal opinions should be followed in all but six cases (B.T., B.M. 22b).

See Also

Abbaye; Amoraim.


A comprehensive treatment and biblography of Ravaʾ and his teachings can be found in Jacob Neusner's A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 5 vols. (Leiden, 19661970), esp. vol. 4, passim. Noteworthy, too, is Jacob N. Epstein's Mavoʾ le-nusa ha-Mishnah, 2 vols. (1948; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 381391, on the attitude of Ravaʾ to tannaitic traditions and the Mishnah. Other informative works are Zwi Moshe Dor's Torat Erets-Yisraʾel be-Bavel (Tel Aviv, 1971); David M. Goodblatt's Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden, 1975) and his "The Babylonian Talmud," in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, vol. 2.19.2 (Berlin and New York, 1979), reprinted in The Study of the Ancient Judaisim, edited by Jacob Neusner, vol. 2, The Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds (New York, 1981); and David Weiss Halivni's Midrash, Mishnan, and Gemara (Cambridge, Mass., 1986).

New Sources

Hayman, Pinchas. "Disputation Terminology and Editorial Activity in the Academy of Rava Bar Yosef Bar Hama." HUCA 72 (2001): 6183.

Margolies, Morris B. Twenty/Twenty: Jewish Visionaries through Two Thousand Years. Northvale, N.J., 2000.

Baruch M. Bokser (1987)

Revised Bibliography