Yoḥanan Bar Nappaḥaʾ

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YOANAN BAR NAPPAAʾ (d. 279?), leading Palestinian amora. Yoanan's father and mother had both died by the time he was born (B.T., Qid. 31b), and his apparent patronymic refers either to his trade as a smith (nappaa') or to his legendary, "inflaming" good looks. Yoanan is always referred to either by his given name or by the epithet bar Nappaaʾ, never both.

Yoanan's studies began during the lifetime of Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ, known as "Rabbi," the redactor of the Mishnah. Later, Yoanan remembered having attended Rabbi's lectures and not understanding them (B.T., ul. 137b). A native of Sepphoris, Yoanan began his studies there, but ultimately he became head of a prestigious rabbinic academy in Tiberias, where he spent the major part of his career. The only Babylonian for whom he spontaneously expressed respect was Rav, with whom he had studied under Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ; he later came to acknowledge the mastery of Shemu'el (B.T., ul. 95b), but the two never met. In general, Yoanan's career was limited to the rabbinate of the Land of Israel, though his reputation traveled far beyond that country and even in Babylonia equaled that of the great Babylonian masters (B.T., ʿA.Z. 40a).

Yoanan inherited a considerable amount of wealth but was said to have allowed it to dissipate in his pursuit of advanced learning. He became the teacher, senior colleague, and brother-in-law of Shimʿon ben Laqish. The latter, according to Talmudic tradition, was originally attracted to Yoanan because he was so handsome. Shimʿon became Yoanan's colleague and eventually the two were inseparable. It is recorded that Shimʿon died because of a slight from his companion. Later legend explained Yoanan's own death as the result of his grief over this incident. Yoanan was also embittered by the death within his lifetime of ten of his children (B.T., B.M. 84a, Ber. 5b).

In his halakhic teaching, Yoanan devised a number of rules for determining which of several conflicting opinions in the Mishnah was to be followedfor example, when Meʾir and Yehuda disagree, the halakhah ("law") follows Yehuda; when Yehuda and Yose disagree, the halakhah follows Yose (B.T., ʿEruv. 46b); whenever Shimʿon ben Gamliʾel gives a ruling in the Mishnah, the halakhah follows him except in three cases (B.T., Gi. 75a); when Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ disagrees with his colleagues, the halakhah follows him (J.T., Ter. 3.1, 42a). He also formulated the much-quoted norm that the law always follows anonymous Mishnaic rulings (see, for instance, B.T., Shabbat 46a, and J.T., Shabbat 3.7, 6c). Yoanan's influence on the development of rabbinic scholarship in the Land of Israel was so great that Moses Maimonides considered him the redactor of the Jerusalem Talmud, although this is surely an exaggerated report.

According to one tradition, the custom of placing decorative art on walls (probably the walls of synagogues) arose in Yoanan's time "and he did not object" (J.T., ʿA.Z. 3.3, 42d). Yoanan also became an authority on calendrical astronomy (J.T., R. ha-Sh. 2.6, 58a-b; B.T., Hul. 95b). With respect to nonlegal lore, Yoanan was known as a student of merkavah mysticism, which he unsuccessfully offered to teach to his own student Elʽazar ben Pedat. The long aggadah (nonlegal rabbinic thought) on the destruction of Jerusalem that starts in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Giin 55b is attributed to him, as are other narratives that purport to recount important events in the history of the rabbinate (B.T., Hor. 13b) or the circumstances that gave rise to particular rabbinical enactments (B.T., B.Q. 94b, Bekh. 30b). Yoanan also gave considerable attention to the etiquette of prayer and to methods for increasing its effectiveness. According to legend, his final instructions were that he was to be buried in neither a black nor a white shroud so that he would not be ashamed to find himself in the company of either the righteous or the wicked.

See Also



Aaron Hyman's Toledot tannaʾim ve-amoraʾim (1910; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964) is an altogether uncritical compendium of traditional lore concerning Yoanan. It is almost useless as a tool for modern, critical biography, but it remains valuable as an encyclopedic gathering of information. The "Johanan ben Nappaa" articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1906) and in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971) are also useful.

New Sources

Baumgarten, Albert I. "Yohanan and Resh Lakish on Anonymous 'mishnayot.'" Jewish Law Association Studies 2 (1986): 7588.

Friedman, Shamma. "The Further Adventures of Rav Kahana: Between Babylonia and Palestine." In The Talmud Yerushalmi and Graeco-Roman Culture, vol. 3, edited by Peter Schäfer, pp. 247271. Tübingen, 2002.

Kimelman, Reuven R. "Problems in Late Rabbinic 'Biography': The Case of the Amora Rabbi Yohanan." SBLSP 2 (1979): 3542.

Robert Goldenberg (1987)

Revised Bibliography