views updated May 08 2018


RAV (third century c.e.), leading Babylonian amora and founder of the academy at *Sura. His name was Abba b. Aivu, but he was also called Abba Arikha ("Abba the Tall") because of his tall stature (Nid. 24b). He is generally known as Rav by reason of being "the teacher [rav] of the entire Diaspora" (Beẓah 9a, and Rashi thereto). Born at Kafri in southern Babylonia in the latter half of the second century c.e., he belonged to a very distinguished family; he was related to Ḥiyya through both his parents (Sanh. 5a; Pes. 4a and Rashi) and traditionally was descended either from Shimei, brother of David (Ket. 62b), or from Shephatiah, the son of Abital and David (tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a). It is not known who were Rav's teachers in Babylonia, but he immigrated to Ereẓ Israel and studied under his uncle Ḥiyya (mk 16b), was a member of his household (Shab. 66b), and assisted him in his business affairs (tj, bm 6:1, 10d). Ḥiyya introduced him into the home of Judah ha-Nasi (Ber. 46b), where he discussed halakhah under Ḥiyya's guidance (Ḥul. 16a). Extremely diligent in his studies (cf. Suk. 26b), Rav joined the academy of Judah ha-Nasi, with whom he debated halakhic topics (Hul. 137b) and whose bet din he joined (Git. 59a). He knew and entered into halakhic discussions with the greatest of the last generation of tannaim, being in contact with Ishmael b. Yose (Pes. 112b, according to R. Hananel's version; see Dik. Sof. ibid.), Symmachus (Ket. 81a), Bar Kappara (Yoma 87b), Eleazar b. Simeon (Zev. 102b), as well as with Levi (Beẓah 24b) and Ḥanina b. Ḥama (Yoma 87b).

He learnt the Torah of Ereẓ Israel, and prior to leaving the country was ordained by Judah ha-Nasi and was authorized to give decisions in ritual law and in civil cases (Sanh. 5a–b; tj, Ḥag. 1:8, 76c). Some hold that after going back to Babylonia, he returned several times to Ereẓ Israel (see tj, Pe'ah 6:3, 19c) before finally deciding to settle in Babylonia, apparently in 219 c.e. (Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 78). He encountered some difficulties in Nehardea (Shab. 108a), which was an important center of sages and Torah, and where Shila, Samuel, and Karna flourished at the time. Rav first served as an interpreter in Shila's bet midrash (Yoma 20b), and subsequently the exilarch appointed him agoranomos ("market commissioner," tj, bb 5:11, 15a), whose duties in Babylonia comprised superintending market measures and prices; in keeping with the prevailing halakhah in Ereẓ Israel, however, he refused to regulate prices. Compelled to resign his position, he left Nehardea and went to Sura, whose inhabitants were not distinguished for their knowledge of the Torah (Ḥul. 110a); there he established a bet din and academy which in time attained such eminence that it was regarded as "a little sanctuary" (Meg. 29a) and attracted hundreds of pupils from Sura and its neighborhood. Its permanent pupils numbered 1,200 (Ket. 106a).

The Jews of Sura and its neighboring towns accepted his religious leadership and jurisdiction (ibid. 54a). Not only the Babylonian sages, foremost among them Samuel, acknowledged his considerable religious authority (Git. 36b), but Johanan, the head of the academy at Tiberias and one of the outstanding sages of Ereẓ Israel at the time, counted Rav as his teacher in halakhah (Ḥul. 95b). Perhaps the most conspicuous recognition of his signal religious authority is the statement: "Rav is a tanna and differs" (Ket. 8a), that is, Rav has the right to differ from a tanna without sustaining or basing his view on that of another tanna, a privilege accorded only to him among all the Babylonian sages of that generation. Returning to Babylonia equipped with the teachings of Judah ha-Nasi and with a profound, comprehensive knowledge of the Torah of Ereẓ Israel, Rav introduced into Babylonia several halakhot previously not practiced there. Thus Huna, one of Rav's distinguished pupils, declared: "From the time Rav arrived in Babylonia, we in Babylonia have put ourselves on the same footing as Ereẓ Israel with regard to the breeding of small cattle" (which was prohibited there; bk 80a), as well as "with regard to bills of divorce" (the bearers of which in Ereẓ Israel were exempted from stating, "In my presence it was written and in my presence it was signed"; Git. 6a). Rav enacted regulations relating to matrimony (Yev. 52a; Kid. 12b) and the education of children (Ket. 50a), and frequently visited different communities in Babylonia to institute various ordinances there and to raise their religious and social standard (the sources have been collected by J. Umanski, notes 140/1).

That he relied on his independent judgment, unrestrained by other authorities, when issuing regulations and arriving at decisions, shows the extensive authority enjoyed by him in Babylonia and recognized, according to all indications, also by the exilarch and his officials. Rav was a member of the exilarch's bet din (Kid. 44b) and his daughter married into the exilarch's family (Hul. 92a). The fact that Rav was economically independent (Ber. 57b), owning landed property (Kid. 59a) and enjoying an income from the manufacture and sale of beer (Pes. 107a), helped to sustain his eminent status. Although there is evidence that he was in some contact with Artabanus V, the last of the royal Arsacid dynasty (Ar. Zar. 10b), unlike Samuel, he did not maintain close relations with the authorities or with non-Jews, his chief activity being directed to internal affairs, to the religious welfare of the members of the Babylonian Jewish community. In addition to his labors in his bet din and the academy, Rav was one of the most eminent and prolific Babylonian aggadists and frequently delivered public discourses. In his addresses, greatly influenced by the Ereẓ Israel aggadah, he urged his audiences to observe the mitzvot and to study the Torah.

In explaining the reason for the mitzvot and for their observance he declared: "The mitzvot were given only as a means of refining men. For what difference does it make to God whether one slaughters an animal from the front or from the back of the neck?" (Gen. R. 44:1). Of the study of the Torah he said that it "is more important than the offering of the daily sacrifices" (Er. 63b), that it "is superior to the building of the Temple" (Meg. 16b), that "whoever departs from the words of the Torah is consumed by fire" (bb 79a), and that "he who says, 'I shall rise early to study this chapter or this tractate,' has vowed a great vow to the God of Israel" (Ned. 8a). In his solicitude for the status and dignity of scholars he asserted that anyone who insults a scholar is a heretic (eppikoros; Sanh. 99b) and "has no remedy for his wounds" (Shab. 119b). Urging scholars to be diligent in teaching the Torah, he declared that "whoever withholds a halakhah from a disciple is as though he has robbed him of his ancestral heritage" (Sanh. 91b), and "that whoever teaches Torah to his neighbor's son will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy… if he teaches it to an ignorant man's son, even if the Holy One blessed be He decrees adversely, He annuls it for his sake" (bm 85a). From the examples quoted and their emphasis, it is evident that Rav regarded the teaching of the Torah and the spreading of the knowledge of the Torah as one of the most important spheres of his communal activities.

Of the Jews of Babylon who had refused to grant a certain Shabbetai b. Marinus facilities for earning a livelihood and had not given him any food either, Rav said: "These are the descendants of the 'mixed multitude' (Ex. 12:38), for it is written (Deut. 13:18). 'And [He will] show thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee.' Whoever is merciful to his fellowmen is decidedly of the children of our father Abraham, and whoever is not merciful to his fellowmen is decidedly not of the children of our father Abraham" (Beẓah 32b). Rav warned his audiences against quarreling (Sanh. 110a), against slander and its grave consequences (bb 164b), against paying heed to slander (Shab. 56b), and against boastfulness (Pes. 66b), and was solicitous for the position and welfare of workers (bm 83a).

In some of Rav's homilies a tendency to a certain mystical thinking is discernible. Describing, for example, the difference between this and the next world, he said: "In the future world there is no eating nor drinking, no propagation nor business, no jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the Divine Glory" (Ber. 17a). Rav expounded God's names and their pronunciation (Kid. 71a), the purpose of creation (Shab. 77b) and the process of creation (Ḥag. 12a), the divine providence of the world and its creatures (Sot. 2a; Ḥag. 5b), and warned against criticizing God's attributes (Men. 29b). Rav composed several prayers, the best known being Teki'ata de-Rav which is recited during the Amidah on Rosh Ha-Shanah (tj, rh 1:3, 57a) and whose contents express his outlook on God's providence over the nations and of Israel.

Opposed to a life of abstinence and mortification, Rav asserted: "Man is destined to render an account for all that his eye has seen and he has not eaten" (tj, Kid. 4:12, 66d). To *Hamnuna he declared: "My son, if you have anything, derive what benefit you can from it, for there is no enjoyment in the grave nor does death delay. And should you say, 'I would leave a portion for my children,' who will tell you in the grave? The children of men are like the grasses of the field, some blossom and some fade" (Er. 54a, based on Ecclus. 14:12–14). The Jews of Babylonia had great esteem for Rav and grieved deeply at his death. Samuel rent his garments (mk 24a), as did Rav's pupils (Ber. 42b–43a) who mourned him for a long time (Shab. 110a). People took earth from his grave for medicinal purposes (Sanh. 47b). Rav and Samuel are the founders of the Babylonian Talmud, and their discussions and debates both in halakhah and aggadah are one of its prominent features. Where Samuel, who probably never visited Ereẓ Israel, and his academy in Nehardea reflect the Babylonian tradition, Rav and the academy of Sura which he founded reflect that of Ereẓ Israel.


Bacher, Bab Amor; Hyman, Toledot, 15–42; Kohut, Arukh, 1 (19262) 6–10; 7 (19262), 236–9; Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 129–43; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), passim; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 2 (1893), 350–6; I.S. Zuri, Rav (Heb., 1925); J. Umanski, Ḥakhmei ha-Talmud, Sefer Rav (1931); M. Beer, in: Divrei ha-Congress ha-Olami ha-Revi'i le-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut, 1 (1967), Heb. pt., 99–101; Epstein, Mishnah, 1 (1948), 166–211; S. Rosenthal, in: Sefer Ḥ. Yalon (1963), 281–337; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 170f.

[Moshe Beer]


views updated May 18 2018


RAV (lit., "rabbi"), epithet of Abbaʾ bar Ayyvu (c. 155c. 247), a first-generation Babylonian amora. Rav helped lay the foundations for rabbinic Judaism in Babylonia. He studied in Palestine with his uncle iyyaʾ and with Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ, from whom he reportedly received authorization to render decisions in many areas. These contacts gave him a rich reservoir of teachings, self-reliance, and the freedom to go beyond tannaitic traditions.

Later Talmudic circles considered his resettlement in Babylonia, conventionally dated to 217, a turning point in Jewish history, one presaged by natural omens (B. T., Shab. 108a). First dwelling in Nehardea, a city on the Euphrates River, he assisted other rabbis and served as a market administrator (J.T., B.B. 5.11[5]; 15ab). He later moved to Sura, a town hitherto said to lack a rabbinical presence. There he gathered a circle of students but probably did not head an academy, as was anachronistically claimed by some post-Talmudic chronicles (Goodblatt, 1975).

Rav's prestige was enhanced by a claim of Davidic descent and by his daughter's marriage into the exilarchic family. He was perceived as a master of wisdom and practical advice (B.T., Pes. 113a), able to read natural signs and en-dowed with the power to hurl curses to maintain respect (B.T., Meg. 5b).

In explaining the Mishnah, he drew on Palestinian sources and patterned his teachings after the Mishnah's style and phraseology even where he disputed it (Epstein, 1964). Though later Talmudic circles considered Rav especially authoritative in ritual matters, his dicta affected the way amoraim approached issues in general. Indeed, his comments, with those of Shemuʾel the amora, were subsequently reworked to form a structure around which later teachings were organized; thereby they eventually became the literary rubric for the gemaraʾ (Bokser, 1980).

Rav stands out for his wide-ranging theological interests. He emphasized that God rules with supremacy and that he benevolently and with knowledge created the world (B.T., ag. 12a). The latter belief was expressed in a Roʾsh ha-Shanah prayer, teqiʿataʾ devei Rav, selected or edited by Rav, which stresses creation (J.T., ʿA.Z. 1.2; Neusner, 1966). Describing the future, Rav distinctively suggested that the righteous will experience as a reward a spiritual nourishing analogous to what the mystic visionaries of God experience in their lifetime (Chernus, 1982). He often emphasized the importance of Torah study and the respect due to Torah students (B.T., Taʿan. 24a, San. 93b). Rav made the fulfillment of messianic hopes dependent on human repentance and good deeds (B.T., San. 97b). He reportedly asserted that the commandments were designed to purify (tsaref) people, in the sense of refining or improving (Gn. Rab. 44.1). His ideas, teachings, and activities thus started the process of transforming tannaitic Judaism in Babylonia into a wider social movement.

See Also



A comprehensive treatment and bibliography of Rav and his teachings can be found in Jacob Neusner's A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 5 vols. (Leiden, 19661970), esp. vol. 2, passim. Valuable works in Hebrew are Jacob Samuel Zuri's Rav (Jerusalem, 1925); Jacob N. Epstein's Mavoʾ le-nusa ha-Mishnah, 2 vols. (1948; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964), pp. 166211, on Rav's attitude to tannaitic traditions and the Mishnah; and E. S. Rosenthal's "Rav," in Sefer Hanokh Yalon (Jerusalem, 1963), pp. 281337, on Rav's lineage and background. Works in English that include discussion of Rav are David M. Goodblatt's Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia (Leiden, 1975), my own Post Mishnaic Judaism in Transition (Chico, Calif., 1980), and Ira Chernus's Mysticism in Rabbinic Judaism (Berlin, 1982), esp. pp. 7487.

New Sources

Kalmin, Richard Lee. "Changing Amoraic Attitudes toward the Authority and Statements of Rav and Shmuel: A Study of the Talmud as a Historical Source." HUCA 63 (1992): 83106.

Baruch M. Bokser (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 29 2018

Rav (3rd cent. CE). Abba b. Arikha (i.e. ‘the tall’). Jewish Babylonian amora. Rav was the founder of the academy at Sura. He was called Rav (see RABBI) because he was ‘the rav of the entire diaspora’ (B.Bezah 9a). Ordained by Judah ha-Nasi in Erez Israel, he was so respected that his independent authority was universally accepted. He defined ‘the true Jew’ as one who has compassion on all people, since those lacking in mercy have not inherited the compassion of Abraham.


views updated May 18 2018

Rav (Babylonian equivalent to Rabbi): see RABBI.