SURA , site of one of the leading Babylonian academies. In fact, two different settlements by the name of Sura are mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud. One was located in Syria at the northern extremity of the Euphrates, a 15-days' journey from *Pumbedita. It was an important station on the caravan route from Pumbedita to Ereẓ Israel (Av. Zar. 16b, which describes the journey and the encampment of R. Zeira during his aliyah to Ereẓ Israel from Babylonia). This settlement, however, was not a center of Torah study and therefore little is related about it.
The famous Sura, the important center of Torah studies for several centuries, was located in southern Babylonia, where the Euphrates divided into two rivers. The soil of Sura and its environs was noted for its great fertility. Agricultural activity was centered around vineyards, orchards, wheat, and barley, and the farmers of Sura, among them scholars, were intensively involved in these pursuits. They irrigated their fields with the waters of the Euphrates, planted vineyards, engaged in wine growing and its trade, and reared livestock.
The Persian Period
The growth of Sura was due to the Torah center which was established there by *Rav after going to Babylonia from Ereẓ Israel in 219. There is no knowledge of an earlier bet midrash in Sura, and it seems that Sura's earlier inhabitants were unfamiliar with Jewish laws. In the course of time, Rav succeeded in surrounding himself with hundreds of students from the Diaspora; his bet midrash and bet din became the basis of one of the two most important religious centers in Babylonia. Rav's takkanot and legal decisions, his halakhic and aggadic statements and the discussions which opened in their wake, and his actions in public and private life provided the foundation for the Babylonian Talmud. After Rav's death in 247 Sura lost its central role for seven years, during which time the decisive authority in matters of halakhah was wielded by Samuel in *Nehardea.
After Samuel's death in 254, Sura regained its prominence under the leadership of Rav *Huna, the disciple of Rav. It maintained this status until the end of the third century. At the end of the 290s the academy of Pumbedita rose in importance, and under the leadership of *Judah b. Ezekiel became the center of halakhah in Babylonia. A bet midrash for the study of the Torah and teaching continued to exist in Sura, but its importance and decisive authority were not regained until the days of Rav *Ashi (367–427), who even managed to broaden the scope of the academy. In addition to the masses of students who streamed there, especially during two months of the year, he also instituted the Shabbeta de-Rigla in Sura, which was attended by the eminent ḥakhamim of Babylonia, headed by the *exilarch and his retinue. Rav Ashi also built a new synagogue. During his time the academy was transferred to *Mata Meḥasya, which was very near Sura. After the death of Rav Ashi, who was one of the most important editors of the Babylonian Talmud, the central religious role of Sura diminished. In the period of the *savoraim the number of ḥakhamim and students decreased as a result of the upheavals which followed the persecutions of Firūz and Yazdagird.
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[Eliezer Bashan (Sternberg)]