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ḤISDA (c. 217–309), Babylonian amora whose long life spanned the second and third generations of amoraim. Ḥisda is one of the most frequently quoted scholars in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, both in halakhah and aggadah. According to some scholars, he went to Palestine for a while, and this may account for the fact that he cites many Palestinian traditions and rulings (Pes. 117a; Yev. 25b, et al.), as well as the fact that he is frequently quoted in the Jerusalem Talmud. According to the Talmud, he was of a priestly family (Ber. 44a), and came from the town of Kafri (Er. 62b; bm 6b). His principal teachers were *Avimi (Men. 7a; Ar. 22a) and *Rav (Abba Arikha) in Sura. After Rav's death he attended the lectures of his successor Huna and was counted as one of his outstanding pupils (bm 33a). He nevertheless continued to speak of Rav as "our great teacher" (Suk. 33a) and was always eager to hear any of his teachings which might have escaped him (Shab. 10b). In spite of his own dictum that a disciple who disagrees with his teacher is like one who disagrees with the Divine Presence (Sanh. 110a), he did not always accept Huna's positions on points of law (Ber. 25a). Recognizing R. Huna's authority, however, he never gave a halakhic ruling even on the simplest matter in Sura, Huna's town, as long as he lived (Er. 62b). A question that he asked R. Huna about "a teacher who needed his disciple," was taken by the latter as a personal affront, which led to a rupture between them for some time (bm 33a). They later effected a reconciliation but Ḥisda returned to live in Kafri, south of Sura, where, since it was not within Huna's jurisdiction, he could give independent rulings. After Huna's death the scholars in the academy of Sura moved to Pumbedita, of which the head was R. Judah b. Ezekiel; but after Judah's death they returned to Sura, where Ḥisda was the head for the last 10 years of his life (300–310; Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on, ed. Lewin, 85).

Because of Ḥisda's prominence, the Talmud preserves many traditions concerning his character, his manner of learning and his personal life. He and R. Huna are styled the "pious men of Babylon" (Ta'an. 23b). R. Ḥisda and R. Huna prayed jointly for rain in the hope that their joint prayers would be answered (Ta'an. 23b). In another passage (mk 28a) it is stated that on account of their piety, the prayers for rain of Ḥisda and Rabbah were answered. His scholarship was contrasted with that of R. Sheshet. While the latter's was greater in extent, his own was characterized by depth and thoroughness. Huna advised his own son Rabbah, one of the foremost amoraim of the following generation, to attend Ḥisda's lectures, since they were very thorough and sound (Shab. 82a). Rabbah objected that Ḥisda spent too much time on "mere mundane issues" (Shab. 82a) – traditions concerning health and hygiene (cf. Ber. 39a). Huna's response to his son that traditions concerning health and hygiene are not "mere mundane issues" and were worthy of his attention, is indicative of their view of what religious study should include. In spite of the general principle that laws can only be derived from the Pentateuch, but not from the later books of the Bible, he did derive some from the latter (Ber. 25a; Sanh. 83b). His statement, "the Almighty loves the schools which are distinguished by halakhah more than all other synagogues and academies" (Ber. 8a), reveals the bent of his mind as does his statement that mountains of exposition could be piled up on every single letter of the Torah (Er. 22a). Nevertheless numerous aggadic sayings are ascribed to him; many of these are on health and hygiene, as already noted; others are on modesty and sexual behavior (Shab. 33a; 140b; Sanh. 110a, et al.), in which he adopted an extreme attitude, stating a man should not converse even with his own wife in the street (Ber. 43b).

His early years were spent in poverty (bk 91b; Shab. 140b) but he became very wealthy as a brewer (Pes. 113a; mk 28a), and in the year 294 he rebuilt at his own cost the academy of Sura, which had fallen into disrepair (Iggeret R. Sherira Ga'on, ed. Lewin, 84). He married at the age of 16, though in his opinion it would have been better to have married two years earlier (Kid. 29b). In his private life he was humble and modest, affable and friendly to all. He went out of his way to be the first to greet everyone in the marketplace, even heathens (Git. 62a). His life was apparently very happy and he celebrated many joyous occasions during his lifetime: "In R. Ḥisda's house 60 weddings were celebrated" (mk 28a). He had a large family: seven sons and at least two daughters, who married two brothers, Rami b. Ḥama and Mar Ukba b. Ḥama, who became outstanding amoraim (Ber. 44a). He lived to the age of 92 (mk 28a) and the story is told that he was so intensely involved in his studies that the Angel of Death was powerless over him, until finally he succeeded in distracting Ḥisda from his studies long enough that he could take his soul (mk 28a; Mak. 10a).


Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 163–4; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), 421ff.; Hyman, Toledot, S.V.; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 289–90.

[Harry Freedman]

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