Isaac Nappaḥa

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ISAAC NAPPAḤA (third century), Palestinian amora. A R. Isaac, without epithet, is frequently mentioned in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds and in the Midrashim. There was another contemporary scholar called Isaac Nappaḥa (i.e., "the smith") who is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud and in the late Midrashim. Many of the sayings quoted in one source in the name of Isaac are attributed in the parallel passages to Isaac Nappaḥa, and most scholars regard the Isaac without qualification to be Isaac Nappaḥa (for the name of his father, see the vague tradition at the bottom of Pes. 113b, Dik. Sof., ibid., and Rabbenu Hananel and the commentators). Isaac studied under R. Johanan in Tiberias and transmitted many statements in his name in halakhah and in aggadah. He was highly regarded by his colleagues and Resh Lakish once remarked with reference to the explanation of a verse on which R. Johanan and R. Isaac differed: "The interpretation of the smith [Isaac] is better than that of the son of the smith" (i.e., Johanan; Sanh. 96a). He also transmitted sayings in the names of Resh Lakish and R. Eleazar (Av. Zar. 14a, 70b), and was an older colleague of *Ammi and *Assi (bk 60b). He also served as dayyan and halakhic authority in Tiberias and Caesarea together with Ammi, *Abbahu and *Ḥanina b. Pappa (bk 117b; Ned. 57b). He was one of the *neḥutei who brought teachings of Ereẓ Israel to Babylonia (Er. 27a; et al.), and similarly transmitted some of the teachings of the Babylonian scholars, Rav and R. Judah (Ber. 43a; tj, Shevu. 4:1, 35c). There is mention of his preaching in the house of the exilarch (mk 24b) and disputing with Naḥman b. Jacob (Ber. 7b), R. Ḥisda, and R. Sheshet (Ber. 27a; Shab. 43b).

Many Babylonian amoraim transmit halakhah and aggadah in his name. On one of his visits to Babylon Isaac was the guest of R. Naḥman. When he was about to take his departure Naḥman requested Isaac to bless him. He replied with a parable: "A man was once journeying in the desert. He was hungry, weary, and thirsty, and chanced across a tree whose fruits were sweet, its shade pleasant, and a stream of water flowed beneath it… When he was about to resume his journey he said: 'Tree, with what shall I bless thee?… That thy fruits be sweet? They are sweet already; that thy shade be pleasant? It is already pleasant; that a stream of water should flow beneath thee? It already flows beneath thee; I pray that all the shoots planted from you be like you'" (Ta'an. 5b). Isaac was renowned both as a halakhist and an aggadist, and the following story is told. Once Ammi and Assi were sitting before him. One of them asked him to expound a halakhah and the other an aggadah. "He commenced an aggadah but was prevented by the one, and when he commenced a halakhah he was prevented by the other. He said to them: This may be compared to a man who has two wives, one young and one old. The young one used to pluck out the white hairs to make him appear young and the old one his black ones, to make him appear old. He thus became completely bald" (bk 60b). He devoted himself, however, particularly to the aggadah and is numbered among the most important aggadists. He saw in it a means of encouraging the people during the difficult period through which they were passing, as is evident from his saying (pdrk 101): "In the past when money was plentiful people used to crave to hear the words of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Now that money is in short supply and moreover we suffer from the government, people crave to hear the words of Scripture and of the aggadah." It was his custom to give an introduction to the homilies he delivered in public and the expression, "Isaac opened (i.e., "his discourse")" is frequently found (see Gen. R. 1:7; et al.). He interlaced his homilies with parables and proverbs and engaged much in biblical exposition. His aggadah reflects contemporary events (e.g., Meg. 6a).

The following are some of Isaac's sayings: "If you see fortune favoring the wicked, do not contend with him" (Ber. 7b); "a man should always divide his wealth in three parts, [investing] one in land, one in merchandise, and [keeping] one ready to hand" (bm 42a); "if a man says to you: 'I have labored and not found,' believe him not; 'I have not labored, yet found,' believe him not; 'I have labored and found,' believe him" (Meg. 6b); "a leader should not be appointed over the community without the approval of the community" (Ber. 55a). He was opposed to those who took vows to abstain from permitted worldly pleasures, saying of them: "Are not those things forbidden by the Torah enough, without you wanting to add to them?" (tj, Ned. 9:1, 41b).


Hyman, Toledot, 782–4, 800–2; Bacher, Pal Amor, 2 (1896), 205–95; Z.W. Rabinowitz, Sha'arei Torat Bavel (1961), 457–8.

[Yitzhak Dov Gilat]