Kallah, Months of

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KALLAH, MONTHS OF , a term for the months of Elul and Adar when, during the talmudic and geonic eras, large gatherings assembled to study Torah in the Babylonian academies. Many conjectures have been made about the etymology of the word kallah, but they are all doubtful (see Krauss, in Tarbiz, 20 (1949), 123ff. and bibliography). The custom of the institution of the kallah apparently began in Babylon in the third century. It is related that Rabbah b. Nahamani, head of the Pumbedita academy (end of the third and beginning of the fourth centuries), was calumniated to the government for hindering 12,000 people from paying their tax to the king during the two months of the kallah, since they refrained from work during this period (bm 86a). Rav Ashi stated that the gentiles of Mata Meḥasya, near Sura, were obdurate, since they saw the glory of the Torah twice a year, in the months of Adar and Elul, and yet remained unconverted (Ber. 17b). Besides the benei kallah (the "members of the kallah") who participated in the studies during the whole day, many of the ordinary people would come just for the public sermon and were called benei pirkei (Ket. 62a). The students devoted themselves diligently to their studies during the kallah months. Bibi b. Abbaye had not the time even to go over the weekly Bible portion "twice in Hebrew and once in the Targum," and would complete the reading on the eve of the Day of Atonement (Ber. 8b in Ms. readings and He-Arukh s.v. כל). Rav Naḥman (end of the third century) gave instructions that litigants who were members of the kallah were not to be summoned to appear before the courts during the kallah so as not to interrupt their studies (bk 113a). The Talmud mentions two heads of kallah by name: *Naḥman b. Isaac was the head of the kallah and Adda b. Abbaused to "go over the discourse" with him every day before he went in to expound it in the kallah (bb 22a). It is said of Abbahu that he was one of the heads of the kallah of Refram (Ḥul. 49a). It is therefore evident that several heads of kallah served in that office during one kallah period.

During each kallah month the studies were one specific tractate, the "kallah tractate," which the head of the academy announced at the end of the previous kallah, so that each participant could study it during the months intervening between one kallah and the next. During the kallah month, the head of the academy would give a discourse on that tractate and reply to the queries of the students, and then one of the scholars among those sitting in the first row, "the heads of the kallah," would discuss the topic with the hearers until it was explained and clarified to all. In the last week of the kallah month the head of the academy would test and examine the permanent members of the academy, and if "he saw that one of them had not organized his studies … he would diminish his stipend, rebuke him, and reprimand him … as a result they applied themselves and occupied themselves well with their studies in order not to come to grief in a halakhic matter before him" (Neubauer, 2 (1895), 87–88).

These descriptions, and others known from R. Nathan ha-Bavli, describe mainly the arrangements in the academies in the geonic era, but they had their source at the beginning of the talmudic era and continued unchanged in Babylonia for centuries. According to one tradition (ibid.) the month of Adar was used for the clarification of the written queries which reached the Babylonian academies. During this month the queries which reached the heads of the academy from the communities in the Diaspora were brought out, and the scholars of the academy examined them together, finally arriving at the practical halakhah. After "the truth had become clear to them," the scribe committed the result to writing, and at the end of the month the head of the academy signed them and sent the replies to the inquirers. It is clear from other geonic sources, however, that during the rest of the year, too, replies were sent in answer to questions (S. Assaf, Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah (1955), 256–60). The institution of kallah months was unknown in Ereẓ Israel, and is mentioned neither in the Jerusalem Talmud, nor in any baraita. The phrase "and even in the kallah tractate" in the beraitot of tractates Ta'anit (10b) and Kiddushin (49b) was added in accordance with the custom of the time among the Babylonians (see the Mss. and the parallels in the Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud). Rashi explains the expression "tractate kallah" as referring to tractate Kallah Rabbati or to the festival halakhot on which they were accustomed to discourse before the festival (Shab. 114a; et al.). But the correct meaning is that given by Hai Gaon (Sefer ha-Ittim, 246–8) and others, that the months of Adar and Elul are meant (see also the supplement to the Tanhuma, No'ah 3). In modern Israel a modified form of the kallah month was instituted by Rabbi J. Kahaneman at the Ponevezh yeshivah in Bene-Berak, and it spread to other centers.


Neubauer, Chronicles, 2 (1895), 77–78; S. Schechter, Saadyana (1903), 118; Epstein, in: jqr, 12 (1921/22), 369ff.; Lauterbach, in: Hebrew Union College Jubilee Volume (1925), 211–22; Krauss, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 43 (1924/25), 65–71; idem, in: Livre d'Hommage à la mémoire… S. Poznański (1927), 143–6 (Ger.); idem, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1948/49), 123–32; Hildesheimer, in: Emet le-Ya'akov. Sefer Yovel… Y. Freimann (1937), 58–71 (Heb. pt.); Assaf, Ge'onim, 256–60; S.K. Mirsky (ed.), She'iltot de Rav Aḥai Ga'on (1959), 8–10 (introd.); Ḥ. Albeck; Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 12ff., 601–4; K.F. Tcorsh, Keter Efrayim (1967), 272–326.

[Yitzhak Dov Gilat]