Levi ben Sisi

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LEVI BEN SISI (end of second and beginning of third century, c.e.), Palestinian and Babylonian amora. He is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud without a patronymic, but with his father's name in the Jerusalem Talmud. He was a colleague-disciple of *Judah ha-Nasi (Ber. 49a; Shab. 107b; Zev. 30b; Men. 80b, et al.), whom he called Rabbenu ha-Kadosh ("Our Holy Master," Shab. 156a). Although Judah sometimes scolded him (Yev. 9a), he held his scholarship in high regard (Zev. 30b). So authentic were the traditions handed down by him that the words lemedin li-fenei ha-ḥakhamim ("It was taught before the sages") are said to refer to Levi's transmission of the teachings of Judah ha-Nasi (Sanh. 17b). The Talmud gives various details of his intimate position in Judah's household: he was the merrymaker on festive occasions and entertained those present with acrobatic performances. Once he tried to imitate the manner in which the priests used to prostrate themselves in the Temple, but dislocated his hip which resulted in a permanent limp (Suk. 53a). Levi taught that at prayer a person must stand with his feet straight like the angels (tj, Ber. 1:1, 2c). He used to write down in a notebook the discussions with his teacher R. Judah Ha-Nasi (Shab. 156a). He also had a collection of beraitot which is mentioned several times in the Talmud (Yoma 24a; Yev. 10a; Ket. 53b; et al.). Levi was held to possess special power for successful intercession on such occasions as drought (Ta'an. 25a) or danger from bandits (tj, Ta'an. 3:8, 66d).

Levi seems to have traveled often between Ereẓ Israel and Babylonia and was well acquainted with the cultural conditions of the peoples of Babylonia. After his return from one of these journeys Judah ha-Nasi asked him about their particular characteristics (Kid. 72a). When the citizens of Simonia sought a judge and spiritual leader, Judah ha-Nasi recommended Levi, who, despite his initially disappointing performance, was appointed on the strength of the recommendation (tj, Yev. 12:7, 13a). After the death of Judah ha-Nasi, when Afess was appointed in his place, Levi discontinued his studies at his master's academy but studied with R. *Ḥanina b. Ḥama outside the walls of the yeshivah. For this behavior he was criticized by many of his contemporaries, and according to legend he was punished for this by exclusion from the "academy in heaven" until Samuel interceded on his behalf and he was admitted (Ber. 18b). After the appointment of Ḥanina b. Ḥama as head of the academy, Levi migrated to Babylonia where he joined the school of *Rav (Beẓah 24b; Ket. 52a) and other former disciples of Judah ha-Nasi (Shab. 59; Ket. 103b).

Levi settled finally in Nehardea where he became a close friend of *Abba b. Abba, the father of *Samuel (Ber. 30a; bb 42b). Both studied in the old synagogue of the town called Shaf ve-Yativ, according to legend built of stones brought from Jerusalem by Jehoiachin, and witnessed there the appearance of heavenly messengers (Meg. 29a). Levi also lectured at the academy there (Song. R. 4:8) and was associate judge at the court of the *exilarchMar *Ukba (Ukva; Pes. 76b; bb 54a) who held his erudition in very high esteem (Shab. 108b; mk 26b). Levi instructed his friend's son, later the famous Babylonian amora Samuel, who transmitted many of his master's teachings (Shab. 108b; Er. 10a, et al.). Among Levi's prominent pupils were *Mattnah (mk 26b) and a number of amoraim who later migrated to Ereẓ Israel, including *Assi (Av. Zar. 38b), *Ḥiyya b. Abba (Eccl. R. 1:4), and *Ze'ira (Shab. 108b). After Levi's death Abba b. Abba eulogized him as a scholar whose worth was equal to that of the rest of mankind (tj, Ber. 2:85a).


Hyman, Toledot, 859–62; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavola-Talmudim (1969), 153–5.

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Levi ben Sisi

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