Naḥman ben Jacob

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NAḤMAN BEN JACOB (usually referred to without patronymic; d. c. 320 c.e.), Babylonian amora and a leading personality of his time. Born in Nehardea, where his father was a scribe of Samuel's bet din (bm 16b), Naḥman sometimes quotes his father's teachings (Beẓah 26a; Zev. 56a). Naḥman may have studied under Samuel, since he transmits teachings in his name (Ber. 27b; Shab. 57b) and refers to him as rabbenu ("our master"; Ber. 38b, Er. 16b); but if so he must have then been very young, since Samuel died in 254. Naḥman also transmits sayings in the names of Rav (Er. 72b; Pes. 13a), Adda b. Ahavah (bk 24a), Shila (Ber. 49b), and Isaac (Shab. 131b), with whom he was on close terms (Ta'an. 5a–6a). His main teacher, however, was Rabbah b. Avuha (Yev. 80b; Git. 72a) in whose name he frequently transmits statements (Ber. 36b; Shab. 17a). Rabbah b. Avuha wanted to give him his daughter in marriage (Yev. 80b), although it is not clear whether this occurred. It is known that Naḥman ultimately married into the family of the exilarch (Ḥul. 124a) and in consequence was held in high esteem (Kid. 70a), and that his wife, *Yalta, had influence in the house of the exilarch (Rashi to Git. 67b). When Nehardea was destroyed in 259 by Odenathus, Naḥman went to Shekanzib, but returned to Nehardea when it was rebuilt, teaching and serving as dayyan there (Er. 34b; Kid. 70a–b; bb 153a). There are many statements by him on both halakhah and aggadah in the Talmud, and his name is one of those most frequently mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud and also appears quite frequently in the Jerusalem Talmud. Huna held him equal to Samuel as a judge in civil law (bk 96b), and Naḥman regarded himself as of sufficient standing to judge cases on his own (Sanh. 5a). In later generations it was laid down that in any dispute between Naḥman and a colleague, the former's opinion was to prevail (Ket. 13a; Kid. 59b). He often visited Sura (Suk. 14b; Ket. 94a) and frequently transmitted teachings in the name of Huna, who taught there (Pes. 40a), and with whom Naḥman frequently disputed (Er. 42a), referring to him as "our colleague Huna" (Git. 52b). An important contemporary was *Judah b. Ezekiel, the founder of the academy of Pumbedita; Naḥman often differed with him (bk 27b) but held him in high esteem (bm 66a). On one occasion he summoned Judah to court. Judah was advised by Huna to overlook the discourtesy, and he appeared. It was only then that Naḥman realized who the respondent was. Judah, however, plainly showed his irritation, whereupon Yalta advised her husband to settle the case quickly lest Judah make him appear an ignoramus (Kid. 70a–b). Other of his colleagues were Ammi (Ber. 47b) and Assi (Er. 32b), as well as Ḥiyya b. Abba (ibid). and R. Isaac of Palestine. Once, when parting from Naḥman, Isaac compared him to a rich shady fruit tree growing by the side of a stream, not lacking wealth, reputation, or honor, and said that he could only pray that each shoot taken from the parent tree should be the equal of the sire (Ta'an. 5b–6a). Among his pupils were Zera (rh 20b), Rabbah (Pes. 40a), Joseph (Yev. 66b) and Rava (Ber. 23b). Some of his aggadic sayings are: "When a woman is talking she is spinning" (a web to capture the male; Meg. 14b); "Haughtiness does not become a woman" (ibid.). There is definite mention of a number of his sons, Rabbah (Shab. 119a), Hon (Yev. 34b), Mar Zutra (bb 7a), and Ḥiyya (bb 46a). Naḥman is said to have had two daughters who were taken captive. R. Elesh, taken captive with them, wanted to take them with him when he was about to escape, but did not do so, on discovering that they practiced witchcraft (Git. 45a). On his deathbed Naḥman requested Rava, who was sitting by the bed, to pray to the angel of death to spare him a painful death. He later appeared to Rava in a dream and said that though his death was not painful, he would prefer not to face the fear of it again (mk 28a).


Hyman, Toledot, 928–39; Frankel, Mevo, 116b; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), 417–21; Bacher, Bab. Amor., 79–83; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 298–301; Neusner, Babylonia, 3 (1968), index.

[David Joseph Bornstein]