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Rava

RAVA

RAVA (d. 352 c.e.), Babylonian amora. Rava is an abbreviation of R. Abba, and his full name was R. Abba b. Joseph b. Ḥama (Er. 54a). He lived at *MaḤoza. His teachers were *Ḥisda, the head of the academy at Sura, whose daughter he married (BB 12b), but principally *Naḥman b. Jacob (Shab. 4a) and R. Joseph, head of the academy at Pumbedita (Ḥul. 133a). His main halakhic discussions were with his companion *Abbaye, and their statements and controversies are found throughout the Babylonian Talmud. In their many debates the halakhah follows Rava's view except in six instances (for which the mnemonic יע״ל קג״ם was given) in which the halakhah is according to Abbaye (bm 22b). After R. Joseph's death in 323 (Iggeret Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 85–86), Abbaye was chosen in preference to the other candidates (Rava, Zera, and Rabbah b. Matna) as the head of the Pumbedita academy. Rava thereupon left that city and returned to Maḥoza, where be established a bet midrash which attracted many pupils (bb 22a). Rava ascribed overriding weight to logical reasoning and inference in the study and comprehension of the Torah; this approach is reflected in his statement that "one grain of pungent pepper is better than a basketful of pumpkins" (Ḥag. 10a) and in his assertion that he was "like Ben Azzai," who was noted for his mental keenness (Er. 29a). His educational approach was popular with Rava's pupils, one of whom, addressing the pupils of Abbaye, who in his teaching preferred a thorough knowledge and comprehension of halakhic discussions, said: "Instead of gnawing bones in the school of Abbaye, why do you not eat fat meat in the school of Rava?" (bb 22a). Those who had studied under Rava found no great satisfaction in other sages' discourses (Ta'an. 9a). Rava's academy became the principal one after Abbaye's death in 338, the sages and pupils of Abbaye's academy moving to Maḥoza (Iggeret Sherira Ga'on pp. 88–89).

For 14 years, until his death, Rava was the head of the academy, during which time his intellectual powers and economic position so expanded as to enable him to assert that he had been granted the wisdom of *Huna and the wealth of Ḥisda, though not the modesty of *Rabbah b. Huna (mk 28a). He owned fields and vineyards (bm 73a) and traded in wine (Ber. 56a), cooperated in public and administrative matters with the exilarch's officials (bb 22a; Git. 31b), and negotiated with the Persian authorities. He was on friendly terms with the exilarch (Beẓah 21b; Ber. 50a; Pes. 74b), and there is illuminating information on his contacts with *Shapurii. When the sages of the academy complained that Rava had established too close relations with the royal court, he replied by telling them what he had to endure there and the large sums with which he bribed the court (Ḥag. 5b). Apparently much money was demanded from the Jews, as from the rest of the population, to finance Shapur's wars against the Romans. Rava also maintained close ties with Ifra Hormuz, the king's mother, who sent him money for distribution among the poor (bb 10b) and a calf to be sacrificed on her behalf (Zev. 116b). She told her son of Rava's greatness when the king wished to punish him for having sentenced a man to flogging which proved fatal (Ta'an. 24b). Maḥoza's geographic proximity to Be-Ardashir, one of the country's capitals, may have facilitated Rava's contacts with the authorities there.

Rava's main activity, however, lay in teaching and in spreading knowledge of the Torah. He instituted various regulations for the people of Maḥoza (Beẓah 30a; Er. 40a; mk 22a; Nid. 66b). He denounced for their pursuit of pleasure (rh 17a), many among the well-to-do (bk 119a) who ate and drank to excess (Shab. 109a) and whose wives did no work (Shab. 32b–33a). On the other hand, he praised the industry of the workers of Maḥoza (bm 77a). Large audiences gathered on Sabbaths to hear Rava's discourses (Er. 44b), and in numerous statements he stressed the signal religious value of studying the Torah. Once, when he noticed a disciple of the sages praying at great length, he said: "They forsake eternal life and occupy themselves with temporal life" (Shab. 10a). He declared that whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah has no need of sacrifices (Men. 110a) and is superior to a high priest who enters into the innermost part of the sanctuary (Sot. 4b), that the Torah is an antidote to the evil inclination (bb 16a), that suffering comes upon a man for neglecting the study of the Torah (Ber. 5a), and that King Asa was punished for having imposed forced labor on the disciples of the sages who were thus compelled to neglect the study of the Torah (Sot. 10a). He claimed exemption from government taxes for disciples of the sages (Ned. 62b), to whom he gave the right to sell their goods in the market (bb 22a). To uphold their honor and prevent them from wasting their time, which should be devoted to the study of the Torah, he allowed them to disclose that they were disciples of the sages so that they might be judged or give evidence without having to wait for the cases of others to be finished (Ned. 62a). But he also demanded of them that they be worthy of the name, declaring that "any disciple of the sages whose inside is not like his outside is not a disciple of the sages" (Yoma 72b).

Yet despite its great importance Rava did not regard the study of the Torah as an end in itself. Thus a favorite saying of his was, "The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that a man should not study the Torah and Mishnah and then despise his father and mother, his teacher, and his superior in wisdom and rank" (Ber. 17a). In like manner, when describing what is demanded of man in this world, he said: "When man is brought in for judgment [in the next world] he is asked, 'Did you deal faithfully, fix times for studying the Torah, did you engage in procreation, hope for salvation, did you search after wisdom, infer one thing from another?' Yet, even so, if 'the fear of the Lord is his treasure' (Isa. 33:6) it is well; if not, it is not well" (Shab. 31a). Rava's special outlook can be better comprehended when compared with Hamnuna's statement that "the first matter for which a man is called to render account in the hereafter is with regard to the study of the Torah" (Sanh. 7a). Rava likewise said: "Jerusalem was destroyed only because men of integrity ceased therein" (Shab. 119b). An illuminating view of his is that "length of life, children, and sustenance depend not on merit but on luck" (mk 28a). He had many affinities with mysticism and performed miracles (see Sanh. 65b). On one occasion he even wished to discourse in the bet midrash on the mystery of the Tetragrammaton but was stopped by a certain old man (Pes. 50a). On Rava's death the academy at Maḥoza was divided in two, *Naḥman b. Isaac, the head of the *kallah at Maḥoza, succeeding Rava as head of the academy there, while R. *Papa, a pupil of Rava, established one at Naresh.

bibliography:

Bacher, Pal Amor; Hyman, Toledot, s.v.; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 374–6.

[Moshe Beer]

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