Amoraim and Amoraim

I am not a fan of the revadim (layers) method of gemara study. In short, this is a way of analyzing the gemara by teasing out the various layers of halachic discourse through the centuries we simply call “chazal”. My opposition isn’t so much that I think there is anything heretical or evil about it, just that this isn’t the way the gemara is meant to be studied. It’s focusing on a feature we should really consider incidental, in terms of the priorities of talmud Torah. Simply because we should be focusing on halachic authority, not history.

Still, it may be of interest that the voices in Shas can be divided into three eras, and one of those divisions actually has halachic significance.  My tutorial in this area was a PhD thesis by Joshua Even Eisen titled, “Stammaitic Activity versus Stammaitic Chronology; Anonymity’s Impact on the Legal Narrative of the Babylonian Talmud“.

It’s discussed in Doros haRishoinim (R’ Yitzchaq haLevi, Frankfurt, 189 – DhR) and Hischavus haTalmud beShleimuso (R’ Avraham Weiss, New York, 1943). DhR sets out three periods:

  1. The acceptance of Rebbe’s work as The Mishnah to Abyaei veRava (AvR). In this period, halakhah was discussed using Rebbe’s mishnayos as the structure, but not attempt at organizing.
  2. AvR to Rav Ashi veRavina (RAvR). I am preserving the name order used by the Rambam, as it’s likely this Ravina is R’ Ashi’s grandson, not the one of “Ravina veR’ Ashi”. New discussion and redaction of earlier conversations into the start of a formalization.
  3. The savoraim, under whom the basic gemara wasn’t changed much, it was more a cleanup and the insertion of a few notes that ended up in the final text. (To which I would add: whether by intent or not, I have no idea.)

I would also note that with Abayei’s death, Yeshivas Pumpedisa (which is today’s “Falluja“) moved to Mechoza and was taken over by Rava. So there is a geographical discontinuity between (2) and (3) as well.

There is halachic significance to each of these breaks, which is why I think this particular point goes beyond the general issue of revadim.

Halakhah kebasra’i — the halakhah is like the latter [authority]” is only miAbayei veRava va’eilakh (from AvR onward) and before that “ein halakhah ketalmid bemaqom harav — the halakhah is not like the student in the place of the rebbe” held sway. (See “halakhah kebasra’i” for sources.) The Mahariq (shoresh 84) writes that it’s because before AvR a student learned only “al pi qabalas raboseihem, kefi mah shehayu shonim lahem — according to what their rebbes received, what they [the mentors] repeated to them.” But from AvR onward “lomdu kol hadei’os — they learned all the opinions”. Which could be taken to be a change in teaching style, or as a standardization of set shaqlos vetaryos (question-and-answer dialectics) consistent with saying they compiled a proto-Bavli. But what’s important in terms of talmud Torah is the effect, the change in meaning in how we read statements before Abayei veRava, vs. those made by them or after.

And in fact it was in context of learning about when halakhah kebasra’i began from a public speaker (forgot whom) that I was first told of this idea of AvR’s proto-gemara. It was said en passant, not presented as the lecture’s focal chiddush. So I thought I had just filled a lacuna in my own knowledge. (Which was when I found the above-cited thesis.)

There are some who try to show that consistent with this statement, the Rambam never pasqens like material that is provably after RAvR over other positions from Chazal. As the Rambam writes in his introduction to his Code, “Rav Ashi veRavina sof hora’ah — Rav Ashi and Ravina are the end of halachic guidance [of some level].” Although it would seem that other rishonim place the line at the sealing of the Talmud, and thus would include as amoraic (in authority, not history) those opinions of savoraim that were deemed worthy of inclusion.

To compare to the sequence in producing the Yerushalmi… Tradition has it that Rav Yochanan and Reish Laqish authored the Yerushalmi. This can’t be taken at face value, because Rav Yochanan, a student of Rebbe, was the first generation of amoraim and Reish Laqish was his chavrusah — most of the Yerushalmi post-dates them. I would therefore suggest that they compiled proto-Yerushalmi, much the way Abayei and Rava later start the process that produces the Bavli. There is very little stam, unnamed text in the Yerushalmi, and very little editing of quotes. Part of this may be conceptual — the Yerushalmi places more emphasis in tracking and preserving quotes — but part of this is also because the Israeli amoraic tradition ends abruptly, with expulsion. The Yerushalmi is an unfinished book.

While discussing the Rambam and differences in authority in statements of amoraim, I wish to add one more idea. According to the Gra, the Rambam considered named opinions more authoritative than unsigned ones. Therefore, while in general the Rambam sided with the Bavli, he would rule like a named opinion in the Yerushalmi over an unnamed one in the Bavli. There are still a few unnamed passages in the Yerushalmi, which would be yet earlier than most of the Bavli. But even so, these passages do not — according to the Gra — get chosen by the Rambam over later named quotes in the Bavli. It’s not about historical sequence, but of exact citation.

Some dispute this, the matter of how much emphasis the Rambam gave the Yerushalmi is a matter open to debate. One point in favor of assuming greater value was that when the Rabam was 30 — years before writing the Mishneh Torah — he wrote all or part of Halakhos haYerushalmi — a collection of the Yerushalmi’s halachic conclusions, much the way the Rif addressed the Bavli. (Dr Saul Leiberman produced a critical edition of the extant portions.)

Either would stand in contrast to the Ri (Berachos 11b, Tosafos “shekevar niftar“), who explicitly dismisses any role of the Yerushalmi in halakhah where the Bavli states a position — even unnamed, stam.

And a middle road is taken by the author of the Shulchan Arukh (Kessef Mishnah, Hil’ Geirushin 13:18) . He too say the the halakhah is always like the Bavli over the Yerushalmi. But our understanding of the Bavli should be based on the assumption that its conflicts with the Yerushalmi are rare. Therefore, we must sometimes take an understanding of the gemara that would otherwise seem a stretch (dochaq) because assuming the two conflict is implicitly a greater stretch. According to the Shulchan Arukh, then, we need to refer to both Talmuds just to know what the Bavli is saying in order to follow it, even though in theory we are following the Bavli exclusively.

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