- For the third generation Amora sage of Babylon, with a similar name, see: Joseph b. Hama (his father).
- For another Amora sage of Babylon with a similar name, see: Rabbah bar Nahmani.
Abba ben Joseph bar Ḥama (c. 280 – 352 CE), who is exclusively referred to in the Talmud by the name Rava (רבא), was a rabbi who belonged to the fourth generation of amoraim. He lived in Mahoza, a suburb of Ctesiphon, the capital of Babylonia. He is one of the most often-cited rabbis in the Talmud.
He was born about 280 CE at Mahoza, where his father was a wealthy and distinguished scholar. In his youth Rava went to Sura, where he attended the lectures of Rav Chisda and associated with Rami bar Hama. About ten years after Rami's death Rava married his widow, the daughter of Rav Chisda. It is said that earlier Rav Chisda's daughter sat in her father's classroom, while his students, Rava and Rami bar Hama, stand before them. When Rav Chisda asks her which of the two she wants to marry, she replies "both of them," and Rava added, "I'll be the last one" (commentators let us know that she indeed married Rami first and Rava second). They had five sons, the eldest of whom, Joseph, died during his parents' lifetime.
Rava studied at the Talmudical Academy at Pumbedita, site of modern-day Falluja, Iraq. Rava's teachers were Rav Yosef, Rabbah, and, chiefly, Rav Nachman (who lived in Mahoza). His chief study-companion was Abaye, who was about the same age, and both of them developed the dialectic method which Rav Judah and their teacher Rabbah had established in their discussions of tradition; their debates became known as the "Havayot de-Abaye ve-Rava". Rava surpassed Abaye in dialectics; his conclusions and deductions were as logical as they were keen, whereas those of Abaye, although very ingenious, were not always sound.
Rava enjoyed the special protection of the mother of Shapur II, the reigning King of Persia. For this reason, and in consideration of large sums which he secretly contributed to the court, he succeeded in making less severe Shapur's oppressions of the Jews in Babylonia.
When, after the death of R. Joseph, Abaye was chosen head of the Academy of Pumbedita (Horayot 14a), Rava founded a school of his own in Mahoza. Many pupils, preferring his lectures Abaye's, followed him to there. After Abaye's death Rava was elected head of the school, and the academy was transferred from Pumbedita to Mahoza, which, during the lifetime of Rava, was the only seat of Jewish learning in Babylonia.
When Rabbah bar Nahmani, the head of the yeshiva of Pumbedita, retired, the position went to Abaye. At that point, Rava returned to Mahoza, in Babylonia, where he established a yeshiva there. After the death of Abaye, many of his students moved from Pumbedita to Mahoza, to join Rava's Yeshiva, which had become one of the intellectual centers of the Babylonian Jewish Community.
According to Sherira Gaon, Rava died in 355 CE, aged about 77. Some texts of the Talmud say that he died at age 40, being one of the descendants of Eli who were cursed with early death; but in all likelihood the correct version of the text refers to Rabbah not Rava.
The debates between Rava and Abaye are considered classic examples of Talmudic dialectical logic. Of their hundreds of recorded disputes, the law is decided according to the opinion of Rava in all but six cases. His methodology greatly influenced not only his students, but the stammaim, as well.
Rava occupied a prominent position among the transmitters of the Halakah, and established many new decisions and rulings, especially in ceremonial law. He strove to spread the knowledge of halakhah by discoursing upon it in lectures, to which the public were admitted, and many of his halakhic decisions expressly state that they were taken from such discourses. He was a master of halakhic exegesis, not infrequently resorting to it to demonstrate the Biblical authority underlying legal regulations. He adopted certain hermeneutic principles which were partly modifications of older rules and partly his own. He was regarded as a greater authority than Abaye, and in cases where there was a difference of opinion between them Rava was generally followed; there are only six instances in which Abaye's decision was preferred.
Rava apparently had to reply to a deep-seated skepticism toward rabbinic authority and to defend the authenticity of the rabbinic oral tradition. The skepticism of Mahozan Jewry was fueled in part by the acceptance of the Manichaean polemic against Zoroastrianism and its insistence on oral transmission, and by a strong concern with the problem of theodicy, encouraged by a familiarity with Zoroastrian theology. Rava’s creativity was fueled by his cosmopolitan urban environment. For instance, he ruled that one who habitually ate certain non-kosher foods because he liked the taste was nevertheless trustworthy as a witness in cases involving civil matters. So too did he suggest that a lost object belongs to the person who discovers it even before the loser is aware of his loss, because it prevented the loser from resorting to urban courts to try to get his property back and eliminated the period of uncertainty of possession. It also led to the legal concept that 'future [psychological] abandonment [of possession] when unaware [of the loss] is [nevertheless retrospectively accounted] as abandonment'. Ultimately, Rava’s views were decisive in shaping the Bavli’s approach to the problem of theodicy, legal midrash, and conceptualization, all of which stand in stark contrast to the Yerushalmi."
Rava was as preeminent in aggadah as in halakhah. In addition to the lectures to his pupils, he used to hold public discourses, most of them aggadic in character, and many of his aggadic interpretations are expressly said to have been delivered in public. Even more numerous are the interpretations which, although not expressly stated to have been delivered in public, seem to have been presented before a general audience, since they do not differ from the others in form. The majority of these expositions, which frequently contain popular maxims and proverbs, refer to the first books of the Ketuvim — Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes.
Bacher justly infers from this that the aggadic lectures of Rava were delivered in connection with the Sabbath afternoon service - at which, according to a custom observed in Nehardea, and later probably in Mahoza also, parashiyyot were read from the Ketuvim. Rava therefore appended his aggadic discourse to the Biblical section which had been read.
Torah study is a frequent topic of Rava's aggadah. In the judgment after death, each man will be obliged to state whether he devoted certain times to study, and whether he diligently pursued the knowledge of the Law, striving to deduce the meaning of one passage from another. The Torah, in his view, is a medicine, life-giving to those who devote themselves to it with right intent, but a deadly poison for those who do not properly avail themselves of it. "A true disciple of wisdom must be upright; and his interior must harmonize with his exterior". Rava frequently emphasizes the respect due to teachers of the Law, the proper methods of study, and the rules applicable to the instruction of the young. In addition, Rava's aggadah frequently discusses the characters of Biblical history.
Rava was secretly initiated, probably by his teacher Rav Joseph, into aggadic esoterism; he is the author of a number of aphorisms which are tinged with mysticism. It is said that he once created a golem and sent it to Rav Zeira. Once he wished to lecture in the academy upon the Tetragrammaton, but an old man prevented him, reminding him that such knowledge must be kept secret.
- The reward for [learning] tradition is its logic [not the practical conclusions].
- Either companionship or death. (popular saying)
- When as yet I had not been made, I was not worthy. But now that I have been made, it is as though I had not been made. Dust am I during my lifetime, how more then in my death!
- A candle for one is a candle for a hundred.
- Yevamot 34b
- Bava Batra 12b
- Sukkah 28a
- Ta'anit 24b
- Hagigah 5b
- Bava Batra 22a
- Iggeret Rav Sherira Gaon, section 3, chapter 3
- Avodah Zarah 19b; Rosh Hashana 18a (according to the wording preserved by Rashi)
- Rashi (on Rosh Hashana 18a) and Tosafot (on Yevamot 105a) write that Rava was not a kohen, and thus not descended from Eli. Other arguments suggest that Rava was not a kohen. When he said that he would marry the daughter of Rami bar Hama after Rami did (Bava Batra 12b), he presumably did not mean to curse Rami to die, in which case he had in mind to marry her as a divorcee, which would be forbidden to a kohen. In addition, he instructed his sons not to marry converts (Brachot 8b), an instruction which would be superfluous for a kohen, as all kohanim are forbidden to marry converts. In addition, he once visited Rav Huna's deathbed (Moed Kattan 28a), which a kohen would not do to avoid being under one roof with a corpse.
- "An Intro to the Stam(maim)". Drew Kaplan's Blog. Blogspot. 6 May 2008. Retrieved 31 January 2010.
- e.g., Hullin 42b, 43b, 46b, 47a,b; Pesachim 30a
- Eruvin 104a; Shabbat 143a; Pesachim 42a; Bava Batra 127a
- Compare Bacher, "Ag. Bab. Amor." pp. 131-132
- Kiddushin 52a
- Yaakov Elman, "The Babylonian Talmud in Its Historical Context," in Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg To Schottenstein, ed. Sharon Liberman Mintz & Gabriel M. Goldstein (New York City: Yeshiva University Museum, 2006), 26-27.
- e.g., Sanhedrin 107a, 108b, 109a; Hagigah 3a, 15b; Eruvin 21b; et al.
- compare Bacher, l.c. pp. 124 et seq.
- Shabbat 116b; Rapoport, "Erekh Millin," pp. 170 et seq.
- Shabbat 31a
- Yoma 72b
- e.g., Sanhedrin 99b; Shabbat 23b
- Avodah Zarah 19a
- Bava Batra 21a
- Sanhedrin 108b; Bava Batra 123a; Sotah 34b; etc.
- Bacher, l.c. p. 130
- See especially Sanhedrin 65b
- Sanhedrin 65b
- Pesachim 50a
- Berakhot 6b
- Ta'anit 23a
- Berakhot 17a
- Shabbat 122a