Rabbah bar Nahmani
Rabbah was a kohen descended from Eli. He was a student of Rav Huna at Sura and of Judah bar Ezekiel at Pumbedita, and so distinguished himself as a student that Huna seldom decided a question of importance without consulting him. His brethren in Palestine were little pleased with his residence in Babylonia, and wrote to him to come to the Holy Land, where he would find a teacher in Rabbi Yochanan, since it would be far better for him, wise though he was, to have a guide than to rely on himself in his studies. Rabbah, however, seems not to have answered this urgent request, and apparently never left Babylonia.
Upon the death of Judah ben Ezekiel, Rabbah succeeded as head of the academy (reish metivta) of Pumbedita, and held the post until his death 22 years later. The academy achieved its height under his leadership and he attracted many new students to the academy. During the Kallah months, he is said to have attracted as many as 12,000 students.
He is also said to have lived in poverty, but little else is known about his private life. He was maligned by his detractors to the Persian king for leading and teaching bi-annual month-long study gatherings for over twelve thousand people, leading to their being absent at the time of tax collections. The king sent bailiffs to seize him; he fled from city to city and finally into a marsh, where his body was found in a thicket. According to Rabbi Sherira Gaon, he was denounced to the king for causing twelve thousand men to be idle during a lunar month in summer (Elul) and a lunar month in winter (Adar). The Talmud records that after his death, he was eulogized for seven days.
His nephew was the great scholar Abaye (280–340) who, being an orphan, was raised by Rabbah. He was succeeded by his son, also called Rabbah. Both Rabbah and Abaye were destined to die in the prime of their lives as they were descendants of Eily the High Priest who was cursed that his descendants would die young. However, due to the fact that Rabbah studied Torah he merited to live to the age of 40. Whereas Abaye, who studied Torah and performed (extra) acts of kindness, lived to the age of 60.
He was a great scholar, renowned for his abilities to argue texts, resolve contradictions, and find applications, which gave him the nickname of oker harim (uprooter of mountains), as his studies exhibit the power of one who picks up mountains and grinds them against each other. He was also an exceptional teacher. He used to start every lecture with a joke or funny anecdote to get his students in a good mood. He would test the judgment of his audience, implying a mistaken halakha and waiting for his students to find the mistake.
Only about ten of Rabbah's aggadic teachings are recorded; He seem to have concentrated his attention on halakhah, which he endeavored to elucidate by interpreting the mishnaic decisions and the baraitot, and by determining the fundamental reasons for the various Torah and rabbinical laws and explaining the apparent contradictions contained in them. He often asks: "Why did the Torah command this?" "Why did the sages forbid this?" He did not confine his interest to the practical laws of the Mishnah, however, like his teacher R. Judah, but studied all six mishnaic orders, and was the leading authority in the obscure subjects of negaim and taharot.
- Sherira Gaon (1988). The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon. Translated by Nosson Dovid Rabinowich. Jerusalem: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press - Ahavath Torah Institute Moznaim. p. 103. OCLC 923562173.
- Rosh Hashana 18a
- Compare Gittin 27a; Bava Metzia 18b; Bava Batra 172b; Yebamot 61b
- Ketuvot 111a
- All supposed evidence to the contrary was refuted by Bacher ("Ag. Bab. Amor," pp. 97 et seq.). In Shevuot 10b and Nedarim 57a, where Rabbah is asked by Rav Chisda, "Who will listen to you and your teacher R. Johanan?" the latter is only figuratively called Rabbah's teacher. (Jewish Encyclopedia)
- Berachot 64a; Letter of Sherira Gaon, in Neubauer, "M. J. C." pp. 30-31
- Bava Metzia 86a
- Shabbat 153a; Rashi ad. loc.
- Babylonian Talmud (Bava Metzia 86a)
- Abbaye - The Talmudic Age, chabad.org
- Berachot 64a
- Sanhedrin 24a
- Talmud, Shabbat 30b
- Berachot 33b
- Sanhedrin 21b, 26b; Shabbat 64a; Pesachim 68b; Megillah 15b; Hagigah 5b; Arachin 8b; Eruvin 22a; Gittin 31b
- Ta'anit 24a,b
- Bava Metzia 86a
- Abraham ibn Daud, "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah," in Neubauer, "M. J. C." p. 58