Exploring reasons for linking amoraic opinions

At times the Gemara also traces the reasons for Amoraic opinions, as it does in the case of asmakhta in matters of commercial law. But, on the whole, it only began the task of providing the links between the various Amoraic statements. In the case of Rava, who is mentioned 3,800 times in the Bavli, the observation that ve-azda Rava le-ta’ameih—that his opinion in one place follows his shittah in another—appears only 13 times in Shas. In other words, the process of showing Rava’s consistency in his memrot was only at its start when the Bavli was closed. In this respect, as in many others, the Rishonim (and especially the Baalei Tosafot, see below) continued the task. The expression azda R. Peloni le-ta’ameih, is used some 60 times in all, and another 28 times if more than one Tanna or Amora is involved, but only 30 times in relation to Babylonian Amoraim: thirteen times for Rava, twelve times in relation to Shmuel, once each for Rabbah (Ket 34b) and R. Hisda (Qid 63b), twice for R. Nahman (BM 26a, Hul 25b), and, finally, once for R. Ashi (Shab 100b). Three of these observations concern Amoraim closely associated with Rava: R. Hisda, his teacher and eventual father-in-law, R. Nahman, his rebbe muvhak, and Samuel, who was, at least to some extent, R. Nahman’s teacher (see BM 16b). This is not surprising since these Amoraim are among the most influential in Shas. But, as we noted regarding R. Meir, the baalei ha-Shas are concerned about this issue even when the man de-amar is not necessarily of that level of prominence—it is a consistent concern. The Gemara notes the consistency of the views of Tannaim with the expression be-shittat (22 times) or le-shittato (5 times). Although this is still far from systematic, enough examples of this derekh survive to demonstrate that the ba’alei ha-Shas considered this a legitimate way of understanding the words of the Tannaim and Amoraim.

Why is understanding the link between Amoraic opinions important? There are at least two reasons. Since the Torah’s laws are not, has veshalom, arbitrary or haphazard (even if, as in the case of huqqim, the reason is hidden from us), understanding the link between Amoraic opinions allows us to see the reason behind their shittot. In most areas of Halakhah, we are encouraged to seek the reasons for every din because it is only by means of such study that one makes Torah one’s own—it becomes part of one’s being. If one does not understand something, it remains foreign—outside oneself.

Secondly, generally speaking, understanding a memra kifeshuto— understanding it in its immediate context—is a key to understanding it in its multiple contexts, including that of pesak. In the end, when we deal with halakhic texts, we must understand the memra in the broader context of Halakhah, from Humash and Shas through contemporary Poskim. But on the peshat level we seek to understand a particular memra in the context of the Amora’s views and approaches, his shittot. Generally speaking, his shittot will be consistent not only within themselves, but also within the wider context of those of his rebbes and talmidim, that is, his beit midrash. In the case of the Babylonian Amoraim, this means understanding, say, R. Huna’s memrot in terms of the views of his rebbe, Rav, and his talmidim, Rabbah b. R. Huna and R. Hisda. In the case of Rava, it means—when possible–tracing his views back to his rebbes R. Nahman and R. Hisda, to R. Nahman’s rebbes, Rabbah b. Avuha and Shmuel, but also seeing the view of Rava’s talmidim, R. Papa, R. Huna b. R. Yehoshua, R. Zevid, and others.

Yaakov Elman, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza”, Hakirah 11 (Spring 2011), 63-64.

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