While relations with the government and non-Jews were full of potential dangers and pitfalls, Rava’s need to deal with dissidents in his own community was no less delicate and complicated. As the Maharsha recognized, Rava’s community also contained people who were skeptical of the authenticity of Torah she-be’al Peh and of rabbinic authority (amei ha-aretz; see Maharsha on Mak 22b s.v. kammah tipsha’ei, where he points to Sanh 99b-100a), and Rava had to deal with such people as well. As the Gemara testifies, he kept them in the community by responding to their arguments when necessary, but also by employing a certain ironic humor at times (Sanh 99b-100a), and veiled threats at other times (Shab 133b). It would seem that Rava succeeded, at least in his own lifetime, but it may be significant that none of his talmidim stayed in Mahoza after his petirah; R. Nahman b. Yitzhak reestablished Pumbedita as a place of learning, R. Papa moved to Naresh, and Ravina apparently went to Mata Mahasiya, a suburb of Sura. It may be that none of them felt able to take up the challenge of dealing with Mahoza’s Jewish community, or as one of Hakirah’s editors suggests, they felt unable to deal with the royal court across the river – or both.
Yaakov Elman, “Rava as Mara de-Atra in Mahoza”, Hakirah 11 (Spring 2011), 68.