More Ashes on Fire

The Bavli Amora’im: Rav & Shmuel

Rav

A Bavli Amora and founder of Sura. He is referred to almost exclusively as Rav, “Master,” in the same way Yehuda Hanasi is simply called Rebbe. He is actually a transitional generation between the Tannaim and the Amora’im, and has the right, unlike future generations of Amora’im, to dispute the opinion of a Tanna. His uncle was Hiyya, a highly esteemed Tanna and colleague of Rebbe. He became Hiyya’s disciple and a member of the Sanhedrin.

Rav was musmakh from Rebbe and became the foremost expounder of halakha in Bavel. Rav first chose Nehardea, where R. Shela made him lecturer (Amora) of his college. Sura soon became the intellectual center of the Bavli Jews. Rav lived and worked in Sura until his death. Though Shmuél, another student of Rebbe’s, brought Nehardea a high degree of prosperity it was at Sura that Jewish learning in Bavel found its centre. Rav’s activity made Bavel independent of Israel. Rav’s opinions and his disputes with Shmuél form an important part of the Bavli. He and Shmuél shared disciples.

Rav exercised moral and religious influence in Bavel, both by personal example and through his students. He was an ethicist. Rav stated “Man will be called to account for having deprived himself of the good things which the world offered” (Yerushalmi, Niddah); “Unless you have pity upon your fellow you are no child of Abraham” (Bétza 32b); “It is better to throw yourself into a fire than publicly shame your fellow” (Baba Metzi’a 59a).

Rav is the reputed author of the Rosh Hashana Musaf. He was a mystic and student of the Ma’aseh Bereshit, the Ma’aseh Merkabah and the Shém Hameforash.

Mar Shmuél

Mar Shmuél is a Bavli Amora and Rav’s colleague; “Mar” defines mastery without receiving ordination. Shmuél learned both Torah and secular studies in Bavel. In Israel he learned Torah with Rebbe’s students. He was not musmakh. Shmuél left Eretz Haqodesh and became acivil law judge in Nehardea. His court was highly regarded. After R. Shela’s death Mar Shmuél was appointed to head Nahardea after it had been refused by Rav, whose ethics did not permit him to accept any position in Shmuél’s home town.

Rav at Sura and Mar Shmuél at Nehardea established the intellectual independence of Bavel. Shmuél taught, “As it is forbidden to migrate from Palestine to Bavel, so is it forbidden to migrate from Bavel to other countries” (Ket. 111a). After Rav died a new principal was not elected in Sura.

R. Huna attained the presidency in Sura and subordinated himself to Mar Shmuél. With no academcy in Sura, Nehardea and Shmuél were regarded as the highest authority in Bavel.
In Israel, R. Johanan originally regarded Shmuél as a colleague, but became aware of his brilliance and sent Shmuél a large number of responsa and then called Mar Shmuél “Our Bavli Master”. Mar Shmuél was noted as a moralist, a physician, and an astronomer. He taught calendar intercalation to his students; previously this had been a closely held privilege of the Nasi and Sanhedrin.