Abba Arika

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Abba Arika (175–247) (Talmudic Aramaic: אבא אריכא) (born Abba bar Aybo) was a Jewish Talmudist who lived in Babylonia, known as an amora (commentator on the Oral Law) of the 3rd century who established at Sura the systematic study of the rabbinic traditions, which, using the Mishnah as text, led to the compilation of the Talmud. With him began the long period of ascendancy of the great academies of Babylonia (Oesterley & Box 1920), around the year 220. He is commonly known simply as Rav (or Rab, Hebrew: רב).



His surname, Arika (English, "Long"—that is, "Tall"; it occurs only once—Hullin 137b), he owed to his height, which, according to a reliable record, exceeded that of his contemporaries. Others, reading Areka, consider it an honorary title, "Lecturer" (Weiss, Dor, iii. 147; Jastrow, Dictionary under the word). In the traditional literature he is referred to almost exclusively as Rav the Master (both his contemporaries and posterity recognizing in him a master), just as his teacher, Judah I, was known simply as Rabbi. He is called Rabbi Abba only in the tannaitic literature (for instance, Tosefta, Beitzah 1:7), where a number of his sayings are preserved. He occupies a middle position between the Tannaim and the Amoraim, and is accorded the right, rarely conceded to one who is only an 'amora, of disputing the opinion of a tanna (Bava Batra 42a and elsewhere).

Rav was a descendant of a distinguished Babylonian family which claimed to trace its origin to Shimei, brother of King David (Sanhedrin 5a; Ketubot 62b). His father, Aibo, was a brother of Chiyya, who lived in Palestine, and was a highly esteemed scholar in the collegiate circle of the patriarch Judah I. From his associations in the house of his uncle, and later as his uncle's disciple and as a member of the academy at Sepphoris, Rav acquired such an extraordinary knowledge of traditional lore as to make him its foremost exponent in his native land. While Judah I was still living, Rav, having been duly ordained as teacher—though not without certain restrictions (Sanhedrin 5a)—returned to Babylonia, where he at once began a career that was destined to mark an epoch in the development of Babylonian Judaism.

Beginning of the Talmudic Age

In the annals of the Babylonian schools the year of his arrival is recorded as the starting-point in the chronology of the Talmudic age. It was the 530th year of the Seleucidan and the 219th year of the common era. As the scene of his activity, Rav first chose Nehardea, where the exilarch appointed him agoranomos, or market-master, and Rabbi Shela made him lecturer (amora) of his college (Jerusalem Talmud Bava Batra v. 15a; Yoma, 20b). Then he removed to Sura, on the Euphrates, where he established a school of his own, which soon became the intellectual center of the Babylonian Jews. As a renowned teacher of the Law and with hosts of disciples, who came from all sections of the Jewish world, Rav lived and worked in Sura until his death. Samuel, another disciple of Judah I, at the same time brought to the academy at Nehardea a high degree of prosperity; in fact, it was at the school of Rav that Jewish learning in Babylonia found its permanent home and center. Rav's activity made Babylonia independent of Palestine, and gave it that predominant position which it was destined to occupy for several centuries.

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