Rav Ashi

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Rav Ashi (Hebrew: רב אשי‎) ("Rabbi Ashi") (352–427) was a celebrated Jewish religious scholar, a Babylonian amora, who reestablished the academy at Sura and was first editor of the Babylonian Talmud. According to a tradition preserved in the academies, Rav Ashi was born in the same year that Rava, the great teacher of Mahuza, died, and he was the first teacher of any importance in the Talmudic Academies in Babylonia after Raba's death. Simai, Ashi's father, was a rich and learned man, a student of the college of Naresh near Sura, which was directed by Rav Papa, Raba's disciple. Ashi's teacher was Rav Kahana, a member of the same college, who later became president of the academy at Pumbedita.

Contents

Compilation of the Gemara

While still young, Rav Ashi became the head of the Sura Academy, his great learning being acknowledged by the older teachers. It had been closed since Rav Chisda's death (309), but under Rav Ashi it regained all its old importance. His commanding personality, his scholarly standing, and wealth are sufficiently indicated by the saying, then current, that since the days of Rabbi Judah haNasi, "learning and social distinction were never so united in one person as in Ashi." Indeed, Rav Ashi was the man destined to undertake a task similar to that which fell to the lot of Judah I. The latter compiled and edited the Mishnah; Rav Ashi made it the labor of his life to collect after critical scrutiny, under the name of Gemara, those explanations of the Mishnah that had been handed down in the Babylonian academies since the days of Rab, together with all the discussions connected with them, and all the halakhic and haggadic material treated in the schools.

Conjointly with his disciples and the scholars who gathered in Sura for the "Kallah", or semi-annual college conference, he completed this task. The kindly attitude of King Yazdegerd I, as well as the devoted and respectful recognition of his authority by the academies of Nehardea and Pumbedita, greatly favored the undertaking. A particularly important element in Ashi's success was the length of his tenure of office as head of Sura Academy, which must have lasted 52 years, but with tradition, probably for the sake of round numbers, was exaggerated into 60. According to the same tradition, these 60 years are said to have been so symmetrically apportioned that each treatise required six months for the study of its Mishnah and the redaction of the traditional expositions of the same (Gemara), thus aggregating 30 years for the 60 treatises. The same process was then repeated for thirty years more, at the end of which period the work was considered complete.

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