Copyright
Louis Ginzberg.

Geonica (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 20)
Online LibraryLouis GinzbergGeonica (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"Thus wrote the former scholars, each in his secret roll,
in which they recorded, for their own use, many teachings
originating with the authorities of remotest times, who
lived before Rabbi Jehudai."

Another passage in y'n,96b (ed. Hildesheimer, 387-8),
is quoted by Rabbi Sherira, but again not from this source ^.
He says: nxnin nnm ••n-iud pim N^rn^a pnn ••D^i— "The
scholars have the following explanation [of this passage]
as a tradition of the Saboraim, who lived after the
redaction of the Talmud."

A third passage in fn, 21a, is quoted thence by Rabbi
Hai, but he adds^: viij iti^ns ^xnuD pnn "inm ^«nNn'^—
" The great men who lived after the Saboraim gave this
explanation."

What Rabbi Hai tells us regarding " secret rolls," for
the private use of their owners, may help us to form
an idea of how Geonic literature originated and developed.
When the exigencies of the time made it absolutely necessary
that the Talmud be put into tangible, permanent shape,
the prohibition against committing the Law to writing
was still not abrogated. It was merely limited in its
application to all productions except the Talmud : it alone
was exempt. However, here and there a disciple of the
early Geonim transgressed the regulation and indulged
himself to the extent of keeping a " secret roll " for his
own private use, and recording there the dicta of his
teachers which he desired to safeo^uard aojainst oblivion.
Therein the disciples of the Geonim followed the example
of their Talmudic predecessors. But of actual literary

^ Albargeloni, niTL^irn 'c, 126.

^ Halevy, i8o, did not remember that this passage occurs in /'rr.

' Rabbenu Nissim, on Shabbai, 12 a ; comp. Halevy, 181.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE 75

activity there was none. The impulse to produce in the
real sense was supplied later, when the Geonim became
the leaders of the Diaspora, and they were addressed by
Jewish communities, remote and outlying as well as near
by, for decisions on practical questions and for explanations
of difficult Talmud passages. But the Gaonate as an
institution vested with authority dates, as we have seen,
from the second third of the seventh century. Before
its first hundred years of institutional activity had elapsed,
necessity, having first limited the application of the com-
mand a^gainst committing the Law to writing, gradually
abrogated it entirely^.

The Responsa are more than the beginning of Geonic
literature. They are at the same time its most important
department. The phrase current in Rabbinic literature,
" the Geonim say," or " the Geonim write," means one
thing only, " this is to be found in a Geonic Responsum."
But as their Responsa possess value collectively, in relation
to the period as a whole, rather than individually, as
indicative of the mental calibre of one or another author,
it seems desirable, before dealing with the Responsa, to
consider the Halakic-Talmudic productions of the period.

Rabbt Aha, of Shabha.

The oldest work of the Geonic time are the Sheeltot
" Discussions 2," by Rabbi Aha, of Shabha. Of the author
nothing is known except that he left Babylonia about
the middle of the eighth century, and settled in Palestine.

^ Comp. below, pp. 97-8 and iig-20.

^ That mn^yuj means not "questions," but rather " discussions," was
first maintained by Miiller, Briefe und Responsen, 31, note 62, and this
view is justified in detail by Mendelsohn in R. E. J., XXXII, 56 et seq.
The latter makes no mention of Miiller. As to the relative age of the
Sheeltot and the fn, see below, pp. 98 and 106. In beginning the discus-
sion of the Halakic literature of the Geonim with the Sheeltot, I follow the
accepted order. My own opinion is, as I show further on, that the
nucleus of the Hcdakot Gedolot goes back to an earlier age than the Sheeltot.



76 THE GEONIM

There was a reason for his emigration. In filling the
Gaonate of Pumbedita the Exilarch had passed him by,
disregarding his claims upon the office, paramount claims
by reason of his position and his scholarship.

Rabbi David of Estella, in the Provence, who lived
at the beginning of the thirteenth century, speaks of
works written by the Gaon Rabbi Shashna. If his
statement rests upon a valid tradition ^ — Estella confesses
that he himself was acquainted with no works by this
Gaon except Responsa — we should have to remove the
initial date of Geonic literary activity to about a century
earlier than accepted facts have hitherto warranted, for
the Gaon of Sura, Rabbi Shashna, also called Rabbi
Mesharshia ben Tahlifa, occupied his office before 689.
Unluckily, we cannot put implicit trust in Estella's
assertions, as is shown by the other information he
gives us about Rabbi Shashna. He describes him as
"the Gaon ordained during the lifetime of Rabbi Aha,
of Shabha, who was passed over at the appointment."
What probably happened was that Estella wrote that
''^«3nDJ received the Gaonate instead of Rabbi Aha, and
then he confounded this Natronai with the celebrated
Gaon Natronai ben Hilai, the author of a number of
Responsa and supposed author of a Halakic compendium ^.
In addition, a copyist twisted ^NJntOJ into '•NiLJ^K^. The
next statement made by Estella, that Rabbi Aba lived
after Rabbi Simon NT^p 2, he derived from Rabbi Menahem
Meiri *, who in turn took it from the chronicle of Rabbi
Abraham Ibn Daud. RaBeD, who had a very corrupt
text of Rabbi Sherira's Letter before him, may have based
his statement upon the passage about Rabbi Samuel, ^^, 2,
below. The unusual name, ID m ID, together with the

^ A Kabbalistic author of the fourteenth century mentions a iV;;u>\u 'i,
Z.H. B., XII, 51. Is it a fictitious name? "^ Comp. below, p. 119.

^ The origin as well as the pronunciation of this name is very-
doubtful. With Kahira it certainly has nothing to do.

* Meiri's statements about the Geonim are full of errors, as proved
below, p. 89.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE



77



unusual geographical designation np^N'1, which, as we
have seen^, was misunderstood even in modern times,
was " emended " to read XT^^ '^ nn "DVni. This supposed
passage of Sherira's is translated into Hebrew by RaBeD,
who, after mentioning the Gaonate of Rabbi Samuel ben
Mari, as he calls him, adds the words riT ijNirot^ '"i njvai
Nn>^p \\v^\^ 'n HM {6^, 6).

Accordingly, there is no good reason for removing
Rabbi Aha from the place conceded to him as the earliest
Halakic author after the close of the Talmud. But if
the time of Rabbi Aha remains as before, the scene of
his literary activity is open to question. Palestine and
Babylonia each urges its claim upon the Sheeltot. Though
the work is based exclusively upon the Babylonian Talmud,
and the Palestinian Talmud is absolutely ignored in it, yet
it is certain that Rabbi Aha did not compose his book until
after he had settled in Palestine, whither he went when the
Exilarch, for personal reasons, installed Rabbi Natronai, the
secretary of Rabbi Aha, as Gaon of Pumbedita. Halevy is
no less convinced (pp. 132, :2ii-i3) of Rabbi Aha's having
written his work before leaving Babylonia than he is of his
having drawn upon the Palestinian Talmud in writing it,
in the use of which source, he maintains, Rabbi Aha was
like all the Geonim — they all knew it 2. I hope to treat

^ Comp. above, p. 49.

2 Halevy's remark on Rab Amram's relation to the Yeruskalmi is
characteristic. In b"j , 58, we have Rab Amram's Responsum addressed
to the scholars of Barcelona, who were led to speak of a Yerushahni
passage in their question, because its relation to the Babli was not quite
clear to them. Rab Amram writes : " And the dictum of the Yeruskalmi
similar to this [of the BahW] which you quote, is not known to us."
Ergo, reasons Halevy, it can be seen that the Yeruskalmi was disseminated
everywhere ! If this passage proves anything, it is an endorsement of
Rapoport, Frankel, and Schorr, against whom Halevy directs his polemics.
Their view is that the Babylonian Geonim did not know the Yeruskalmi,
but it was studied by the scholars of the a-iS-Q, that is, of Spain and
especially North Africa. Also Halevy ignores the fact that this Responsum
is not really by Rab Amram, but by Rabbenu Hai, to whom it is ascribed
in nV, 119, by Albargeloni, wrwn 'c, 212, and by Nahmanides, ncrtn,
Pesahim, X, 3.



78 THE GEONIM

elsewhere of the relation of the Geonim to the Yerushalml
in detail. Here I shall confine myself to the discussion of
this one point, whether or not it was used in the Sheeltot ^.



The Sheeltot and the Yerushalml

Halevy believes he has found two quotations from the
Yerushalnii in the Sheeltot, enough to decide the question
in his mind. But a superficial examination of the passages
sufiices to show that resort to the Yerushahni is precluded.
In Ye7\ Bezah, I, 60 a, the inference is made from the three
superfluous words, Vjh t?in . . . l^j iii Exod. xii. 16, that,
although the preparation of food is permitted on holidays,
it is forbidden to reap, grind, and bolt. Each superfluous
word points to a prohibited form of work. The passage in
the Sheeltot, I, 158-9, supposed to correspond to the Bemh
passage, reads : " Even work necessary for the preparation
of food is permitted only if it is of a sort habitually done
on the same day, such as slaughtering, baking, and cooking,
but grinding and bolting, which can be done before the
holiday, may not be done thereon, for the Scriptures (Exod.
xii. 16) excluded them, saying, 'that only,' cooking, baking,
and the like, may be done '^"

While the Yerushahni specifies three definite kinds of
w^ork excluded by the use of three superfluous words in
the Scriptures, Rabbi Aha deduces a principle, applicable
to all work connected with the preparation of food. This
principle he finds implied in the Mlb, " that only," of the
Scriptures, excluding all kinds of work which as a rule
are performed days before the food is prepared for the
table in the restricted sense. So fundamental is this dif-
ference between the Sheeltot and the Yerushahni, that
even if it were impossible to trace Rabbi Aha's real source,

^ On the relation of the Sheeltot to the Yerushalml, see the articles by
Dr. Poznanski and Dr. Kaminka, in the Hebrew periodical cipn, I,
which appeared while tliis book was going through the press.

^ Comp. also Sheelta, CVII, 143.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE 79

we might still be sure that he was not deriving his
support from the Yerushahni. Fortunately, we are now
able to assert that his source was the Mekilta de Rahhi
Shimeon, 17, where his statement is found verbatim.
Dr. Hoffmann, the learned editor of the Mekilta, would
probably not have attempted the correction of the text
according to the Yerushahni if he had had the passage in
the Sheeltot in mind. This Mekilta, designated* by Eabbi
Hai Gaon in Harkav}^, 107, as 21 on nD^D, in contradis-
tinction to the Mekilta of Rabbi Ishmael, which he calls
" the Palestinian," was naturally well known to the
Babylonian Rabbi Aha, and as he not infrequently made
use of the other Halakic Midrashim, his resort to the
Mekilta de Rabbi Skimeon in the passage under ex-
amination calls for no remark. Of course, there is no
intention of denying that a close connexion exists between
the Mehilta passage and Rabbi Hezekiah's dictum in the
Yerushalrni. Rabbi Hezekiah modified an old Halakah
in accordance with his own general system. The old
Halakah, as given in the Mekilta, forbade all work con-
nected with the preparation of food which as a rule is
not done on the day on which the food is consumed.
Illustrations are adduced — reaping, grinding, bolting. These
and such as these are not permissible, the prohibition
being indicated by the word mb in the Scriptural passage.
Rabbi Hezekiah, a consistent representative of the school
of Rabbi Akiba^ who, took the particles IN and NM as
" exclusives/' conceived the three sorts of work mentioned,
not as illustrations of a general principle, but as an
exhaustive enumeration of specific cases, finding a justi-
fication therefor in the three Scriptural words, 1"I2^, Nin,
and nx.

The other Yerushahni quotation found by Halevy in
the Sheeltot, XXHI, 69, requires mere collation of the
two passages to demonstrate how untenable his con-

^ See the discriminating remark made by Epstein in nviraipiD, 53 et seq.



8o THE GEONIM

tention is. Rabbi Aha writes: n'^> n^'b ^«^^l? n>b nt^ ^31

F^7\ Nedarim, X, 42 a, we read : b^2 yb "13V0 n?ON^ jpn
nyn^ JNO pN -in J jn^ px n^is* iprni . . ♦ oib noN t<^ t^. If
Rabbi Aha had actually used the Yeriishalini, it would
be inexplicable why he made so decided a change in the
formula for the absolution from vows by a scholar, Dinn
nan. Halevy permitted himself to be misled by a marginal
note by Rabbi Isaiah Berlin on the Sheeltot, referring to
the Yerushal'mi passage. In reality, Rabbi Aha repro-
duces the wording of the Bahli Nedarini, 77 b, where
li? ?D2 "p naiJO is given as the usual formula for bv^ nnan.

The attempts made by Reifmann, in the Bet-Talmud,
III, 52-3, to prove Rabbi Aha's use of the Yerushalmi,
are by far more serious and painstaking. Nevertheless, his
conclusions are hasty. Scrutiny reveals that not one of
the five passages adduced by Reifmann, in support of his
opinion that the Sheeltot drew upon the Yerushalmi, can
be said with certainty to have been taken by Rabbi Aha
from the Palestinian Talmud. His words in I, 2, of the
Sheeltot, regarding Sabbath garments, agree literally with
Fesikta R., XXIII, 115 b, and not with Yer. Pedh, VIII,
21 b, top, an agreement to which Friedmann in his notes
on the Pesikta called attention^. It is therefore more
probable that Rabbi Aha used either the Fesikta or one
of the sources of the Pesikta, than that he used the Yeru-
shalmi. Weiss's statement, 25, note 6, that the Pesikta is
younger than the Sheeltot, is not a serious objection. What-
ever may be its age in its present form, no one entertains
a doubt that a very considerable portion of the Pesiktot
is as old as the Talmud.

The opinion of Rabbi Aha (XL VII, 146), that the reason

^ Comp. also Buber, Bet Talmud, III, 210, who entertains the same
opinion as Friedmann, though he does not name him. However, this
passage in the Sheelta does not seem to have belonged to the work in its
original form. It is missing in most of the MSS., as may be seen in the
first instalment of Dr. Kaminka's Sheeliot, Vienna, 1908.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE 8l

for keeping the Day of Atonement only one clay, is that
a two days' fast might endanger life, has its parallel, not
in the Yerushcdnil alone, HallaJi, I, 57 c, but also in the
Bahli Rosli ha-Shanah, 21 a, where Rabbi Nahman ex-
claims against the Palestinian who would have had him
fast a second day, " Death will be his (euphemism for
'my') end!"

Jeremiah xvii. 22, is cited by both the YeriisJiahnt, at
the beginning of Shabhat, and the Bahli, Bezali, 12 a, as
the basis for the prohibition of carrying burdens on the
Sabbath. Hence its use for the same purpose in the
Sheeltot, XIL, 156, proves nothing conclusive as to Rabbi
Aim's use of the YerushcdmL

The explanation given by the Sheeltot '^, LV, 186, of the
Bahli Baha Batra, 165 a, coincides with the view of
the Yer. Giftin, IX, 50 c. Nevertheless, Rabbi Aha's words
are not a quotation from the YeriisJtahni, but merely an
explanation, his explanation, of the Bahli passage.

That the formula for y^n ^It33 given by Rabbi Aha, LXXIV,
26-7, is not derived from Yer. PesaJiim, II, 28 d, Reifmann
might have deduced from the language. Not only is it
Hebrew in the Yerushahni and Aramaic in the Sheeltot^
but the Aramaic is Babylonian and not Palestinian. Instead
of iTnnn . ♦ , ♦ xin^n, the Palestinians would have said
n>n^Dn , . , , ^V^izn. It is interesting to note, by the way,
that in the rituals the formulas vary between . . . ♦ N1"'Dn
n^nnn and n^n^on .... xv^^^n. The Palestinian wording of
the formula and the Babylonian have come down to us
side by side. It should also be noted that the Yerushalmi
cites the formula on the authority of the Babylonian
teacher Rab. Its use by Babylonian Jews can, therefore,
be presupposed without assuming that they had to derive it
from a source foreign to them. Comp. Ratner, "i''''1X, ad loc.

Besides these seven passages enumerated by Reifmann
and Halevy, I would call attention to two more, which,

^ Reifmann, in his essay in the Bet Talmud, III, 53, did not know that
the Tiir Hoshen Mishpat, 51, meant this Yerushalmi passage.
I G



82 THE GEONIM

at first sight, would seem to confirm the opinion that Rabbi
Aha used the Yerushalmi for his Sheeltot. But a closer
examination disposes of them as of the others. In contents
the sentence in LXXIII, 25^,.. Nin '':iy Tni )i6, comes
pretty close to the Yerushahni statement in Hallah, II,
58 d, top. And yet it need not be supposed that Rabbi
Aha did not derive his view from the Babli Shahbat, 76 b.

The Haggadistic reason for the four cups of wine formu-
lated by Rabbi Aha, LXXVII, ^6, is found in the Yer.
Pesahi')n, X, ^y c, top, but also in Genesis R., LXXXVIII.
As Rabbi Aha's use of the Haggadic Midrashim in other
parts of his work is not open to doubt, the probabilities
are in favour of his having drawn upon the Midrash
rather than the Yerushahni as his source — a likelihood
that is strengthened by the fact, that for centuries after
Rabbi Aha it was still customary to quote Haggadic
passages from the Midrashim, even when they occurred in
the Talmudim -. Moreover, Rabbi Aha's book, as a whole,
is planned after the model of the Haggadic Midrashim
on the Pentateuch, which would argue a natural preference
for the Geneais Rahba as compared with the Yerushalmi.

If, as to the last passage, it must be conceded that our
data do not permit us to go beyond the mere supposition
that Rabbi Aha drew his Haggadot from sources other
than the Yerushahni, there can yet be no doubt that the
legend which he relates about Artaban and Rabbi, CXLV,
114, is not taken from the Yerushahni Pedh, I, 15 d,
bottom, but from a Haggadic source, and a Babylonian
Haggadic source at that. The passage iDVyij— 0:2: ^^D occurs
neither in the Yerushalmi, 1. c, nor in the parallel passage
in Genesis R., LXXXV, end. In contents it reminds one
strikingly of the Babylonian legend about the healing of

^ The words ^?\rnrD sm^r ^^in\^b mean "to mix the chaff with tlie grain
again.''

^ Kashi, for instance, in his commentary on the Pentateuch, frequently
quotes Genesis R. and other Midrashim, though he might have found the
same passages in the Yerushalmi.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE 83

the princess by Kabbi Simon ben Yohai ^, and linguistically
it betrays Babylonian origin by the use of mc^, "she-deviP."
The Palestinians knew no female demons, and certainly not
the word applied to them by Rabbi Aha.

The reference to Ezra x. 8, as the Scriptural basis for
the excommunicating power of the court, in the Sheeltot,
CXXX, 45, Rabbi Aha did not derive, as might at first
sight be supposed, from Yer. Moed Katan, III, 81 d.
His text in the Bahli Moed Katan, 16 a,, doubtless read
rh):n iiriD hn> xini n^riDi |:>Dnn»n f?^J2) instead of ]b:D)

The whole detailed discussion of court procedure in the
Sheeltot is taken literally from the passage in the Bahli,
and it would be difficult to suggest a reason for Rabbi
Aha's resorting to the Yeruslialmi for a single point,
especially as he completely ignores the only new legal
aspect presented in the Yerushahni ^. The assumption
here made cannot be objected to as forced, because we
know that Rabbi Aha's text of the Bahli frequently varies
from ours, and in the passage under consideration, where
our text is manifestly corrupt, the reading offered by him
is an essential improvement *.

1 Briefly in the Talmud, Meilah, 17 b; in detail in /n, ed. Hildesheimer,
601-4 ; and Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrash, VI, 128-30. About a Genizah
fragment of this legend, see a note by the present writer in the Z. H. B.,
XI, 127.

2 The Biblical nnr was translated by ''sedan-chair" in Palestine, and
by " she-devil'' in Babylonia ; Gittin, 68 a. The sources enumerated in
note 2 (with the exception of the Talmud reference) also use niv in the
sense of ''she-devil." The popular belief in Babylonia could not get
away from Lilith and the she-devils akin to her. Another noteworthy
expression is "i:iTr, occurring in this passage of the Sheeltot, but in this
sense not used in the Yerushahni.

^ The Yerushahni speaks of excommunication for a person who does not
obey a summons to court within three days. The BaUl and Rabbi Aha
say nothing about the term.

* According to our text, the same used by Rashi, im^ serves as proof
for Din, which contains curses, but that curses may, in certain circum-
stances, be employed the Talmud derives from Neh. xiii. 25, where □b'?pi««i
is used ! Hence there can be no doubt that the correct reading is :

(1 2



84 THE GEONIM

It must be admitted that circumspect care is required
in dealing with the Talmud text of Rabbi Aha. The pas-
sage in the SJieeltot, LIV, 177, on n^ni D^ii? pjDn, is a striking
illustration. In form it is much closer to Yer. BeraJcotf
I, 2 d, than to the corresponding Bahli text, Berakot, 42 a.
In his learned scholia D'^k'^ITl p'^V nnns, 11, ad loc, Ratner
does not hesitate to attribute it to the Yerushalmi as
Rabbi Aha's source, and yet it can readily be demonstrated,
from the words of the SJieeltot, that it goes back to the
Bahli. In the first place, the dictum regarding the washing
of the hands is attributed to the same Amora, Rabbi
Hayyah bar Ashi, in the Bahli as in the Sheeltot, while
in the Yerushalmi, Rabbi Zeira cites it in the name of
Rabbi Abba bar Jeremiah, and these latter personages
appeared in the Yerushalmi text of the Geonim, as can
be seen from the citations in Ratner. But there is a more
important difference, the radical difference between the
conception of the Bahli and the conception of the Yeru-
shalmi. According to the Bahli, the Halakah ordains that
the washing of hands must be followed at once by the
saying of grace after meals, while the Yerushalmi holds
that another subject is dealt with, the washing of the
hands before the meal, to be followed directly by the bene-
diction prescribed for it. We are here not interested in
determining which of the two is the correct conception^.
Rabbi Aha, however, does not leave us in doubt as to his

n>3c;v -m« .... mn, and not only was this the reading known to
Rabbi Aha, but it was also that of the anonymous Gaon in ^Y'vi, 217.
What the Talmud wanted to derive from the verse is that the great
excommunication, mn, forbids all intercourse with the excommunicated.
As for the power of the court to decree excommunication, that the Talmud
derived from Ezra x. 8, as may be seen from Rabbi Aha's text. Comp.
also Rabbi Hananel on this passage, the text of which, as he had it, also
deviates from ours.

^ The attempts to harmonise the contradictory statements in the
Yerushalmi and the Bahli on this point are futile, in spite of the fact that
Rabbi Elijah Wilna countenances them in his commentary on the Orak
Hayyim, § i66, 2.



THE HALAKIC LITERATURE 85

opinion in the matter. It accords so entirely with the
view of the Babli, that every possibility is precluded of
tracing his citation back to the Yerushalmi. It is true,
the Scriptural passages justifying the Halakah are enumer-
ated only in the Yerushalmi, which might suggest the
idea that, though Rabbi Aha espouses the view of the
Bahli, he yet resorts to the Yerusltalmi for proofs. But
this suggestion may be considered disposed of by the fact
that the MS. Paris of the BaUl contains the Scriptural
passages in the BahlL There is thus no reason why Rabbi
Aha should have had to resort to the Yerushalmi.

A valuable passage for the present investigation is offered
by the Sheeltot, XCVI, 104-5. ^ case is there discussed
which was submitted by Samuel to his friend Rab, but
which is not mentioned in the Talmud. In his t^^a^n 'hvi,
^d. Berlin, 2d, the RaBeD comments upon Rabbi Aha's
statement with the words, " I do not know where he found
•it." But the RaBeD's father-in-law, Rabbi Abraham of
Narbonne, in his Eshkol, I, 117, gives the Yerushalmi as
Rabbi Aha's source. Whether or not the author of the
Eshkol had in mind Yer. Ketuhof, II, 26 c, which contains
a statement similar to that in the Sheeltot, cannot be main-
tained with any degree of certainty. He may have used, as
is frequently done by the old authors ^ ^^b^i'^ to designate
some apocryphal source or other. However this may be,


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryLouis GinzbergGeonica (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 20)