Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How can Rav support Rabbi Zera?!

In today’s daf (Zevachim 68a), the gemara points out a seeming inconsistency in the position of Rav.

The Setup:

Specifically, (A) Rav stated that melika on a korban performed by a zar would render the bird a neveila.

Now in general, if there is an instance or analogue where action or person X would be valid for a korban, that would prevent the korban from being rendered a neveila even where the action or person was not appropriate. The analogue to melika is shechita, and a zar may perform shechita animals for a korban. The gemara answers that (B), for Rav, shechita is not considered an avoda. (Meanwhile, melika certainly is an avoda.)

Then, (C) Rabbi Zeira asserts that, for a para aduma, shechita by a zar is invalid. That means that it is considered an avoda, in direct contrast to (B). And furthermore, Rav agreed with Rabbi Zera in this, because (D), Rav adduced Scriptural support from the words “Elazar” and “Chuka”. And the gemara resolves this apparent contradiction.

ולא והא אמר רבי זירא שחיטת פרה בזר פסולה ומחוי רב עלה אלעזר וחוקה

The Problem:

The difficulty with this is that Rabbi Zera was a 3rd generation Amora, while Rav was a 1st generation Amora. While we know that Rabbi Zera studied under Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat (2nd generation, an attendant of Rav in his youth) who was long-lived, and while Rabbi Zera was a student of Rav Huna who was a student of Rav, that does not mean that Rabbi Zera would have interacted with Rav. Did their lifespans overlap?

Furthermore, would Rav, a person from 2 generations earlier have heard a statement from Rabbi Zera and then given support to it?

A Resolution:

Mivami, with its generational highlighting and graphs, brought this difficulty to the fore. One strong answer can be found in Shinuyei Nuschaot (printed on the side of the page in  Artscroll) notes that in some manuscripts, and so too in our own text of Zevachim 14b, the text is actually אמר רבי זירא אמר רב.

That is, Rabbi Zera merely cited Rav about this statement. And Rav brings to bear Scriptural support to his own statement.

This different girsa makes a lot of sense, and resolves the problem. But we would not have even thought about it were we not focused on the generational data.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Which Rabbi Eleazar?

While we are pleased with the current status of Mi vaMi, one big item on our agenda is better resolution of ambiguous Tannaim and Amoraim. There are several Tannaim and Amoraim who bear the same name. There are four Amoraim who go by "Rav Kahana", in the first, second, third, and fifth-sixth generation. There is Rabbi Yehuda the Tanna, and Rav Yehuda the Amora. There is Rabbi Yitzchak bar Avdimi, the fifth generation Tanna, and Rav Yitzchak bar Avdimi, the third generation Amora. Is it Ravina I, or his nephew Ravina II? How do we distinguish between them? Right now, we often don't. Most names are not ambiguous, because
  • the name is unique
  • the name includes the name of the father, such as Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (with the unadorned Rav Nachman being Rav Nachman bar Yaakov)
  • the title is either Rabbi or Rav. Rabbi would imply a Tanna or else an Amora ordained in Israel, while Rav would imply an Amora from Bavel.

Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua or ben Pedas?

However, some names remain ambiguous, and we are exploring various avenues to better decide among candidates.
One such example, partly resolved, is that of "Rabbi Eleazar". Most often, when Rabbi Eleazar appears in a Mishna or brayta, it is Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua, a fifth-generation Tanna. Most often, when Rabbi Eleazar appears in the gemara, it is Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat, a second or third-generation Amora. Both are referred to as "Rabbi", and so we cannot use the title to (automatically) disambiguate. And it is looks quite silly to mark a Rabbi Eleazar in the Mishna as an Amora.
There are several avenues of attack. But we recently have made some nice progress. Consider Zevachim 93b. In the Mishna, Rabbi Eleazar and his contemporary, Rabbi Yehuda, are both marked in cyan. Success!
We accomplished this by adding some awareness of context. The named entity recognition module is now aware of whether it is operating on a Mishna or the gemara.
There is still more to be done. In the gemara which follows, repeated reference is made to Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Eleazar, and this time, the recognizer mistakes Rabbi Eleazar for the Amora.
How would you go about this?
(We have some plans in the works. Some features we can use to help make the determination, in the general case are:is the context a citation of a brayta?
  • language of the speech verb or of the actual statement: Aramaic or Hebrew?
  • with whom does Rabbi Eleazar (or any other ambiguous figure) directly interact? Try to minimize the generational gap. Who discusses the statement?
  • does the word 'Mishna' or 'brayta' occur in the English or Hebrew text?
We'll hope to get around to adding and considering many of these features eventually.)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Mi vaMi - A Graph Database of the Babylonian Talmud

(See the website here: )
When Moses asked Pharaoh to allow the ancient Hebrews to leave Egypt for a three-day religious festival, Pharaoh requested some clarification ( Exodus 10:8). He asked מִ֥י וָמִ֖י הַהֹלְכִֽים, "who precisely is going?"
The Mi vaMi project intends to apply this question to the Babylonian Talmud. When studying the Talmud, it is certainly important to know the give-and-take, the arguments and rejoinders, and the theories and proofs. However, it is also often critical to know just who is engaging in discourse. Is it Abaye and Rava, or Abaye and Rabba? How are the participants in the discourse related to one another? Are they, for instance, student and teacher, colleagues, or opposing heads of the academies at Sura and Pumpedita? Are they in the same generation, or are they separated by decades or centuries?
The impact of such knowledge extends to practical decided law. (For example, the law will be decided like Rava over his collegue Abaye, but like Abaye over his teacher Rabba.) It can aid in our understanding of the historical development of the sugya. (For instance, the Revadim academic approach to Talmud study examines the sugya as it existed and was understood in different time slices, in different generations of Tannaim and Amoraim.) It can aid in our understanding of the discourse itself. (For instance, we might see a dispute between two Amoraim about some point of law, and that in subsequent generations, students align themselves to the positions of their teachers.) We are brief here, but elaboration on each of these points will be offered elsewhere.

Was Rabbi Yaakov the grandson of Acher?

Yesterday we finished mashechet Chullin in Daf Yomi, and there ( Chullin 142a ), Rav Yosef asserts that the Tanna Rabbi Yaakov was the gran...