AMORAIM (Aram. אָמוֹרָאִים), designation of the scholars in the Land of Israel and Babylonia who succeeded the tannaim and preceded (in Babylonia) the *savoraim and geonim. (See Table: Heads of Academies.) The composition of the Mishnah by R. Judah ha-Nasi in the beginning of the third century, and its subsequent dissemination and gradual acceptance in the academies of the Land of Israel and Babylonia led to a break between scholarly activity of the earlier period and the halakhic and aggadic activity of later scholars. These scholars are the "amoraim," whose words constitute most of the attributed material in the Talmudim and the amoraic midrash-compilations. The word "amora" means "speaker" or "interpreter," and the application of this term to these scholars likely stems from their work in interpreting and deriving halakhah from the Mishnah and contemporaneous beraitot. Already in both Talmudim, we find references to the amoraim as a group distinct from tannaim: R. Levi and R. Simon are described as "two amorin" (TJ Berakhot 1:1, 2c), and the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) explicitly distinguishes tannaim from amoraim (TB Eruvin 7a; TB Sanhedrin 6a and 33a). At times, the Babylonian Talmud also calls attention to amoraim it describes as "amora'ei be-ma'arava" ("amoraim in the West," meaning the Land of Israel; e.g., TB Shabbat 21b, 96a; TB Ketubot 80a).
Many Palestinian amoraim (and the tannaim before them) conventionally bear the title "Rabbi"; the equivalent title of recognition for Babylonian Amoriam is "Rav." A number of amoraim in both centers hold neither title. The traditional view is that the title "Rabbi" was only conferred on a scholar after ordination by the patriarch and Sanhedrin in Palestine. Modern scholars have suggested that the difference between these titles is actually a linguistic feature marking separate dialects.
The Generations of the Amoraim
The amoraim were active between approximately 220 C.E. (the traditional date of the redaction of the Mishnah) and 360 or 370 in the Land of Israel, and between 220 and approximately
500 in Babylonia. Rabbinic tradition credits Rav, a student of R. Judah ha-Nasi, with bringing the Mishnah to Babylonia and thus inaugurating the amoraic period in Babylonia. It is customary to divide the amoraic period into generations. In most cases such a division is artificial, since many of the scholars can be assigned to two successive generations. The first five generations consist of both Palestinian and Babylonian amoraim. The last two to three generations, however, are limited to Babylonian amoraim. It is not easy to identify all the amoraim mentioned in the Talmud and Midrash since the same amora often appears under different names, whereas two amoraim from two different generations can bear the same name. Moreover, many names have been transmitted incorrectly. Over 2,000 amoraim, however, can be identified with tolerable certainty. See the table of the more prominent of the amoraim of the different generations.
THE PROBLEM OF AMORAIC ATTRIBUTIONS AND BIOGRAPHY
Up to and throughout much of the 20th century, scholars generally assumed that amoraic statements preserved in the Talmudim and midrash-compilations accurately represented the positions held by the sages to whom they were attributed, and that narratives purporting to relate information about the lives of individual amoraim reflected reliable biographical traditions about the amoriam as real, historical figures. Both of these views have undergone radical revision, and we must attend to these issues before proceeding further with the portrayal of the amoriam as set out in rabbinic literature.
Jacob Neusner and his students called the reliability of amoraic attributions into question, partly on the ground that there is no source external to rabbinic literature that can be used to verify them, and partly on the basis of a comparison of parallel traditions which testify to an internal literary development within the rabbinic sources themselves. Skepticism about the reliability of attributions is justified in part by the Babylonian Talmud itself, which sometimes notes that an amora did not explicitly state a view attributed to him, but that the attributed view was inferred from the amora's conduct in a particular instance ("lav be-ferush itamar ela me-kelala itamar"; e.g., Bava Batra 40b, 126a). In the Jerusalem Talmud as well, Shimon b. Ba was said to have doubted R. Abbahu's attribution of a particular view to R. Yohanan (TJ Shabbat 6:1, 7d), again demonstrating amoraic awareness that not all amoraic attributions may be accurate.
Few, if any, scholars still maintain the view that amoraic attributions are in all circumstances to be presumed reliable. Recent studies by Richard Kalmin have demonstrated that one must also be cautious about leaping to the opposite conclusion: that attributions are in all circumstances to be presumed unreliable. Kalmin demonstrated the existence of patterns in statements attributed to particular amoriam or to the amoriam of particular generations, and concluded that these patterns are indicative of real historical differences in the amoraic scholarly enterprise. Thus, while the accuracy of a discrete amoraic statement may be impossible to verify, the statements of an amora or of a generation, when taken together, may indeed yield information that may be used for historical reconstruction. Other research – such as Z.M. Dor's work on Rava's and Rav Papa's engagement with Palestinian learning, and David Kraemer's finding that the later Babylonian amoraic generations are more likely to preserve argumentation – buttresses that conclusion. But it remains difficult to determine whether or not a given amoraic statement was actually uttered by the sage to whom it is attributed, or whether the statement as transmitted preserves a form of the tradition which remains relatively close to the original, without a detailed examination of all of the parallel versions of the tradition, and all the relevant manuscript material. As a result, references in this article to what a sage said or did should be understood as references to what he is represented to have said or done.
Rabbinic literature also contains narratives, many of which present details about the lives of particular rabbis in the course of telling other stories. Other narratives purport to relate entire episodes from rabbis' lives. Throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, scholars viewed these narratives as sources for rabbinic biography, and some scholarly work was done to draw together the scattered details from disparate rabbinic sources in order to construct rabbinic "biographies." To the extent that narratives contained accounts of supernatural events, scholars resorted to the technique of the "historical kernel": ignoring the fantastic elements of narratives in order to recover the kernel of historical information the story was thought to yield about the sage. This project was problematic because for most, if not all amoraim, the Talmudim and midrash-compilations leave large gaps in the chronology of their lives, which could only be supplemented by guesswork and creative extrapolation – hardly the stuff of scholarly biography. The seminal work of Jacob Neusner, William Scott Green, Shamma Friedman, Richard Kalmin, Jeffrey L. Rubenstein and other scholars has led to a complete rethinking of the project of "rabbinic biography." Scholars now recognize that rabbinic narratives are literary creations formulated to serve the purposes of their narrators and/or of the redactors of the compilations in which they are now found; they present edifying moral lessons, or teach about the rabbinic way of life, but are not meant to be straightforward presentations of history or biography and must not be utilized as such. Therefore, alleged discrete biographical details must not be lifted out of rabbinic narratives; the narratives must be carefully studied as whole compositions in order to discern the overall message the storytellers or redactors wished to convey. All of these methodological considerations complicate the project of presenting the lives and activities of the amoraim, but the resulting presentation benefits from the rigorous examination of the sources that these methodological considerations require.
Organization of Amoraic Torah Study and Teaching
The major study-centers in amoraic Palestine were Caesarea, "the South" (most likely Lydda), Sepphoris, and Tiberias. In Babylonia, the principal study-centers were Sura, Pumbedita,
Nehardea (destroyed and eventually transplanted), Mahoza, and Naresh.
Most likely these cities were not the sites of organized academies. Rather, groups of rabbinic disciples would gather around a teacher, with whom they studied Torah and whom they personally served as part of their initiation into the rabbinic way of life.
Memorization and constant recitation of one's learning were stressed as the cultural ideal in the rabbinic centers of both the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Although some amoraim' allegedly kept written notes (e.g., TJ Kilayim 1:1, 27a; TJ Ma'aserot 2:4, 49d), and may even have consulted books of aggadah (TJ Shabbat 16:1, 15c), orality, rather than writing, was the primary and favored mode of study and teaching. Rav Sheshet was said to have reviewed his learning every 30 days (TB Pesaḥim 68b). Rava advised that one should always recite one's learning, even if one tended to forget, and even if one did not know the meaning of what was recited (TB Avodah Zarah 19a; see also TB Shabbat 63a). Recitation was to be done in a melodious chant (TB Megillah 32a).
The emphasis on memorization coexists in the Babylonian Talmud in tension with a growing Babylonian amoraic emphasis on dialectic and argumentation. R. Yohanan is represented as claiming that there was a Tannaitic dispute as to whether "Sinai" (the scholar who had memorized much Torah) or the "uprooter of mountains" (a sharp thinker) was preferable. According to the Babylonian Talmud Palestinian scholars resolved this question in favor of "Sinai." Nevertheless, Rav Yosef – described as "Sinai" – was said to have deferred to Rabbah, the "uprooter of mountains," as academy head (TB Horayot 14a). This story illustrates the growing Babylonian preference for skill in argument. Similarly, Rav reported that the people Israel forgot hundreds of halakhot after Moses' death, but, according to R. Abbahu, these halakhot were restored through the dialectical creativity of Othniel b. Kenaz (TB Temurah 16a). Thus, although the accumulation of knowledge is lauded because "everyone needs the master of wheat" (TB Horayot 14a, referring to one who possesses much memorized knowledge), the Babylonian amoraim moved in the direction of ascribing at least equal weight to the achievement of analytic ability and dialectical skill.
Relations Between the Land of Israel and Babylonia During the Amoraic Period
The presence of Palestinian amoraic traditions in the Babylonian Talmud and of Babylonian amoraic traditions in the Jerusalem Talmud testifies to a significant degree of interaction between these two centers of learning during the first four generations of the amoraim. While much of this activity involved the transmission of traditions from Palestine to Babylonia, the Jerusalem Talmud does call attention to the halakhic traditions of "the rabbis of there [Babylonia]," who are contrasted with "the rabbis of here [Palestine]" (e.g., TJ Berakhot 1:9, 3d; 9:4, 14a). The Babylonian Talmud also describes the activities of scholars known as the "naḥote" ("those who descended"), who carried learning with them from the Land of Israel to Babylonia and back. Two of the best-known naḥote were R. Dimi (= Avudimi, of the fourth Palestinian amoraic generation) and Rabin (= Avin or Avun, of the third and fourth Babylonian amoraic generations), who eventually moved to the Land of Israel. Naḥote typically brought discrete halakhic traditions (called "memrot"), stories, halakhic sugyot, and aggadic traditions to Babylonia; their activity is often introduced by the formulaic "When Rabbi X came [to Babylonia]" (e.g., Ket. 17a, AZ 11b). Rabin is also described as writing letters to Babylonian amoraim (TB Ketubot 49b, TB Bava Meẓi'a 114a), as are other Palestinian amoraim (TB Bava Meẓi'a 41b; TB Sanhedrin 29a; TB Ḥullin 95a).
The Babylonian Talmud also highlights halakhic information brought from Palestine by use of the introductory phrase shalḥu mitam ("they [= the Palestinian scholars] sent from there [Palestine]"). Among these communications were some that cautioned the Babylonians to be careful to observe the second day of the Festival (TB Beẓah 4b), to be careful to treat Rav Ahai with respect, who is described as "lighting up the eyes of the Exile" (TB Ḥullin 59b), and some that corrected and expanded their halakhic knowledge in particular areas (e.g., TB Bava Batra 165b, TB Menaḥot 43a).
The two rabbinic centers are not portrayed as being of equal authority or as having equal prestige during the amoraic period. Babylonia and its scholars are portrayed as subordinate to the authority of the Land of Israel. Abbaye claims that since "we are subordinate to them, we do as they do" (TB Pesaḥim 51a). The Babylonian Talmud also describes Babylonian judges as being the "agents" of the scholars of the Land of Israel who are only empowered to adjudicate certain types of cases that do not require expert, ordained judges only found in the Land (TB Bava Kamma 84b; see also TB Sanhedrin 14a). Abbaye, speaking to Rav Yosef, thus referred to them both as "laypeople" (hedyotot), presumably because they had not been ordained in Palestine (TB Gittin 88b).
The Palestinian amoraim are also portrayed as ridiculing Babylonian halakhic traditions (TB Pesaḥim 34b, TB Yoma 57a, TB Zevaḥim 60b). R. Yohanan explained that Babylonia is called "Bavel" because scripture, mishnah, and talmud are all mixed up ("balul") in it (TB Sanhedrin 24a). This ridicule may simply reflect the natural tensions between competing rabbinic centers rather than a real evaluation of Babylonian amoraic capabilities, since we can also observe sharp intra-Palestinian polemics between sages in northern and southern Palestine (TJ Sanhedrin 1:2, 18c; TJ Avodah Zarah 2:9, 41d). There is further support for this conclusion in a tradition about Palestinian appreciation of the scholarly competence of the Babylonian rabbis. Contrary to earlier Palestinian doubts about Babylonian competence with regard to bills of divorce, the "Scholars" (ḥavrayya) said in the name of R. Yehoshua b. Levi: "Now that scholars are found outside the Land, they are considered 'experts' [with regard to bills of divorce]" (TJ Git. 1:1, 43b).
The fourth generation Babylonian Amora Rava is the last Babylonian Amora mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (TJ Beẓah 1:3, 60b). The absence of the rest of the fourth generation (not to mention the fifth–seventh), from the Jerusalem Talmud is evidence that the final redaction of the Jerusalem Talmud was being brought to a close during this time. Some post-Jerusalem Talmud Palestinian scholars do appear in the Babylonian Talmud (e.g., TB Shabbat 107a; TB Ḥullin 59b).
Amoraim as Aggadists
Amoraim in both centers studied both halakhah and aggadah, although the latter is noticeably less of a Babylonian project. The Jerusalem Talmud itself contains relatively little aggadah, but Palestinian amoraim are richly represented in the great amoraic midrash-collections: *Bereshit Rabbah, *Vayikra Rabbah, and *Pesikta de-Rav Kahana. The Babylonian Talmud contains much aggadah (in keeping with its encyclopedic nature), but most of this material is Palestinian in origin.
The greater Palestinian contribution to aggadah is also reflected in the scholarly profiles of some amoraim. Among Babylonian amoraim, Rav is noteworthy as a scholar of both halakhah and aggadah, while among Palestinian amoraim, there are several scholars renowned for aggadah alone – R. Levi, R. Shmuel b. Nahman, R. Tanhuma, and other great aggadists who rarely formulated halakhic statements. No Babylonian Amora is identifiable as an expert on aggadah alone. The Palestinian rabbinic compilations alone also refer to certain scholars as rabanan d'aggadeta ("the rabbis of aggadah"; TJ Yevamot 4:2, 5c; TJ Ma'aserot 1:2, 48d), or as ba'alei aggadah ("masters of aggadah"; Bereshit Rabbah 94:5; Leviticus Rabbah 31:1). The historical reason for the greater Palestinian engagement with aggadah is unclear, but R. Isaac is credited with the notion that a greater emphasis on the study of scripture and aggadah is characteristic of periods of economic deprivation and social oppression, such as that imposed by the "wicked kingdom," Rome (Pesikta de-R. Kahana 12:3).
The Talmudim also indicate that there may have been some tension, or at least competition, between scholars of halakhah and aggadah. In the Jerusalem Talmud, R. Zeirah is said to have chided R. Abba b. Kahana and R. Levi, claiming that aggadic works are "books of divination," presumably because aggadah at times interprets scriptural verses in highly creative, counterintuitive ways (TJ Ma'aserot 3:10, 51a). According to the Babylonian Talmud, the public left R. Ḥiyya b. Abba's lecture on halakhah in order to attend R. Abbahu's discourse on aggadah (TB Sotah 40a).
The Amoraim as Authorities and Sources of Guidance for Non-Rabbis
Palestinian sources describe rabbis as providing guidance on legal and other matters for non-rabbis, including on questions of choosing local religious leadership (TJ Shevi'it 6:1, 36d). But this should not be taken as indicative of non-rabbis' complete, unconditional acceptance of the amoraim as religious leaders, because non-rabbis are also portrayed as ignoring rabbinic directives when these were perceived as too draconian (e.g., TJ Shevi'it 4:3, 35b). Rabbis are also described as modifying the Sabbatical year laws in order to bring them in line with what people were already doing, even if they perhaps might not have considered those behaviors ideal (ibid; TJ Shevi'it 4:2, 35a).
Palestinian sources (and sources about Palestinian amoraim) portray rabbis giving public discourses attended by nonrabbis (TJ Horayot 3:7, 48b; TB Sotah 40a). As to Babylonia, Rav Ashi alluded to a twice-yearly gathering of people in Mata Mehasya, presumably for the purpose of hearing discourses about holiday law (TB Berakhot 17b). This may be related to the Babylonian institution of the "pirka" (lit. "chapter"), which was a lecture delivered before a large audience containing non-scholars as well as scholars. The institution of the pirqa probably stems from the fourth century.
The Amoraim as Holy Men and Medical Experts
Scholars of late antiquity have identified certain kinds of stories and forms of behavior as characteristic of the period's signature "holy man". Similar stories and forms of behavior are also characteristic of many amoraim (Kalmin, Saints and Sages). Amoraim are represented as being visited by heavenly beings, including the prophet Elijah (e.g., TB Berakhot 29b), angels (TB Nedarim 20a; TB Menaḥot 41a), and spirits (TJ Peah 8:9, 21b). Amoraim are portrayed as speaking to the Angel of Death (TB Ḥagigah 4b–5a) and even outmaneuvering him for a time through Torah study (TB Mo'ed Katan 28a). Rav Judah is portrayed as being thanked by a dead man for easing his pain in the hereafter (TB Shabbat 152b). It is said about the rabbis collectively that wherever they cast their eyes, death or poverty results (TB Nedarim 7b). Sages in the Land of Israel were particularly sought out for the all-important activity of rain-making (e.g., TJ Ta'anit 3:4, 66c). In a related vein, amoraim are also portrayed as giving advice about health, including remedies for various ailments (e.g., TB Shabbat 81b; TB Avodah Zarah 28a–29a).
Communal Roles of the Amoraim and their Socioeconomic Status
Leading Babylonian amoraim, notably Rav, Rav Huna, Rava, and Rav Papa are portrayed as wealthy men. While few Babylonian amoraim are explicitly described as poor, the Babylonian Talmud does at times portray Palestinian amoraim as such (e.g., R. Johanan at TB Ta'anit 21a). Scholars were not to receive payment for teaching Torah (TB Nedarim 37a), and they are portrayed as engaging in commerce (TB Bava Metsia 83a), trade, agriculture, and other callings. Nevertheless, economic reversals and the demands of study could result in hardship. Some Palestinian sources show the amoriam encouraging people to support rabbis by giving the ancient agricultural tithes to scholars rather than to priests (TJ Ma'aser Sheni 5:5, 56b; Pesikta de-R. Kahana 10:10; see also TB Nedarim 62a).
Leading Palestinian and Babylonian amoraim are portrayed as playing active roles in communal collection and distribution of ẓedakah, notably R. Jacob b. Idi and R. Isaac b. Nahman (TJ Pe'ah 8:9, 21b), R. Hiyya b. Abba and Resh Lakish (TJ Horayot 3:6, 48a), Rav Huna (TB Megillah 27a–b), Rabbah (Bava Batra 8b), and Rav Ashi (Bava Batra 9a). The Jerusalem Talmud equates ẓedakah and acts of kindness (gemilut ḥasadim) to all the other mitzvot of the Torah (TJ Pe'ah 1:1, 15c), while the Babylonian Rav Huna is even represented as claiming that, regarding one who only engages in Torah to the exclusion of acts of kindness, it is as if he has no God (TB Avodah Zarah 17b). In a related vein, both Talmudim represent amoraim as judging cases and being sought out to administer justice (e.g., TB Ketubot 49b; TB Sanhedrin 27a–b). But the Babylonian Talmud also indicates that people did not always necessarily receive the justice they sought (TB Shabbat 55a; TB Sukkah 31a).
The Jerusalem Talmud portrays amoraim – under the direction of the Patriarch – as being in charge of setting up schools and hiring instructors (TJ Ḥagigah 1:7, 76c), while the Babylonian Talmud, although not portraying Babylonian amoraim in the same way, does show Rava setting down guidelines for the hiring and retention of teachers (TB Bava Batra 21a). Both Talmudim portray Palestinian amoraim as traveling around, observing Jewish communities' religious practice, and reporting halakhic violations to more senior rabbis (e.g., TJ Shevi'it 8:11, 38b–c; TB Avodah Zarah 59a), and they are in general described as being more integrated with their communities than their Babylonian counterparts (D. Levine, E. Diamond). Taken all together, these traditions point towards a Palestinian amoraic community that was – or at least portrays itself as – more highly organized and bureaucratic than its Babylonian counterpart.
Although, as noted, scholars were not to receive payment for teaching Torah, Babylonian amoraim did see themselves as entitled to certain allowances by virtue of their rabbinic status. Rava rules that when Torah scholars are litigants, their cases should be heard first (TB Nedarim 62a), and that they are entitled to tax exemptions (TB Nedarim 62b). Rava is also portrayed as allowing R. Josiah and R. Obadiah a commercial privilege not provided by law, which the Babylonian Talmud explains as a necessary allowance so that their studies would not be interrupted (TB Bava Batra 22a). A close reading of the sources about amoraic tax exemptions (TB Nedarim 62b; TB Bava Batra 7b–8a) supports the conclusion that the amoraim were likely making arguments in favor of their receiving such exemptions in these sources rather than straightforwardly reporting the historical reality of such exemptions.
Frankel, Mevo; Halevy, Dorot, 2; Weis, Dor, 3; Bacher, Bab Amor; Bacher, Pal Amor; Bacher, Trad; G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Century of the Christian Era, 2 (1927); H.L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1931); M. Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (1925); Hyman, Toledot; Margalioth, Ḥakhmei; J.N. Epstein, Mevo'ot le-Safrut ha-Amora'im (1962); ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Beer, The Babylonian Amoraim: Aspects of Economic Life (Heb., 1982); M. Elon, Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles (1994); R. Kalmin, Sages, Stories, Authors, and Editors in Rabbinic Babylonia (1994); idem, The Sage in Jewish Society of Late Antiquity (1998); idem, "Saints and Sages in Late Antiquity," in: Continuity and Change, ed. Lee I. Levine (Hebrew) (2004); Lee I. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity (1990); Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia (1965–1970); Jacob Neusner, "The Present State of Rabbinic Biography," in: G. Nahon & C. Touati (eds.), Hommageá Georges Vajda (1980), 85–91; Y. Breuer, in: Tarbiz, 61 (1997), 41–59; D. Levine, Ta'aniyyot Ẓibbur u-Derashot ha-Ḥakhamim – Halakhah u-Ma'aseh bi-Tekufat ha-Talmud (2001); E. Diamond, in: USQR, 48 (1994), 29–47.
[Alyssa M. Gray (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.