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Jeremiah ben Abba

JEREMIAH BEN ABBA (first half of the fourth century C.E.), Babylonian amora; usually referred to without his patronymic. Jeremiah, who was born in Babylonia, immigrated to Ereẓ Israel at the outset of his career. No discussions are extant between him and the Babylonian sages, and only in isolated instances does he quote the earliest ones. There is no reference to his emigration to Ereẓ Israel as there is to that of Babylonian sages such as Ze'eira, Abba, and others, who emigrated when they were already well-known scholars. When Abbaye and Rava, two leading Babylonian amoraim who were contemporaries of Jeremiah, discussed the relative worth of the sages of Babylonia and Ereẓ Israel, the former said: "One of them [in Ereẓ Israel] is worth two of us [in Babylonia]," to which Rava replied: "But when one of us immigrates there [to Ereẓ Israel], he is worth two of them. There is, for example, Jeremiah who, when he was here, did not comprehend what the sages were saying, but since immigrating there he refers to us as 'the stupid Babylonians'" (Ket. 75a). And indeed Jeremiah occupied a notable place in Ereẓ Israel, having apparently been for some time, after the death of Ammi and Assi, the head of the bet midrash at Tiberias. In Ereẓ Israel he studied under his Babylonian countrymen Ḥ iyya b. Abba (Meg. 4a, et al.) and Ze'eira (MK 4a, et al.), as well as under Abbahu at Caesarea (TJ, Git. 9:10, 50d; et al.). With all his great devotion to study, prayer and spiritual tension in the worship of God were conspicuous factors in his outlook. Thus, when he was sitting in study before Ze'eira and the time for prayer arrived, he pressed the latter to interrupt the lesson in order to recite his prayers (Shab. 10a). When on one occasion he greatly prolonged the word " eḥ ad " in the Shema, Ze'eira checked him (Ber. 13b; TJ, Ber. 2:1, 4a.). Against the baraita which holds that one must not bow down "too much" in prayer, he said: "Provided one shall not do merely as a lizard does that moves its head, but pray in such a way that he fulfills (Ps. 35: 10) 'all my bones shall say: Lord, who is like unto Thee'" (TJ, Ber. 1:8, 3d). With this teaching of his there is apparently to be connected his dictum: "Great is the fear of God, for two books written by Solomon [Proverbs and Ecclesiastes] conclude with a reference to the fear of God" (Eccles. R. 3:14).

Conspicuous in his mode of study is the effort to arrive at a precise and definitive elucidation of the halakhah. At times, the halakhic problems that he posed are merely academic, without any application to practical life. Some of his questions and subtleties raise a smile, and most of the problems propounded by him are left unsolved in the Talmud (Shab. 38b; Suk. 33a, et al.). On the Mishnah (BB 2:6) which states that if a young pigeon is found within 50 cubits of the cote, it belongs to the owner of the cote, but if found beyond 50 cubits, it belongs to the finder, Jeremiah asked: "If its one foot is within and its other foot beyond 50 cubits, what is the halakhah ?" For this question he was temporarily excluded from the bet midrash (BB 23b). (For a profound study of this characteristic of Jeremiah, see M. Silberg, in Sinai, 56 (1965), 13–19.)

Jeremiah came to occupy a distinguished position in both the spheres of academic and of communal service in Ereẓ Israel. He had halakhic discussions with most contemporary sages, and nearly all the leading amoraim of the following generation quote his statements. The Babylonian Talmud several times mentions his harsh comments on the learning of the Babylonian scholars and the Babylonian Talmud. "He hath made me to dwell in dark places…" (Lam. 3:6) – refers, according to Jeremiah, to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanh. 24a), but this did not prevent his statements from being frequently cited in it. To a question asked of him by the sages he modestly answered: "I am not worthy of having this question addressed to me, but your disciple inclines to the opinion…" (BB 165; cf. Dik. Sof., ad loc.). Avin and Dimi, who regularly went from Ereẓ Israel to Babylonia and there transmitted the teachings of Johanan and the other leading Ereẓ Israel amoraim of the preceding generation, included Jeremiah's statements (Pes. 60b; and see Tem. 14a, et al.). Tradition has it that anonymous opinions introduced by "They in the west say," quoted in the Babylonian Talmud, refer to Jeremiah (Sanh. 17b).

The vast majority of his statements are in the realm of halakhah, but a considerable number of his aggadic comments interpreting biblical passages and of his homilies have been preserved. He was the author of proems to homiletical expositions (Lev. R. 13: 1; 29: 5, et al.). Several practical decisions required in the "hall of study" (Sidra Rabba) were given by him (TJ, Shab. 3:7, 16c; 19:1, 16d, et al.). Like leading sages in all generations, he too traveled around to minister to and guide the inhabitants of various places, visiting the Dead Sea in the company of Ravin (Shab. 108b) and Golan on a mission for Ammi (TJ, Meg. 3:1, 73d). When the authorities imposed a heavy tax on Tiberias, he demanded, contrary to the prevailing halakhah exempting sages from taxation, that Jacob b. Bun, a sage, contribute his share. On the halakhah that one is not to pray immediately after a conversation or after being occupied in inanities, he taught: "Whoever engages in communal affairs is as one who engages in the study of the Torah" (TJ, Ber. 5:1, 8d). His fervent belief in the advent of the Messiah can be inferred from his last testament: "Clothe me in a white garment, put stockings and shoes on my feet and a staff in my hand, and lay me on my side. When the Messiah comes, I shall be ready" (TJ, Kil. 9:4, 32b).


Frankel, Mevo, 107bff.; Bacher, Pal Amor; Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 95ff.; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), 356ff.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.