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Rabbah bar bar Ḥana

RABBAH BAR BAR ḤANA (second half of the third century), amora. As his father's name was also Rabbah, it is thought his patronymic referred to his grandfather (see *Rabbah bar Ḥana). Born in Babylonia, he went to Ereẓ Israel to study in the academy of R. Johanan, and many years after returned to his native land, where he disseminated the teachings of Johanan, transmitting in his name close to 200 halakhot in all spheres. The heads of the Babylonian academies, such as R. Judah of Pumbedita and his distinguished disciples, Rabbah, and R. Joseph, transmitted in his name halakhot they had learned from him. He suffered from the persecutions of the Sassanids who even broke into his house, and he complained: "Merciful One! Either in Thy shadow or in the shadow of Esau [= Rome]" (Git. 17a). It is possible that in consequence of these sufferings he decided to return to Ereẓ Israel (Pes. 51a), but there is no evidence that he did so.

Rabbah achieved great renown for his remarkable legends (known as the "aggadot of Rabbah bar Bar Ḥana" and chiefly found in the tractate Bava Batra (73a–74a). These tales purport to relate what he saw and heard during his many journeys by sea and land. They are marked by hyperbole, and excited the wonder of contemporary scholars. Some of them spoke out sharply against him: "Every Abba is an ass and every bar Bar Ḥana is a fool" (BB 74a). Rabbah ascribes some of his stories to sailors and Arabs, but begins most of them with the words, "I myself saw." The following is a typical one: "We were once traveling in a desert and an Arab joined us.… He said to me: 'Come and I will show you where the men of Korah were swallowed up' (cf. Num. 16:23ff). I saw two cracks that emitted smoke. I took a piece of clipped wool, dipped it in water, attached it to the point of a spear, and inserted it there, and when I took it out it was singed. He said to me: 'Listen carefully! What do you hear?' I heard them crying out: 'Moses and his Torah are true and we are liars!' The Arab said to me 'Every 30 days Gehenna returns them here as meat turns on a spit,' and they cry out: 'Moses and his Torah are true and we are liars'" (BB 74a).

The expositors of the Talmud, aware of the strangeness of these stories, sought to rationalize them. Yom Tov b. Abraham *Ishbili stated: "The stories in this chapter deal with subjects that are strange to people because they are unfamiliar with them, but they are very plausible to those with a knowledge of nature, such as the size of sea monsters and the size of waves in a storm. They also contain allusions to matters which were not seen with the eye but in a vision. For when the sages went on ocean voyages they saw there God's wonders … and during their sleep they experienced remarkable visions in the context of their meditations. The geonim wrote that wherever the words 'I myself saw' occur, it was in a dream while on a voyage." Some regard these tales and aggadot as ethical and national allegories, while others see them as intimations and cryptic sayings (see Maharsha (Samuel Eliezer b. Judah *Edels), ad loc.).


Hyman, Toledot, 1076–78; Bacher, Bab Amor, 87–93; idem, Ergaenzungen und Berichtigungen… (1913), 10; Bacher, Trad, 699, S.V.

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