Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation
In this course with Rabbi David Sedley we will study the lives and teachings of some of the most influential thinkers from the first generation of Talmudic scholars (Amoraim). These scholars expounded on the words of the Tannaim in the Mishnah. We will discuss Rav and Shmuel, among others.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 1
AMORAIM: RAV (ABBA ARICHA): In this shiur we will briefly discuss the tranformation from tannaim to amoraim – or what happened when Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Rabbi Natan compiled the mishna. Then we examine Rav’s life, and his lasting impact. He is considered the first Amora (though he is also considered a tanna in some circumstances) and founded a yeshiva in Sura which remained there for over 800 years (possibly the longest established yeshiva in Jewish history). We will also look at the formative political events which shaped the Talmud, and Rav’s life: the fall of the Parthenon empire, and the rise of the Sassanid empire, and the different political reality in Israel. In this, and the next shiur, we will look at some of Rav’s teachings and his lasting influence on the Jewish world.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 2
AMORAIM: RAV AND THE YESHIVA IN SURA: In this shiur we look at the founding of the Yeshiva in Sura by Rav. This Yeshiva remained the foremost source of Torah in the world for over 800 years. We will also look at Rav’s customs of piety and the prayers which he composed. We also finish last week’s shiur, and look at the influence of the changing reality in Persia as an influence on the shaping of the Talmud and Judaism.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 3
AMORAIM: SHMUEL AND KING SHAPUR: In this shiur we will conclude our discussion of Rav, with some of his personal practices of piety (which are quite surprising, given that most of them are ‘standard practice’ nowadays). We will begin looking at Shmuel, and the yeshiva in Neharde’a. We will also look at the relationship between Shmuel and King Shapur, which was based on a mutual love for medicine and astronomy, as well as Shmuel’s beliefs about the Messianic era. We will also look at some contemporary Jewish reactions (and halachot) to the strengthened power given to the Zoroastrian Priests (called by the Arabs Guebers).
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 4
AMORAIM: RAV AND SHMUEL: In this shiur we look at some of the differences and similarities between Rav (in Sura) and Shmuel (in Neharde’a). We will learn some of their points of agreement and disagreement. And see that the halacha is in accordance with the opinion of Rav for ‘religious’ matters and in accordance with the opinion of Shmuel for ‘civil’ matters. We will also look at their different attitudes to the relationship between Bavel and Eretz Yisrael. Finally, we will look at Shmuel’s calendar, which is still used today, and discuss some of the implications of using his calendar (which is basically identical to the Julian calendar) in a world which has switched to the Gregorian calendar.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 5
AMORAIM: RABBI YOCHANAN: In this shiur we move from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael. After the deaths of Rav and Shmuel, Rabbi Yochanan became the greatest Rabbi in the world. We will look at the how he was destined for greatness while still in the womb, and that he was an orphan from birth. He gave up everything he had to learn Torah, and achieved greatness. He had a life of hardship and yet was one of the most beautiful men in history.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 6
AMORAIM: REISH LAKISH: In this shiur we will look at the life of Reish Lakish, from selling himself as a gladiator, to becoming a bandit, to eventually becoming (along with Rabbi Yochanan) one of the two greatest Rabbis in the Land of Israel. Ultimately Reish Lakish died as a result of being insulted by Rabbi Yochanan, which in turn led to Rabbi Yochanan’s own death.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 7
AMORAIM: RAV KAHANE: In this class we will continue discussing Reish Lakish and his relationship with Rabbi Yochanan. We will also learn about Rav Kahane, who fled Bavel to come to the Land of Israel, only to be killed (and brought back to life) by Rabbi Yochanan. We will (hopefully) have time to examine the difference in mentality and culture between Israel and Bavel, which led to two Talmuds and many alternate customs and practices.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 8
AMORAIM: RABBI YEHOSHA BEN LEVI: In this shiur we will look at the life and teachings of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Even though he was an Amora (an older contemporary of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish) he made it into the mishna a couple of times. He would have frequent visits from Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) and the Malach HaMavet (the Angel of Death). He is one of the very few who entered the Garden of Eden alive, and came back to tell the tale. He was a master of Aggada and a teacher of Halacha.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 10
AMORAIM: RAV YEHUDA BAR YECHEZKEL: In this shiur we will look at Rav Yehuda bar Yechezkel, founder of the Yeshiva in Pumbedita. He learned under both Rav and Shmuel, and is the main conduit of their traditions and teachings to the later generations.
Talmudic Personalities: The First Generation: Lesson 11
AMORIAM: HAGGADA SHEL PESACH: In this shiur we will look at Haggada of the Amoraim, noting that it was a fixed text (which it had not been in the time of the Tannaim). We will also look at the differences between the haggada of Bavel, and the Haggada of Eretz Yisrael, as reflected through the words of the Amoraim in the Bavli and Yerushalmi Talmuds.
Rabbi David Sedley lives in Jerusalem with his wife and six children. He was born and raised in New Zealand before making Aliya in 1992. He left Israel temporarily (for eight years) to serve as a communal Rabbi in Scotland and England and returned to Israel in 2004. He has translated Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avos and is the co-author of Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer (both Judaica Press). Over the years Rabbi Sedley has worked as a journalist, a translator, a video director and in online reputation management. He also writes a weekly Torah blog on the Times of Israel.