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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Beginning of the End

Ironically, by the time Rava began his efforts at systematization, some of the options available were already being eliminated. A Babylonian version of an anecdote about the great second‐generation 'amora' of the land of Israel, R. Yoḥanan, the most frequently cited authority in either Talmud, whose disciplesmade up the greater part of the third generation of 'amora'im, is depicted as declaring that the exposition of the letter vav was no longer possible.

R. Yoḥanan was [once] sitting and expounding: “Notar [a portion of a sacrifice left over beyond the prescribed time for eating it and which must be burnt on the third day, see Lev. 7.17 ] must be burnt in its [proper] time during the day; when not in its proper time, it may be burnt during the day or at night.”

R. Eleazar [ben Pedat] raised an objection to R. Yoḥanan: “‐‘I only [know] that a child which must be circumcized on the eighth day must be circumcized during the day; how do I [know this of] a child circumcized on the ninth, tenth, eleventh or twelfth? It is stated: “And on the day” [Lev. 12:3 ].’ And even one who does not expound a vav will expound a vav‐heh (“and” and “the”).”

[R. Yoḥanan] remained silent. After [R. Eleazar] left, R. Yoḥanan said to Resh Laqish: “Did you see [Eleazar] ben Pedat sitting and expounding like Moses in the name of the Almighty!”

Said Resh Laqish to him: “Is it then his [teaching]? It is really a baraita.”

“Where is it taught?”

“In Torat Kohanim [= Sifra, the halakhic midrash on Leviticus].”

[R. Yoḥanan] went out, memorized it in three days and mastered it in three months (b. Yebam. 72 b).

The parallel in the Talmud of the land of Israel is couched in different terms (y. Shab. 2:1[4 c]), but the essential point is that neither Talmud records any such exposition of a vav by any authority after R. Yoḥanan's time. (See b. Yebam. 68 a,b for Rav and b. B. M. 8 b, both first‐generation Babylonian 'amora'im and senior to R. Yoḥanan.) R. Yoḥanan's decision thus seems to have marked a turning point in amoraic midrashic exposition.

This does not mean that 'amora'im abandoned the field of ribbuy—expounding extensions based on Hebrew particles or single letters. Though we do not find the letter vav expounded for this purpose, R. Yoḥanan himself does expound other Hebrew prepositions and conjunctives: 'o, “or” (b. Shab. 63 b), 'im, “if” (b. B. K. 43 b), gam, “also” (b. 'Arak. 7 a). But over time the 'amora'im did less and less of this type of exposition. On the other hand, we find authorities of the fourth generation, both in Israel and Babylonia, treating duplications in the Mishnah not too differently from the way they treated biblical verses. One example, which is expounded in both Talmuds, will illustrate the point.

Mishnah Shabbat 11 :4: If one throws [an object over a distance of] four cubits in the sea, he is not liable [for transgressing the Sabbath law]. If there is a water pool and a public road traverses it, and one throws [an object] four cubits therein, he is liable. And what depth constitutes a pool? Less than ten handbreadths. If there is a water pool and a public road traverses it, and one throws [an object] four cubits therein, he is liable.

Gemara: One of the rabbis said to Rava: As for “traversing” [mentioned] twice, that is well, [as] it informs us this: (1) traversing with difficulty is designated “traversing” [for purposes of the Sabbath laws]; (2) use with difficulty is not designated use. But why state “pool” twice?—One refers to summer and one to winter, and both are necessary. For if only one were stated, I would say: That is only in summer, when people walk therein to cool themselves, but in winter [this is] not [the case]. And if we were told [this] of winter, [I would say that] they do not object [to wading through the pool], but not in summer.

The Talmud of the land of Israel on this Mishnah also adverts to this problem, and expounds the duplicate text in a similar way, and also in the name of a fourth‐generation authority, R. Pinḥas (y. Shab. 11:4 [13 a]).

Why was it taught twice? R. Ḥanina in the name of R. Pinḥas: [This text refers to a case in which there were] two pools, onethrough which people walked and one through which people did not walk, except when they were forced to, so that you do not say that since people do not walk through [it] except when they are forced to, it is not [considered] public ground but private ground; accordingly, you must say that it is public ground.

Thus, in the course of time, less and less recourse was made to the midrashic exposition of biblical verses, and more and more emphasis was given to extracting what information was available—even quasi‐midrashically—from early rabbinic sources themselves. By the geonic period, under challenge from the Karaites, the system of halakhic midrash had closed down. Rava's work is to be dated closer to the beginning of this process than to its end, and he does make use of particu‐ lar rabbinic exegetical principles. But, as we have seen, and as he admits, he cannot fill in every gap.

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