Rabba vs. Rav Yosef, part one (article preview)
Rabba (bar Nachmani) and Rav Yosef (bar Chiyya) were third-generation Amoraim situated in Pumbedita, and were frequent disputants. Rav Yehuda (bar Yechezkel) was their teacher and the prior head of Pumpedita academy. When Rav Yehuda died (Berachot 64a), it was unclear who would next lead the academy. Rav Yosef was “Sinai” – that is, expert in tradition, so was a font of knowledge akin to Mount Sinai. Rabba was an “uprooter of mountains”, expert in incisive reasoning. (Note also that Har Sinai is a mountain.) They asked for advice from the Sages of Eretz Yisrael, who responded that Sinai takes precedence, for everyone needs the owner of the wheat, that is, the sources from which to reason. Even so, Rav Yosef refused the appointment, since Chaldean astrologers had told him that he would preside over Pumpedita academy for two years. In this way, he cleverly extended his life. Rabba presided over the academy for twenty-two years, and Rav Yosef subsequently presided over the academy for two and a half years.
Since they so frequently argue, it would be nice if there were a way of deciding who wins. Now, often when Amoraim argue, they argue their case with evidence and logic. Alternatively, later Amoraim pick up the thread and endorse a position. Then, within the sugya, it’s obvious who wins. There are still plenty of instances where the conclusion is left uncertain. What should we do then?
Well, we could ask Rav Yosef! A brayta (Avoda Zara 7a) discusses what happens when two Sages sit together and disagree whether something’s pure / impure, permitted / forbidden – follow the Sage who’s greater in wisdom or number. If they’re equal, rule stringently. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha disagrees: in Biblical law, follow the stringent position; in Rabbinic law, follow the lenient position1. Addressing this brayta, Rav Yosef endorses Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha2. Indeed, for many unresolved questions, Rishonim adopt this Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha approach.
On the other hand, maybe their respective strengths,
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