Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rabbi Abba, and the Authenticity of the Zohar

Summary: Debunking a debunking, about the Tanna named Rabbi Abba.

Post: In a five-part article debunking allegations that the Zohar is of late authorship, Rabbi Moshe Miller writes, as part of one debunking:
An examination of these sources reveals that none other than Scholem and Tishby were either ignorant of basic sources… or attempted to deliberately mislead their readers.
This seems to be a common theme. The academics say X, but they were either lying or else are a bunch of amaratzim, because it is so, so clear that there are explicit contradictory sources.

In this post, I consider the claim about Rabbi Abba the Tanna. Rabbi Miller writes:
In Tishby's words, "the prominent Tanna called Rabbi Abba, who is one of the leading figures in the group, is otherwise completely unknown. The earliest figure who could possibly be identified with Rabbi Abba is the famous amora Rav, whose name was Abba Arika." Strange indeed that Rabbi Abba is mentioned in Tosefta Beitza chap. 1; Tosefta Sanhedrin,chap. 8; Tosefta Chulin chap. 6. (The Tosefta are beraitot slightly less authoritative then Mishna and are from the same era). In addition, Rabbi Abba's name appears scores of times in Midrash Rabba.
The Midrash Rabba reference is perhaps easiest to reply to. Midrash Rabba is from the Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael, not from the Tannaim! So who cares that Rabbi Abba's name appears scores of times? This would be the famous Amora Rav, or else some other Palestinian Amora.

That Rabbi Miller could put this forth as a serious argument demonstrates that he is, to quote somebody from just above,
 either ignorant of basic sources… or attempted to deliberately mislead [his] readers.
I think it is the former rather than the latter.

In terms of the fact that there is a Rabbi Abba in the Tosefta, let us examine just the first source that Rabbi Miller cites, the Tosefta Beitza chapter 1. The Tosefta he refers to is:
א,ד  ר' יוסי אומר כוי [אין] שוחטין אותו ביו"ט מפני שהוא ספק ואם שחטו אין מכסין את דמו [א"ר יוסי] ומה מילה שודאה דוחה [את השבת] אין ספיקה דוחה את יו"ט כסוי הדם שאין ודאו דוחה [את השבת] אינו דין [שלא יהא ספיקו] דוחה [את] יו"ט אמרו לו [שופרות שבגבולין יוכיחו שאין ודאן דוחה את השבת וספיקן] דוחה [את] יו"ט [הן יוכיחו לכסוי הדם שאע"פ שאין ודאו דוחה את השבת שיהא ספיקו דוחה את יו"ט] השיב ר"א [בנו של ר"א] הקפר [מה למילה שאין ספיקה דוחה את יו"ט שאין ודאה דוחה את לילי יום טוב תאמר בכסוי הדם שודאו דוחה את לילי יו"ט הואיל וודאו דוחה את לילי יום טוב דין הוא שיהא ספיקו דוחה את] יו"ט אמר רבי אבא זה אחד מן הדברים [שהיה] רבי חייא [אומר] אין לי תשובה והשיב ר"א.
The quote from Rabbi Abba is right at the end. "Rabbi Abba said: This is one of the things which Rabbi Chiyya said there was no answer, and Rabbi Eleazer answered him.

Rabbe Eliezer Hakappar was from the last generation of Tannaim. His son, Rabbi Eliezer, is quasi-Tanna, I suppose. Rabbi Chiyya, who is mentioned, is the redactor of the braytot, and Rav (=Abba Arika) studied under him. Let us look how this Rabbi Abba appears:אמר רבי אבא זה אחד מן הדברים [שהיה] רבי חייא [אומר] אין לי תשובה והשיב ר"א."

This Rabbi Abba is testifying about something that happened in conversation with Rabbi Chiya, that Rabbi Eliezer answered him on this point. It certainly stands to reason that this is the student of Rabbi Chiya, who is precisely Rav! Why does he appear in Tosefta? Because he was a student of the rabbi who compiled it, and so his ideas were inserted into it.

After all, don't we say "Rav Tanna hu upalig"?!

And this Rabbi Abba is too distant from Rashbi.

I came to this conclusion independently, but subsequently I looked, and found in the Wikipedia article about Rav (that is, Abba Aricha):
"He is called Rabbi Abba only in the tannaitic literature (for instance, Tosefta, Beitzah 1:7), where a number of his sayings are preserved. He occupies a middle position between the Tannaim and the Amoraim, and is accorded the right, rarely conceded to one who is only an 'amora, of disputing the opinion of a tanna (Bava Batra 42a and elsewhere)."
If so, the author of this article is simply extremely ignorant about the subject matter; or got one-sided arguments from a separate source and didn't bother to investigate; or else he is deliberately trying to mislead.

Actually, my sense from a number of erroneous arguments this author makes (which I'll discuss in posts to come) is that he is a Bar Ilan scholar. That is, he got a Bar Ilan CD and so is able to search over much of Rabbinic literature, but either doesn't understand or doesn't bother to understand what these sources say. Thus, he searched for Rabbi Abba, found all these occurrences, and jumped to conclusions.

I am unimpressed.


Chanokh said...

Or you could say, like the Sefer Yuchasin, that Rabbi Abba from the Zohar is indeed Abba Arikha, and that he had an exceptionnally long life (though the gap is not as extreme as you make it seem: in the Zohar, R. Abba is Rashbi's talmid; in the Tosefta, he is R. Hiyya's talmid, R. Hiyya being only two generations removed from Rashbi - and we're talking about rav/talmid generations, that can overlap more easily). Or you could also say that R. Abba from the Zohar is another R. Abba altogether that we only know of from the Zohar. Why not? Don't you find chachamim quoted in midrashim that are not found in either Talmud?
On the contrary, it is the fact that the Zohar would only quote chachamim known from other sources that would be really problematic. After all, wasn't that one of the ways the Friedlander Yerushalmi was debunked: because contrary to genuine masekhtot, those only quoted from chachamim found in other tractates?

joshwaxman said...

first and foremost, my primary goal in this series of posts is to examine the specific answers put forth by Rabbi Moshe Miller in his lengthy article. Do you agree that his answer is no answer at all? as i will demonstrate, all his answers are like this.

the answers you offer are possible. however, in terms of (2), given the absolute prominence of Rabbi Abba in Zohar, it is surprising that there is no mention of him in Tannaitic literature. Those who appear in one masechta but no other, are they as utterly central to that masaechta as Rabbi Abba is to Zohar, or are they minor figures with one to three statesments?

As for (1), if Rav indeed lived this long, we know he was an intelligent person who was interested and active in the field of halacha. The gemara attests to this. If he was a student of Rashbi, why was his opinion never cited in the Mishna? In Tosefta, is he active as any more than Rabbi Chiyya's student? How come he never argues with Rabbi Yossi, or Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi's contemporaries? Why don't Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Chiyya cite him, and learn him? It is strange to see Shmuel regularly argue with such an absolute Tanna.

Besides, this is not the only irregularity in rebbe/talmid relationships in the Zohar. see here.

kol tuv,

S. said...

For (1) are we saying that actually in the last generation of Tannaim that Rav was actually an elder Tanna? He must have been considerably older than Rabbi.

This may be, but on the other hand it also sounds like we're just making stuff up. Put them both on the scale and weigh which one is less likely.

Rabbi Moshe Miller said...

Rashbi, R' Chiya, R' Elazar haKappar and R' Abba all lived at more or less the same time - 2nd century. Rav (Abba Aricha) was not referred to as רבי since he was from Bavel and was at best a young contemporary of the former.

R. Abba is also mentioned several times in Talmud Yerushalmi

joshwaxman said...

Hi Rabbi Miller,

This appears like more hand waving and assertions without proof.

Rav was from Bavel but he traveled and studied in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Zeira was from Bavel but he traveled and studied in Eretz Yisrael.

You insist that this Rabbi Abba mentioned in late Tannaitic literature is too early. Your evidence for this?

I explained all this in the post, that Rabbi Chiyya Rabba was in the transitional period, and could thus engage in conversation with Rav.

"R. Abba is also mentioned several times in Talmud Yerushalmi"

I am sure he is. This is parallel to your statement in your article that In addition, Rabbi Abba's name appears scores of times in Midrash Rabba. where Midrash Rabba contains the words of Amoraim as well.

examples from Targum Yerushalmi please? particularly, examples that show that he is a Tanna rather than an Amora?

joshwaxman said...

apologies, should read **Talmud** Yerushalmi. a typo made in my haste.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin