כ״ז באדר ה׳תשע״ח (March 14, 2018)

Avoda Zara 58a-b: Tiberias, Neharde’a and Mehoza

Once upon a time, a non-Jew entered a Jewish store in Meḥoza, and asked to purchase wine from the storeowner. The storeowner claimed that he had none to sell, but the non-Jew placed his hand in a vessel that contained wine, stirred it, and said “Are you telling me that this is not wine?!” In his anger, the storeowner took the vessel and threw its contents into the barrel.

This case caused a major disagreement among of the Talmud. Rava ruled that the barrel of wine was permitted and could be sold to non-Jews, while Rav Huna bar Ḥinnana and Rav Huna bar Rav Naḥman forbade it entirely. Rava made a public proclamation asserting that his ruling was correct; Rav Huna bar Ḥinnana and Rav Huna bar Rav Naḥman did likewise. Later, Rava clarified his ruling, saying that the barrel of wine was permitted to be sold, although the value of the wine that the non-Jew had touched was forbidden.

Rava reports that when he arrived in Pumbedita, where this case was being discussed, Naḥmani – which was actually the name of his peer, Abaye – brought numerous cases that proved that Rava had ruled incorrectly. For example, Abaye pointed out that Shmuel had ruled otherwise when discussing a similar case in Neharde’a, as had Rabbi Yoḥanan regarding a similar case in Tiberias. Although Rava responded that they may have ruled stringently in those cases because they were concerned that the communities there were not religious enough, Abaye argued that if anything, Neharde’a and Tiberias were more religious communities than Meḥoza where Rava made his ruling. Ultimately the Gemara rules against Rava in this case.

Tiberias in Israel was a major Torah center beginning with the time of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, and for many years it served as the home of the . Neharde’a in Bavel was one of the original settlements of Jews in Babylonia, and for generations it was known as a center of Torah and study halls. Meḥoza, on the other hand, was a major port city and business center, whose inhabitants were known more for their financial success and business acumen than for their Torah knowledge.

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