Sunday, March 07, 2010

titles for Talmudic Sages and Lo Adu Rosh

How the Talmudic Sages were Given their Titles

By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

Rav Acha the son of Rava said to Rav Ashi: Does one have to literally put his hand on someone’s head when giving him rabbinic ordination?

He answered: We lean on him in name only, calling him a Rabbi, and giving him permission to judge cases involving fines.

Gadol meraban shemo – “greater than raban is his name” is an expression used by many to praise an exalted Torah personality. The description first appears in a responsum from the Babylonian Ge’onim – Rav Sherira Gaon, the Rosh Yeshivah of Ge’on Yaakov, and his son Rav Hai Gaon, called the Av beis din of Yeshivas Ge’on Yaakov. They were asked to explain the titles used for the sages of the Talmud, such as Raban, Rabbi, Rav, Mar and the like, in contrast to the lack of titles when mentioning others such as Hillel, Shammai or Shimon ben Shetach. Their long and detailed responsum appears in He’Aruch, in the article on Abaye, (see also introduction of Rambam to Peirush HaMishnayos ch 7) and cites the rule that “greater than rav is rabbi, greater than rabbi is raban and greater than raban is his name alone.”The very first sages were known only by their names and therefore no titles were ever used to describe Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, the prophets, the kings, the members of the Kenesses HaGedolah or the sages up to the middle of the era of the Tannaim before the destruction of the Second Temple. The title Raban became to be used for the Nesi’im in the generation of Raban Gamliel HaZaken while other sages in Eretz Yisroel were known as Rabbi. The Sefer HaYuchasin states that the title Rabbi was used to distinguish genuine sages from Sadducean imposters and since then various titles have been employed to describe our sages. On the other hand, the sages not called by their real names – such as Abaye, whose true name was Nachmeini – were left without a title (see ibid as to the meaning of the name Abaye and why he was not called by his real name). The only one of our forefathers with an added title is Moshe Rabbeinu and even then his title always appears after his name, as it is not meant to honor him but to honor us, that we had the merit that he was our rav (see Otzar HaGeonim).

The difference between rav and rabbi: Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon explain that the sages of Eretz Yisroel were called rabbi whereas those of Babylonia were titled rav. Indeed, the Gemora calls Rav Zeira by that title while he was in Babylonia, but refers to him as Rabbi Zeira after his arrival in Eretz Yisroel and the Gemora in Kesuvos 43b discusses whether a certain halachah was stated by Rav Zeira, while still in Babylonia, or by Rabbi Zeira in Eretz Yisroel (according to Rashi, ibid, but Tosefos in Menachos 40b, s.v. Rabbi Zeira, disagree). Rashi (ibid) explains that the difference in titles stems from the fact that there was no traditional semichah – rabbinical ordination – in Babylonia (see Sefer HaShtaros by Rabbi Yehudah El-Barceloni, one of the first Rishonim and author of Sefer Ha’Itim).

Real semichah was eventually discontinued for certain reasons and was replaced by a symbolic semichah “so that students should adhere to the sages’ attributes and gradually advance along the levels of wisdom and its uses” (Rabbi Y. El-Barceloni, ibid). The Sefer HaShtaros (“Book of Documents”) therefore includes a “document of semichah” to authorize students to be called rav, rabbi or chacham.

An unlearned person called by a rabbinical title: The use of titles has spread since that period such that people who are not talmidei chachamim are sometimes called by the above appellations. The matter may even have halachic implications, as in the instance of a bill of divorce (get). The author of Get Pashut (129, s.k. 31, s.v. Harav) asserts that because of the proliferation of titles we must not disqualify a get in which the husband is called rav even if he lacks any Torah knowledge.

HaGaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l states that if he could, he would completely do away with titles in our era. Those who give a title to anyone, he complains, are guilty of minor flattery and those so titled might be tempted to assume false pride or dislike those giving them such titles if they think they deserve better (Preface to Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger).


Lo Adu Rosh

The Gemora continues to discuss the laws of making a leap year. The Gemora records a dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yosi. Rashi explains the opinion of Rabbi Yosi, and an important part of the calculation, is lo adu rosh, meaning that the first day of Rosh Hashanah cannot fall out on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday.

In the times of the Bais Hamikdash they established the length of the month based on testimony from witnesses that saw the new moon. But that all changed when Hillel made a calendar whose specific rules would allow the smooth running of the Jewish year. Each year has a set amount of months, whose length is either a 29 or 30 day month.

Every couple of years, there is a need to add an additional month in order to enable the holidays to fall in the same season each year (the seasons follow the solar year, and the Jewish calendar follows the lunar year). There is a set timeline as to which year will be a leap year. [This is known as “gu-ach adzat” – every third, sixth, eighth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth year of the nineteen year cycle is deemed a leap year.]

According to the calendar's calculation, there are specific days which will never fall out on a given Yom Tov.

Rosh Hashana - Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
Yom Kippur - Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.
Hoshana Rabbah - Tuesday, Thursday and Shabbos.
Chanukah - Tuesday. Incidentally, this is the reason for the custom to distribute “Chanuka Gelt” on the 5th day of Chanuka, since it can never fall out on a Shabbos (Steipler).
Ta’anis Esther - Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.
Purim - Monday, Wednesday and Shabbos.
Pesach - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Shavuos - Tuesday, Thursday and Shabbos.
Shiva Asar B’tamuz - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Tisha B’av - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Another calculation that manifests itself through the calendar is the correlation between two important days. Meaning the day of the week in which A falls out will always be the same day as B (i.e. the upcoming B).

The first day of Pesach - Tisha B’av.
The second day of Pesach - Shavuos.
The third day of Pesach - Rosh Hashanah.
The fourth day of Pesach - Simchas Torah.
The fifth day of Pesach - Yom Kippur.
The sixth day of Pesach - Purim (of that year)
Purim - Lag B’omer