Inside the Academy

Daf 28. Summary. Rabban Elazar ben Azarya consults his wife on whether he should accept the appointment as Nasi. She has some concerns: one, that he has no white hair. Immediately, his hair turns white, although he is only 18 years old. Upon taking the post, he eases admissions standards and enrollment increases dramatically. The growth startles Rabban Gamliel, who then realizes that when he was Nasi  he had perhaps prevented rather than facilitated Torah study.

Much halakhah is settled in the reinvigorated Sanhedrin, and we see Gamliel and Yehoshua’s disputes are more collegial. Gamliel realizes for the first time that Yehoshua’s rulings are well reasoned. Gamliel successfully seeks to appease Yehoshua. Since Yehoshua has been appeased and is no longer offended, Gamliel could be restored to his former position. But they cannot demote Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, so they work out an arrangement by which Gamliel leads for three weeks of the month and Eliazar ben Azarya for one week.

Abaye interrogates Rav Ayya when he misses a day of attending the study hall. The validity or lack of validity of his reasons for staying away establish halakhic rulings related to the order in which one may say individual and communal prayers.

Mishnah. Rav Nehunya prays upon entering and leaving the study hall.

Gemara. The content of Rav Nehunya’s prayers is determined, and then the prayers of other rabbis.

Mishnah. Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua dispute who is obliged to recite Amida. Gamliel says everyone must say the entire prayer. Yehoshua says the abbreviated prayer is sufficient. Akiva says that the fluent should recite the entire prayer and all others should recite the abbreviated prayer.

Gemara. Attempting to identify the source of Amida, the assumption that the prayer consists of 18 blessings is doubted. Perhaps there are 19 blessings?

Comment. This daf provides our first explicit glimpse into the workings of the Sanhedrin. Herein we appear to be “overhearing” actual disputes between contemporaries and not merely constructed juxtapositions of rulings that may complement or contradict each other.

Scholars in an hierarchical relationship develop knee-jerk reactions to each other. One becomes habitually aggressive and the other one shuts down. The effect of a change of administration demonstrates how an overbearing leader can have discouraged attendance and diminished the potential for learning and community-building. When the community interrupts the habitual interactions, the participants are forced to react outside their usual familiar patterns and tangible changes are effected.

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4 Responses to Inside the Academy

  1. elenizl says:

    I enjoy how our respective posts are picking out similar themes and ideas from among the richness of the text … I think this says something about us more than about the text itself. What do you think?

    • neillitt says:

      Certainly, the ideas we pick up from the text say something about us, but they also reflect the text. The daf is not a Rorshach test, it is much more concrete. Even so, it is a model of interpretation and thus encourages interpretation. Rabbi Yehoshua’s interpretation, Rabbi Gamliel’s interpretation, etc., say as much about them as they say about the text itself. It would be interesting to read what we might write 7.5 years from now if we reinterpret this daf in the next cycle!

  2. elenizl says:

    Perhaps my choice of words (“more than”) was not the best. Perhaps I should have said “as much as”. We are drawn to interpret or explicate or comment about that which touches us. It is personal and we as readers are as much a part of the conversation as the Rabbis themselves. Isn’t it interesting that similar bits of text engage our respective attention(s)? What is the meaning of your “but”? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to write “and”. After all, these are not only not mutually exclusive ideas they are two sides of the same coin.

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