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Rav Yehuda Bar Yechezkel

Rav Yehuda Bar Yechezkel

(219 CE)

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Rav Yehudah bar Yechezkel was one of the most important disciples of Rav (Abba Aricha). Rav greatly befriended Rav Yehudah, and appointed him as personal teacher of his (Rav's) own son, Rabbi Chiyyah (bar Rav).

When Rav had to go on a trip for the benefit of the community, he used to take Rabbi Yehudah with him so as to have not only an escort, but also an intelligent pupil with whom to discuss Torah matters.

Rav Yehudah was born on the day that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (the Prince) died. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi was the compiler of the Mishnah (about the year 3950).

Rav Yehudah's father, Rabbi Yechezkel, was also a scholar and he was his son's first teacher. The great Amora, Samuel, the Dean of the Academy in Nehardea, showed great respect to Rav Yechezkel, and used to rise from his seat when Rav Yechezkel entered the room.

When Rav (Abba Aricha) died, Rav Yehudah went to Nehardea to study under Samuel. Samuel befriended him and called him "Shinena" (Sharp Head). Rav Yehudah also had a remarkable memory. Hundreds of laws are mentioned in the Talmud that Rav Yehudah handed down in the name of his great teachers, Rav and Samuel. After the passing of Samuel, the great Torah Academy proceeded to Sura, under the leadership of Rav Huna. Rav Yehudah, who was then of middle age, founded the famous Yeshiva of Pumpeditha. But as long as Rav Huna was living, however, even Rav Yehudah regarded him as the greatest Torah authority.

The standard of Torah scholarship in Babylon at that time was a very high one. Rav Yehudah was of the opinion that a Jew need not go from Babylon to Eretz Yisroel to learn Torah, seeing that the center for Torah was in Babylon. Not everyone agreed with him in this matter. Some of his own disciples, such as Rabbi Abba and Rabbi Zeira, went to Eretz Yisroel to learn Torah, as did his own brother Rommi.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Yehudah, the Yeshiva of Pumpeditha became famous for its scholars. There was a saying about the sharpness of the scholars of Pumpeditha: "They can draw an elephant through the eye of a needle." Not everyone, however, was in agreement with the idea of too much Pilpul in learning.

Rav Yehudah traced his ancestry to the Prophets. He greatly emphasized the observing of Mitzvoth concerning the relationship between man and his fellow human beings, no less than the Mitzvoth concerning man and his Creator. In his Yeshiva, the study of Nezikin ("Damages"), a division of the Talmud, was stressed, which contain the laws applicable to damages caused by one man to another.

The Talmud tells us that Rav Yehudah had a neighbor who died and did not leave anyone to mourn for him. Rav Yehudah assembled a Minyan (ten Jews) to mourn for him for seven days. When the "Shivah" ended, the deceased man appeared to Rav Yehudah in a dream and thanked him for the great kindness that Rav Yehudah had shown him.

In his earliest years, Rav Yehudah already excelled in his kindness. Once, when he was studying in Samuel's Yeshiva, a poor lady came in and bemoaned her bitter lot. Samuel continued with his studies. Rav Yehudah called out: "Beloved teacher, the verse tells us, 'Whosoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor man, will also cry and not be answered!' ". (Mishlei 21) Samuel replied (calling him "Sharp Head") that the responsibility was not his, but Mar Ukva's, who was the Av Beth Din (Head of the Court).

Two years before Rav Yehudah died, Rav Huna died. As long as Rav Yehudah was alive, a successor was not chosen for Rav Huna. After Rav Huna died, his disciples came to study at the feet of Rav Yehudah bar Yechezkel, who was then recognized as the leading Torah authority in Babylon.

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