Abbahu (Hebrew: אבהו) was a Jewish Talmudist, known as an amora, who lived in the Land of Israel, of the 3rd amoraic generation (about 279-320), sometimes cited as R. Abbahu of Caesarea (Ḳisrin). His rabbinic education was acquired mainly at Tiberias, in the academy presided over by R. Johanan, with whom his relations were almost those of a son (Yer. Berakhot chapter II halachah 1, page 4b in Daniel Bomberg's Venice edition;[1] 12b in current editions;[2] Gittin 44b;[3] Bava Batra 39a[4]). He frequently made pilgrimages to Tiberias, even after he had become well known as rector of the Caesarean Academy (Yer. Shab. chapter VIII halachah 1, page 11a in Bomberg's Venice edition;[5] 54b in current editions;[6] Yer. Pesahim chapter X halachah 1, page 37c in Bomberg's Venice edition[7]).[8]

Knowledge of Greek literature

Abbahu was an authority on weights and measures (Yer. Terumot chapter V, halachah 3 page 43c in Bomberg's Venice edition;[9] halachah 1 in current editions). He encouraged the study of Greek by Jews.[10] He learned Greek himself in order to become useful to his people, then under the Roman proconsuls, that language having become, to a considerable extent, the rival of the Hebrew even in prayer (Yer. Sotah chapter VII, 21b). In spite of the bitter protest of Simon b. Abba, he also taught his daughters Greek (Yer. Shab. chapter VI, 7d; Yer. Sotah chapter IX, 24c; Sanhedrin 14a). Indeed, it was said of Abbahu that he was a living illustration of the maxim (Ecc. 7:18; compare Targum), "It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this [the study of the Law]; yea, also from that [other branches of knowledge] withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all" (Ecc. R. to 7:18).[8]

Rector in Caesarea

Being wise, handsome, and wealthy (Bava Metzia 84a; Yer. Bava Metzia chapter IV, 9d), Abbahu became not only popular with his coreligionists, but also influential with the proconsular government (Hagigah 14a; Ketubot 17a). On one occasion, when his senior colleagues, Ḥiyya b. Abba, Rabbi Ammi, and Rabbi Assi, had punished a certain woman, and feared the wrath of the proconsul, Abbahu was deputed to intercede for them. He had, however, anticipated the rabbis' request, and wrote them that he had appeased the informers but not the accuser. The witty enigmatic letter describing this incident, preserved in the Talmud (Yer. Meg. chapter III, 74a), is in the main pure Hebrew, and even includes Hebrew translations of Greek proper names, to avoid the danger of possible exposure should the letter have fallen into the hands of enemies and informers (compare Eruvin 53b).[8]

After his ordination he declined a teacher's position, recommending in his stead a more needy friend, R. Abba of Acre (Acco), as worthier than himself (Sotah 40a). He thereby illustrated his own doctrine that it is a divine virtue to sympathize with a friend in his troubles as well as to partake of his joys (Tan., Wa-yesheb, ed. Buber, 16). Later he assumed the office of rector in Caesarea, the former seat of R. Hoshaya I, and established himself at the so-called Kenishta Maradta (Insurrectionary Synagogue; Yer. Nazir chapter VII, 56a; Yer. San. chapter I, 18a; compare Josephus, B. J. ii. 14, § 5; Jastrow, Dict. p. 838), whence some of the most prominent teachers of the next generation issued. He did not, however, confine his activity to Caesarea, where he originated several ritualistic rules (Yer. Demai chapter II, 23a, R.H. 34a), one of which—that regulating the sounding of the shofar—has since been universally adopted, and is referred to by medieval Jewish casuists as "Takkanat R. Abbahu" (the Enactment of R. Abbahu; compare "Maḥzor Vitry", Berlin, 1893, p. 355). He also visited and taught in many other Jewish towns (Yer. Berakhot chapter VIII, 12a; Yer. Shab. chapter III, 5c).[8]

While on these journeys, Abbahu gathered so many Halakot that scholars turned to him for information on mooted questions (Yer. Shabbat chapter VIII, 11a; Yer. Yevamot chapter I, 2d). In the course of these travels he made a point of complying with all local enactments, even where such compliance laid him open to the charge of inconsistency (Yer. Berakhot chapter VIII, 12a; Yer. Beitzah chapter I, 60d). On the other hand, where circumstances required it, he did not spare even the princes of his people (Yer. Avodah Zarah chapter I, 39b). Where, however, the rigorous exposition of laws worked hardship on the masses, he did not scruple to modify the decisions of his colleagues for the benefit of the community (Shabbat 134b; Yer. Shabbat chapter XVII, 16b; Yer. Mo'ed Katan chapter I, 80b). As for himself, he was very strict in the observance of the laws. On one occasion he ordered some Samaritan wine, but subsequently learning that there were no longer any strict observers of the dietary laws among the Samaritans, with the assistance of his colleagues, Ḥiyya b. Abba, Rabbi Ammi, and Rabbi Assi, he investigated the report, and, ascertaining it to be well founded, did not hesitate to declare the Samaritans, for all ritualistic purposes, Gentiles (Yer. Avodah Zarah chapter V, 44d; Hullin 6a).[8]

Abbahu and Ḥiyya b. Abba

R. Abbahu's chief characteristic seems to have been modesty. While lecturing in different towns, he met R. Ḥiyya b. Abba, who was lecturing on intricate halakic themes. As Abbahu delivered popular sermons, the masses naturally crowded to hear him, and deserted the halakist. At this apparent slight, R. Ḥiyya manifested chagrin, and R. Abbahu hastened to comfort him by comparing himself to the pedler of glittering fineries that always attracted the eyes of the masses, while his rival was a trader in precious stones, the virtues and values of which were appreciated only by the connoisseur. This speech not having the desired effect, R. Abbahu showed special respect for his slighted colleague by following him for the remainder of that day. "What," said Abbahu, "is my modesty as compared with that of R. Abba of Acre (Acco), who does not even remonstrate with his interpreter for interpolating his own comments in the lecturer's expositions." When his wife reported to him that his interpreter's wife had boasted of her own husband's greatness, R. Abbahu simply said, "What difference does it make which of us is really the greater, so long as through both of us heaven is glorified?" (Sotah 40a). His principle of life he expressed in the maxim,

Let man ever be of the persecuted, and not of the persecutors; for there are none among the birds more persecuted than turtle-doves and pigeons, and the Scriptures declare them worthy of the altar.
Bava Kamma 93a[8]

R. Abbahu, though eminent as a halakist, was more distinguished as a haggadist and controversialist. He had many interesting disputes with the Christians of his day (Shab. 152b; San. 39a; Av. Zarah 4a). Sometimes these disputes were of a jocular nature. Thus, a heretic bearing the name of Sason (=Joy) once remarked to him, "In the next world your people will have to draw water for me; for thus it is written in the Bible (Isaiah 12:3), 'With joy shall ye draw water.'" To this R. Abbahu replied, "Had the Bible said 'for joy' [le-sason], it would mean as thou sayest, but since it says 'with joy' [be-sason], it means that we shall make bottles of thy hide and fill them with water" (Suk. 48b). These controversies, though forced on him, provoked resentment, and it is even related that his physician, Jacob the Schismatic (Minaah), was slowly poisoning him, but R. Ammi and R. Assi discovered the crime in time (Av. Zarah 28a).[8]

Abbahu had two sons, Zeira and Ḥanina. Some writers ascribe to him a third son, Abimi (Bacher, Agada der Babylonischen Amoräer). Abbahu sent Ḥanina to the academy at Tiberias, where he himself had studied, but the lad occupied himself with the burial of the dead, and on hearing of this, the father sent him a reproachful message in this laconic style: "Is it because there are no graves in Cæsarea (compare Exodus 14:11) that I have sent thee off to Tiberias? Study must precede practice" (Yer. Pesahim chapter III, 30b). Abbahu left behind him a number of disciples, the most prominent among whom were the leaders of the 4th amoraic generation, R. Jonah and R. Jose. At Abbahu's death the mourning was so great that it was said, "Even the statues of Cæsarea shed tears" (Mo'ed Katan 25b; Yer. Av. Zarah chapter III, 42c).[8]

Other Abbahus

There are several other Abbahus mentioned in the Talmudim and Midrashim, prominent among whom is Abbahu (Abuha, Aibut) b. Ihi (Ittai), a Babylonian halakist, contemporary of Samuel and Anan (Eruvin 74a), and brother of Minyamin (Benjamin) b. Ihi. While this Abbahu repeatedly applied to Samuel for information, Samuel in return learned many Halakot from him (Naz. 24b; Bava Metzia 14a; 75a).[8]

Against the Christians

"When does your Messiah come?" a Christian (Minaah) once asked Abbahu in a tone of mockery, whereupon he replied: "When you will be wrapped in darkness, for it says, 'Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the nations; then shall the Lord rise upon thee and His glory shall be seen on thee' [Isaiah 60:2]," (Sanhedrin 99a). A Christian came to Abbahu with the quibbling question: "How could your God in His priestly holiness bury Moses without providing for purificatory rites, yet oceans are declared insufficient?" (Isaiah 40:12). "Why," said Abbahu, "does it not say, 'The Lord cometh with fire'?" (Isaiah 64:15). "Fire is the true element of purification, according to Numbers 31:23," was his answer (Sanhedrin 39a). Another question of the same character: "Why the boastful claim: 'What nation on earth is like Thy people Israel' (II Sam. 7:23), since we read, 'All the nations are as nothing before Him'?" (Isaiah 40:17), to which Abbahu replied: "Do we not read of Israel, he 'shall not be reckoned among the nations'?" (Numbers 23:9, Sanhedrin as above).[8]

Abbahu made a notable exception with reference to the Tosefta's statement that the Gilionim (Evangels) and other books of the Mineans (Minnin) are not to be saved from a conflagration on Sabbath: "the books of those [written by Minnin for the purpose of debating with Jews] at Abidan may or may not be saved" (Shab. 116a).[11] In regard to the benediction "Baruk Shem Kebod Malkuto" (Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom) after the "Shema' Yisrael," Abbahu says that in Palestine, where the Christians look for points of controversy, the words should be recited aloud (lest the Jews be accused of silently tampering with the unity of God proclaimed in the Shema), whereas in the Babylonian city of Nehardea, where there are no Christians, the words are recited with a low voice (Pesahim 56a).[12] Preaching directly against the Christian dogma, Abbahu says: "A king of flesh and blood may have a father, a brother, or a son to share in or dispute his sovereignty, but the Lord saith, 'I am the Lord thy God! I am the first; that is, I have no father, and I am the last; that is, I have no brother, and besides me there is no God; that is, I have no son'" (Isaiah 44:6; Ex. R. 29). His comment on Numbers 23:19 has a still more polemical tone:[8] "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent; if a man says: 'I am God,' he is a liar; if he says: 'I am a son of man,' he will have cause to regret it; and if he says, 'I will go up to heaven,' he has said [something] but will not keep his word" (Yer. Ta'anit chapter II halachah 1, end, page 65b in Bomberg's Venice edition;[13] 9a in current editions[14]).

Some of his controversies on Christian theological subjects, as on Adam (Yalḳ., Gen. 47), on Enoch (Gen. R. 25), and on the resurrection (Shab. 152b), are less clear and direct (see Bacher, Agada der Pal. Amor. ii. 97, 115-118).[8]


  1. ירושלמי דפוס ויניציאה (בומבירגי), ברכות דף ד טור ב Archived February 28, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  2. ירושלמי ברכות דף יב ב (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  3. גיטין מד ב (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  4. בבא בתרא לט א (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  5. ירושלמי דפוס ויניציאה (בומבירגי), שבת דף יא טור א Archived October 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  6. ירושלמי שבת דף נד ב (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  7. ירושלמי דפוס ויניציאה (בומבירגי), פסחים דף לז טור ג Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Abbahu". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
    Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography:
    • Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2d ed., iv. 304, 307-317;
    • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und seiner Sekten, ii.161-164;
    • Frankel, Mebo, pp. 58a-60;
    • Weiss, Dor, iii. 103-105;
    • Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. ii. 88-142.
  9. ירושלמי דפוס ויניציאה (בומבירגי), תרומות דף מג טור ג Archived October 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  10.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "'Abbahu". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 9.
  11. שבת קטז א and Rashi's commentary (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  12. פסחים נו א and Rashi's commentary (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  13. ירושלמי דפוס ויניציאה (בומבירגי), תעניות דף סה טור ב Archived March 5, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
  14. ירושלמי תענית דף ט א (in Hebrew/Aramaic)
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