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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works


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Abba Arikha
Hebrew Name(s): אבא ארך; אבא אריכא
Other Names: Abba Arika, Rav, The Rav, Rav the Master, Rabbi Abba, Abba bar Aybo
Period: Amoraim — 3rd Century
Location: Sura, Babylonia
Dates: 175–247

Born, Abba bar Aybo, Abba Arikha was a talmudist, a Babylonian Amora of the First Generation, who established a school at Sura which, using the Mishnah as the basis, began a systematic study of the Oral Law which formed the foundations of the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli). He is commonly called Rav or Rab, Rav the Master, and Rabbi Abba in tannaic literature e.g., Tosefta, Beitzah 1:7). The surname "Arikha" is generally accepted to mean "long/tall" and refers to his physical height, although others suggest it is accorded to him as a teacher of stature.
Abba Arikha is a descendent of a Babylonian family which claims to trace its origins to Shimei, the brother of King David (BT Sanh. 5a; Ket. 62b). He studied under his uncle Ḥiyya ben Abba Rabbah (c. 180-230) a member of the school of Judah HaNasi in Sepphoris and after ordination returned to Babylonia were he became one of the leading authorities on traditional lore in Babylonia. He began his own school in Sura which soon established itself as the intellectual center of Jewry in Babylonia. The output of the schools of Babylonia, many of them influenced very much by Abba Arikha, began the Talmudic age.
Abba Arikha (The Rav) established a method of treating traditional material which is reflected in the Talmud. Taking the Mishnah text of Judah HaNasi as the foundation it adds Tannaic traditions and derives from them teachings and explanations, and practical applications of Jewish law. The Babylonian Talmud records the teachings and decisions of The Rav, his disputes with Samuel (another student of Judah HaNasi, and later, instructor of the academy at Nehardea) and the amplifications and instructions of their many disciples.
Abba Arikha influenced the moral and religious outlook of Jews in Babylonia. According to tradition, "he found an open space and put a fence around it" (Hul. 110a). Noting that people neglected religious and ritual observances, Abba Arikha, provided restrictions and guidelines and paid special attention to the liturgy of the synagogue. He is reputed to be the author of one of the finest compositions of the prayer book, the Mussaf service for the New Year.
The Palestinian Talmud preserves many of his halakhic and aggadistic views, and many of his aggadot, which treat moral life and relationships between human beings, are included in Palestinian Midrashim. Rav Ḥuna (c. 216-297) succeeded Abba Arikha as head of the academy at Sura.


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