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Daddy’s Girl

Of the many wives in Rabbinic literature, few are called by their proper names. We know about Bruria and Rachel, Yalta and Homa, but these are the exceptions. Usually all we get is 鈥渢he wife of,鈥 or in Aramaic 讚讘讬转讛讜, literally the house of. But on Ketubot 85a we have a wife who has a different title 鈥 the daughter of Rav Hisda. She appears in a court case and tells her husband, Rava, that a certain woman is untrustworthy. Rava relies on her in the continuing proceedings. In a later case, Rav Pappa聽 makes a claim about a document and Rava does not rely on him. When pressed as to why he answers:

Rav Adda bar Mattana said to Rava: And should Rav Pappa not be trusted like Rav 岣sda鈥檚 daughter? Rava replied: I relied on Rav 岣sda鈥檚 daughter because I know with certainty about her that she is always truthful. However, I cannot rely on the Master [Rav Pappa] because I do not know with the same degree of certainty about him.鈥 (Ketubot 85a)

In all the places she is mentioned in the Gemara, we never hear her actual name, only this title: daughter of Rav Hisda. Who is she and what do we know about her background? She shows up quite a few times in the Gemara, in the company of her husband(s) or father or both. She was the daughter and then the wife of a rosh yeshiva and therefore lived in a strong Torah environment all her life.

Rav Hisda was a third generation Babylonian amora who was Rav鈥檚 student. He lived at the turn of the fourth century CE in a town called Kafri in Babylonia.

Kafri highlighted in the south (Wikipedia)

Rav Hisda was a Kohen and began life very poor but became wealthy enough to afford his family a life of luxury. Rava who was one of his sons-in-law wished for three things; Rav Hisda鈥檚 wealth was one of them (Moed Katan 28a). He lived an amazingly long life, dying at the age of 92. He had daughters and sons, and in a debate about which gender is better, he preferred his daughters! (Bava Batra 141a)聽 Tosafot claims that this is because he then had scholars as sons-in-law but it seems clear from other stories that Rav Hisda also invested in his daughters, teaching them laws (Hullin 44b) and giving them practical advice (Shabbat 140b). His daughters also worried about and cared for him, as we can see from this beautiful story:

Rav 岣sda鈥檚 daughter said to her father, Rav 岣sda, who would spend his nights in study: Doesn鈥檛 the Master wish to sleep a little? He said to her: Days that are long but short will soon arrive, and we will sleep a lot.鈥 (Eruvin 65a)

In other words, you鈥檒l sleep when you are dead.

Rav Hisda had many brilliant students and they would visit him and study with him at his home. The following story took place when Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter was a young girl, sitting with her father and two of his prize students:

鈥渢he daughter of Rav 岣sda, was sitting on her father鈥檚 lap Rava and Rami bar 岣ma were sitting before him. Rav 岣sda jokingly said to his daughter: Which of them would you want as a husband? She said: both of them. Rava said: And I will be last.鈥 (Bava Batra 12b)

This story, told to illustrate that since the Temple has been destroyed, prophecy is in the hands of children, came true. Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter married Rami bar Hama and her sister married his brother, Mar Ukva bar Hama (Berachot 44a). But Rami bar Hama died young and Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter married Rava, the other student. The couple appear together in a number of stories, and we can glean a lot about them from these tales.

Trust seems to have been a primary quality in their relationship. In our story in Ketubot, Rava trusts her that she is truthful, the Aramaic is 拽讬诐 诇讬讛 讘讙讜讜讛, I am certain about her. The exact same phrase is used in Hagigah 5a, where the scenario is different. Here Rava counsels men not to send their wives meat that has not been properly koshered on a Friday, a notoriously busy and pressured time, because he feared that the wives would not bother or notice that it needed to be fixed. But, the Gemara asks, you Rava send meat to your wife on Friday? Ahh says Rava, 拽讬诐 诇讬讛 讘讙讜讜讛, I trust her that she will deal with it properly.

Although the rabbis seem not to have often asked their wives for their opinions, Rava does ask Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter and she is not shy about offering her opinion. When he buys meat that he himself had declared to be kosher she tells him that that is not what was done in her father鈥檚 house, it is unseemly (Hullin 44b). Rava asks her to describe the pain of losing her virginity and she tells him that it feels like the first cut of the bloodletter鈥檚 knife (Ketubot 39b). She is does not hesitate to share such intimate details with him. (Curiously, the exact same phrase, 专讬讘讚讗 讚讻讜住诇讬转讗, is used by Rava to describe the moment of death when he appears to his brother from the afterlife in a story in Moed Katan 28a. Did he borrow the phrase from his wife? Is there a connection between the moment of death and the moment of losing one鈥檚 virginity?)

For her part, Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter shows great love and worry for her husband. When he would go to the bathroom, a place known for demons, she would shake nuts in a bowl to scare them away. After he became the head of the yeshiva, and hence even more of a demon target, she would put her hand on his head through a window so as to protect him in this vulnerable moment. She tells Rava that even though she was a widow for ten years between the death of Rami bar Hama and her marriage to Rava, she was thinking of Rava all that time. (Yevamot 34b) And when she feels he may be stolen by another woman (the infamous Homa, widow of Abbaye) she chases her through the streets of Mahoza and runs her out of town (Ketubot 65a).

Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter seems to have been an exemplar 鈥 she gained knowledge from her father and from her husbands and was willing to speak her mind. The men in her life saw her as a valuable companion. If only we also knew her name!

(Wikipedia)

PS Maggie Anton has written works of fiction based on the stories of Rav Hisda鈥檚 daughter and has even given her a name, Hisdadukh, daughter of Hisda in Persian.

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at https://www.shuliemishkintours.com/virtual-tours
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