What do you do when you want to prove a point? You bring in an authority that supports your opinion. On daf 35 of Bava Kamma, to explain an opinion of Rava, the Gemara brings a proof from a collection of beraitot, quoted as “Tanna debei Hizkiyya,” the school of Hizkiyya. We are used to proofs brought from beraitot or from individual Sages, here we have a combination of the two, a compendium of laws collected by an individual. Who is this Hizkiyya and why are his beraitot influential?
Hizkiyya, usually cited without any title, was one of the sons of Rabbi Hiyya (see https://hadran.org.il/author-post/torah-is-the-best-merchandise/). Rabbi Hiyya came from Babylonia to study with Rabbi Judah the Prince and he brought his two young sons, as well as his nephew Rav (see https://hadran.org.il/author-post/to-rav-with-love/) with him. These sons have a fascinating birth story. They were twins and they were born two months apart (it’s possible, if very rare). One was named Yehuda and one Hizkiyya. The Gemara relates that their birth was so difficult for their mother, Yehudit, that she determined to never become pregnant again. She disguised herself and went to her husband, Hiyya, asking him if a woman is obligated to be fruitful and multiply. When he answered no, she went and drank a potion that sterilized her. When Rabbi Hiyya heard what she had done, he was distressed, and expressed his wish for even one more child. (Yevamot 65b)
MultipleParent, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps this upsetting story is why Rabbi Hiyya seems unusually connected to his sons (there were also two daughters, Pazi and Tavi, but we hear almost nothing about them besides their names). He brings them with him to the study hall and to Rebbe’s table, where Rebbe entices them to drink wine and spill their secrets (Sanhedrin 38a).
Zippori, Rebbe’s home for seventeen years
AVRAMGR, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
When they have grown and left home, Rabbi Hiyya was still in touch with them, asking them about their halachic decisions and correcting them:
“The sons of Rabbi Ḥiyya went out to the villages. When they came back, their father said to them: Did any incident [requiring a ruling of halakha] come to your notice? They said to him: The issue of carrying an attic ladder to a dovecote came to our notice, and we permitted it. Rabbi Ḥiyya said to them: Go out and prohibit that which you permitted.” (Betzah 9b)
Even after Rabbi Hiyya died, his sons still relied on him to help them, as we see in this fascinating tale:
“The sons of Rabbi Ḥiyya went out to the villages. They forgot what they had learned and were struggling to recall it. One of them said to the other: Does our [deceased] father know of our anguish?” (Berachot 18b)
In death, they are sometimes referred to collectively, as Rabbi Hiyya and his sons, agents of change in the Torah world, as we see in Reish Lakish’s statement:
“Reish Lakish said: I am the atonement for Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons, as initially, when Torah was forgotten from the Jewish people [in Eretz Yisrael], Ezra ascended from Babylonia and reestablished the forgotten laws. . . When parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections.” (Sukkah 20)
The twins each became great scholars but Hizkiyya is the one who compiled a collection of halachic statements, besides his own teachings on law and midrash. This was not an unusual thing, it seems that many, especially of this transitional generation during and after Rebbe’s time, had their own collection of beraitot. Some of the more famous ones are those of Rabbi Hiyya and of Rabbi Oshaya, as we see in Ilfa’s statement here, where he challenges anyone to best him in knowledge of these laws:
“Ilfa went and suspended himself from the mast of a ship, saying: If there is anyone who can ask me a question concerning a beraita of Rabbi Ḥiyya and Rabbi Oshaya, and I do not resolve his problem from a mishna, I will fall from the mast of this ship and be drowned” (Taanit 21a)
Hizkiyya lived at a time when the Mishnah had not yet become THE Mishnah, the primary standardized law compendium in the Jewish world. There were many other compendiums like this floating around and each had validity, as did their authors. In fact, despite Hizkiyya’s being of the generation post- Rebbe, which should make him an amora, both Rashi (Hullin 106a) and Tosafot (Avoda Zara 38b) state that he is considered a Tanna, similar to Rav, his cousin, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Bar Kapra, his contemporaries.
The Mishnah did become the standard text that all later law is based on. This process took about one generation in the Land of Israel and a little longer in Babylonia. But it was still considered legitimate to bring proofs from these other collections and they are a fascinating window for Talmud scholars into the world before the standardization of the Mishnah.
Hizkiyya lived in Tiberias, as did his father Rabbi Hiyya. Father and sons stayed together in death as well as in life. The Gemara discusses how they were buried together, and how when Rav Huna’s body was brought from Babylonia, he was buried with them (Moed Katan 25a). Today one can find these graves in Tiberias, on a hill above the Kinneret. Rabbi Hiyya and his sons were considered to have special powers to encourage God to bring rain as we see in this story:
“Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi decreed a fast, and the Sages brought Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons down to the pulpit to pray on behalf of the congregation. Rabbi Ḥiyya recited the phrase in the Amida prayer: Who makes the wind blow, and the wind blew. Rabbi Ḥiyya recited the next phrase: Who makes the rain fall, and rain fell.” (Bava Metzia 85b)
In later generations, the people of Tiberias still saw Rabbi Hiyya and his sons as their emissaries for rain. The story is told that in 1765 there was a drought. Rabbi Nahman of Horodenka, who lived in Tiberias, took his Hasidim to pray at the grave of Rabbi Hiyya and sons. Although the day was warm and dry, he instructed them to bring rain gear. On their walk, they were mocked and threatened by the non-Jews in the area. However, they had the last laugh – as they said the words “Who makes the rain fall” the rain started to fall and they were greeted as heroes when they returned to the town.
Hizkiyya’s collection of beraitot may not have been as dramatic as a sudden rainstorm but its impact was felt for generations.
Heritage Conservation Tveria and Surrounding Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons