Skip to content

The Mysterious Case of Too Many Rav Kahanas

Let’s take a short break from streets, walls, doorways and courtyards. On daf 8b of Eruvin we have a strange statement:

Rav Kahana bar Taḥalifa said in the name of Rav Kahana bar Minyumi, who said in the name of Rav Kahana bar Malkiyu, who said in the name of Rav Kahana, the teacher of Rav; and some say that Rav Kahana bar Malkiyu is Rav Kahana, the teacher of Rav:

 The content of the statement is not what interests us at the moment, it is the names, all of which are Rav Kahana but different ones. To compound the oddness, a few lines later we have yet another Kahana who chimes in:

Rav Kahana said: Since this involves halakhot of Sages named Kahana, I too will say something with regard to it

 An abundance of Kahanas! How can we know who is who? In these cases, ones turns for help to the authority on the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, HaRav Dr. Mordechai Margolioth (1909 – 1968). Margolioth edited the definitive work about these scholars, the Encyclopedia of Talmudic and Geonic Literature (1946) and wrote many of its entries. He came to the land of Israel from Poland as a child and was among the graduates of the first class of the Hebrew University. He became a scholar of Rabbinic literature and his wife was a Bible scholar. He eventually moved to New York and taught in the Jewish Theological Seminary. The encyclopedia helps us makes sense of the many Eliezers, Shimons and Yochanans scattered throughout the Mishnah and the Talmud.

Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Margolioth (Wikipedia)

However, the Kahanas defeated even Rav Margolioth. He has four distinct entries for Rav Kahana but he admits that sometimes it is difficult to know which is which. And the ones mentioned in our text (bar Tahalifa and bar Minyumi) are not known at all. But he does give some fascinating information about the Kahanas we do know about.

First of all, contrary to what we might think, not all Kahanas are Kohanim. The second Rav Kahana is clearly not a kohen because he is described in Gemara Hullin 132 as eating gifts of the priesthood because his wife was the daughter of a kohen, not because he himself was a kohen. On the other hand, it seems that the first Rav Kahana was a kohen (Rabbenu Hananel on Eruvin 105).

 

Birkat Kohanim at the Kotel (Wikipedia)

All the Rav Kahanas are Babylonian amoraim, rabbis of the Gemara. The first one (Rav Kahana Kama as he is called by Rav Sherira Gaon) was from the first generation of Babylonian Amoraim and was already an established sage by the time Rav returned from studying with Rabbi Judah the Prince in the Land of Israel. This Rav Kahana and his colleague Rav Assi (not to be confused with the third generation Eretz Yisrael Amora Rabbi Assi – with Amoraim, Rabbi is for Eretz Yisrael sages and Rav is for Babylonian ones) are happy to hear what traditions Rav learned in the Land of Israel but they do not need him to school them in the ways of logic, sevara. That they already knew. Rav and Rav Kahana had great mutual respect for each other.

The second Rav Kahana had a dramatic life story. He was a second generation Babylonian Amora and according to the Geonim he was Rav’s stepson. The Gemara in Bava Kama (117) tells how he attacked a Jew who threatened to inform on Rav to the Babylonian authorities. Rav advised him to flee to the land of Israel and to go to the study hall of Rabbi Yohanan but not to ask him any questions for seven years. Although Rav Kahana is recognized immediately as a scholar by Resh Lakish, Rabbi Yochanan’s partner, his silence is misinterpreted as ignorance by Rabbi Yochanan. When he can’t stand it any longer, he speaks up and his questions put Rabbi Yochanan on the spot. As a punishment Rav Kahana died. Rabbi Yochanan went to ask his forgiveness and eventually brought him back to life.

The Yerushalmi continues the story. Rav Kahana was made fun of because of this experience and as a result he inadvertently killed those who made fun of him. This distressed him and he decided to return to Babylonia.

Rabbi Kahana #3 was a fourth generation Babylonian Amora and a student of Rava. #4 was a fifth generation Babylonian Amora from the town of Pum Nahara (the mouth of the river). He was the teacher of Rav Ashi, the redactor of the Babylonian Talmud. So our Kahanas span the entire period of the Babylonian Amoraic tradition, from its beginnings as Rav returns with Torah from Rabbi Judah the Prince’s Bet Midrash, to the glorious completion of the Talmud Bavli.

First page of Talmud Bavli (Wikipedia)

But what of the Kahanas of our passage? If the last line is correct (some say that Rav Kahana bar Malkiyu is Rav Kahana, the teacher of Rav) then the author of the statement is Rav Kahana #1, Rav’s teacher/ colleague. And what about the last Kahana, who joins in because he has the same name? Perhaps this is the last Rav Kahana, the one closest to the redaction of the book by Rav Ashi.

Shulie Mishkin

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 “Darkaynu” 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
Scroll To Top