Text Based Learning

Sayings & Sayers of the Sidrah: Rav Ashi
Date Uploaded: 
Wednesday 9th April 2014

Chumash: (referring to the High Priest’s Yom Kippur service): ‘And he shall place the incense upon the fire before G-d, so that the cloud of the incense shall cover the ark cover that is over the [tablets of] Testimony, so that he shall not die’. (Vayikra 16:13)

Talmud: ‘So that the cloud…shall cover’. Rav Ashi said: This [passage] tells us that the incense should be burned. Another [passage, elsewhere] tells us that if this is not done, the whole incense service is void‘. (Yoma 53a)

In c.500 CE, alongside his colleague Ravina, Rav Ashi drew to a close the Talmud/Gemara – the body of work that codified three centuries of debate and explanation of the Mishnah. In fact, his contemporaries made an explicit comparison between him and Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi (Rebbe), who redacted the Mishnah (c.200 CE). They commented that since the days of Rebbe "learning and social distinction were never so united in one person as in Ashi”. Rav Ashi was a great scholar, as well as charismatic and financially successful. He was head of the academy in Sura, which flourished under his leadership.

Rav Ashi, partnered by Ravina, had a single, great ambition – to record for posterity the discussions across the generations that had elucidated the Mishnah, as well as recording the mystical, cultural and social statements of the sages.

Rav Ashi’s success in this project was due in no small part to the length of time he devoted to it – 60 years! These 60 years were exactingly allocated. Each Talmudic tractate required six months for the study of its Mishnah and the chronicling of its related teaching, thereby accumulating 30 years for the 60 tractates. The same process was then repeated for another 30 years. The work was then considered complete. Its study has enlivened, fascinated and helped to sustain the Jewish nation throughout the long years of exile. Perhaps more than some Jews have kept the Law, the Law has kept the Jews.