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MATAH MEḤASYA (MAḤSEYA):

Town in southern Babylonia, near Sura (see Schechter,"Saadyana," p. 63, note 1). Sherira Gaon regarded the two places as identical, for in his accounts of the geonim of Sura he uses the names of both Matah Meḥasya (or Meḥasya) and Sura to indicate the seat of the academy, the former name even being the more frequent of the two. In the passage where he describes the founding of the Academy of Sura by Rab he says expressly that Rab had come to "Sura, which is Matah Meḥasya" (ed. Neubauer, i. 29; variant, "Sura, called 'Matah Meḥasya'"). There is no doubt, however, that these names belonged to two distinct towns, which came to be regarded as one when the seat of the academy was mentioned. They are named together in Ber. 29a, where the different modes of speech of the peoples of the two places are noted. Other Talmudic passages clearly indicate that these were two different towns (B. M. 67b; Yoma 86a). Sherira Gaon himself says (i. 30) that in the second half of the third century Ḥuna's school (by implication the academy founded by Rab) was in the vicinity of Matah Meḥasya; Rab's colleague Ḥisda lived at Sura. It seems likely, therefore, that the school was situated between the two places.

When the academy entered upon a new period of prosperity, under Ashi, in the second half of the fourth century, its seat was at Matah Meḥasya, where Ashi lived, and most of the Talmudic references to this place, which, Ashi says (Ket. 4a), may not be called either a city or a borough, date from his time. He refers to its synagogue, which strangers visited on his account (Meg. 26a), and he claims to have saved the town from destruction by prohibiting the construction of houses higher than the synagogue (Shab. 11a). Ashi was wont to say that the non-Jewish inhabitants of Matah Meḥasya were hard-hearted, since they beheld the splendor of the Torah twice a year at the great Kallah assemblies, and yet not one of them was converted to Judaism (Ber. 27b).

Halevy assumes that Sura again became the seat of the academy after Ashi's death ("Dorot ha-Rishonim," ii. 599), and that Mar b. Ashi restored Matah Meḥasya to the position to which Ashi had raised it. From his time probably dates the maxim which the martyr Mashershaya gave his sons, contrasting the outward poverty of Matah Meḥasya with the splendor of Pumbedita: "Live on the dung-heaps of Matah Meḥasya and not in the palaces of Pumbedita!" (Ker. 6a; Hor. 12a). There were various differences of opinion between the scholars of Pumbedita and Matah Meḥasya regarding questions of civil law, the opinions being collected in Ket. 55a. Rabina, the last amora of the Academy of Sura, lived at Matah Meḥasya (see Yoma 86a; Ḳid. 33a; B. Ḳ., end). The Talmud refers to the destruction of Matah Meḥasya (Shab. 11a), but in post-Talmudic times the town lent its name to the Academy of Sura, as stated above.

Bibliography:
  • A. Berliner, Beiträge zur Geographie und Ethnographie Babyloniens, p. 45, Berlin, 1883;
  • I. H. Hirschensohn, Sheba' Ḥokmot, pp. 162 et seq., 177, Lemberg, 1883;
  • I. Halevy, Dorot ha-Rishonim, ii. 543 et seq.
S. S. W. B.
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