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NAḤMAN BAR ISAAC:

Babylonian amora of the fifth generation; died in 356; like Raba, a pupil of R. Naḥman b. Jacob. While he was still young his halakic knowledge was known and esteemed; and he was chosen resh kallah (see Jew. Encyc. i. 146b, s.v. Academies in Babylonia). He went to Sura, where R. Naḥman b. Ḥisda drew particular attention to him and frequently repeated his responsa in the bet ha-midrash (Ḥul. 88b; Shebu. 12b; Ta'an. 21b).

At Raba's death Naḥman bar Isaac became his successor as head of the school which was transferred from Maḥuza to Pumbedita. This position he held for four years. He contributed to the Halakah chiefly by collecting, arranging, and transmitting the teachings and decisions of his predecessors, which were thus saved from oblivion. He also employed mnemonic sentences to facilitate the memorization of the halakot which he had arranged, thus beginning the redaction of the Talmud (see Mnemonics). He recognized distinctly his position as regards the Halakah, saying of himself "I am neither a sage nor a seer, nor even a scholar as contrasted with the majority. I am a transmitter and a codifier, and the bet ha-midrash follows me in its decisions" (Pes. 105b). He is frequently mentioned in the Haggadah as one who arranges and explains the words of other authorities, and he frequently cites Biblical passages in support of their teachings ('Ar. 33a). When the interpretations of others deviate from the Masoretic vocalization, Naḥman endeavors to show that reference to the consonantal basis of the word in question allows such varying explanations (Yoma 38b, 75b). He often interprets rare or ambiguous terms in the Mishnah by citing analogous passages (Beẓah 35b; Yoma 32b).

On the other hand, Naḥman has also many independent maxims of his own, of which the following may serve as examples: "Why is wisdom likened to a tree? (Prov. iii. 18). Because as a tiny piece of wood kindles a large one, so the small promotes the great in the study of the Law" (Ta'an. 7a). "Conceit is altogether reprehensible" (Soṭah 5a). So is anger (Ned. 22b). "Pride is expressly forbidden in the Torah" (Soṭah 19a; comp. Deut. viii. 14).

Naḥman affected a witty mode of expression; and he often played on the names of the scholars who brought baraitot before him (Ber. 39b, 53b; Giṭ. 41a). He also frequently employed proverbs (Yoma 86a; Shab. 54a; Soṭah 22a).

Bibliography:
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 82 et seq.;
  • Bacher, Ag. Bab. Amor. pp. 133-134.
W. B. J. Z. L.
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