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NAḤMAN BAR JACOB (generally called simply R. Naḥman):

Babylonian amora of the third generation; died 320; pupil of Mar Samuel. He was chief justice of the Jews who were subject to the exilarch, and was also head of the school of Nehardea. On the destruction of that town, he transferred his pupils to Shekanẓib. His marriagewith the daughter of the wealthy resh galuta enabled him to live in luxury and to entertain scholars and strangers lavishly. Thus R. Isaac of Palestine, who visited Babylon, stayed at Naḥman's house and enjoyed his hospitality. When the guest on leaving was asked by his host to bless him, the former answered with the beautiful parable of the tree which sheltered the weary traveler beneath its shade and fed him with its fruit, so that the grateful wanderer blessed it with the words, "May thy scions be like unto thee." "And I," added R. Isaac, "can bless thee, who art blessed with material and spiritual wealth, only with the prayer that thy scions too may be like unto thee" (Ta'an. 5b-6a). R. Naḥman had such a sense of his own worth that he said: "If some one now living were to become the Messiah, he must resemble me" (Sanh. 98b). He also permitted himself, in his capacity of justice, to decide civil cases without consulting his colleagues (ib. 5a). He was likewise the author of the important ruling that a defendant who absolutely denies his guilt must take the so-called rabbinical oath "shebu'at hesset" (Shebu. 40b). As a haggadist, Naḥman was less important, although he is said to have used many collections of haggadot (Ber. 23b). He was fond of collecting in one passage a number of Aramaic aphorisms (see Yoma 28b-29a), and used sturdy popular expressions in his speech (Ḥul. 12a, 172a; Ta'an. 24a). His haggadic remarks relating to Biblical personages were likewise made in this style, as the following specimens will show: "It is not seemly for women to be conceited; the two prophetesses Deborah and Huldah had hateful names, namely, 'bee' and 'weasel'" (Meg. 14b). "Shamelessness avails even in the face of Heaven; for God allowed Balaam to make the journey to Balak after He had forbidden it" (Sanh. 105a).

Bibliography:
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 819 et seq.;
  • Bacher, Ag. Bab. Amor. pp. 79-83;
  • Seder ha-Dorot, pp. 283 et seq.
W. B. J. Z. L.
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