JUDAH B. EZEKIEL:
Babylonian amora of the second generation; born in 220; died at Pumbedita in 299. He was the most prominent disciple of Rab (Abba Arika), in whose house he often stayed, and whose son Ḥiyya Was his pupil ('Er. 2b). After Rab's death Judah went to R. Samuel, who esteemed him highly and called him "Shinena" (= "sharpwitted"; Ber. 36a; Ḳid. 32a). He remained with Samuel until he founded a school of his own at Pumbedita. Judah possessed such great zeal for learning and such tireless energy that he even omitted daily prayer in order to secure more time for study, and prayed but once in thirty days (R. H. 35a). This diligence, together with a remarkably retentive memory, made it possible for him to collect and transmit the greater part of Rab's, as well as many of Samuel's, sayings; the Talmud contains about four hundred haggadic and halakic sayings by the former, and many by the latter, all recorded by Judah b. Ezekiel; while a number of other sayings of Rab's that occur in the Talmud without the name of the transmitter likewise were handed down by Judah (Rashi to Ḥul. 44a).
In recording the words of his teachers, Judah used extreme care, and frequently stated explicitly that his authority for a given saying was uncertain, and that his informant did not know positively whether it was Rab's or Samuel's (Ḥul. 18b). His own memory, however, never failed him, and the traditions recorded by him are reliable. When his brother Rami says, in one place, that a certain sentence of Rab's, quoted by Judah, should be disregarded (Ḥul. 44a), he does not question the accuracy of Judah's citation, but implies that Rab had afterward abandoned the opinion quoted by Judah, and had, in a statement which the latter had not heard, adopted an opposite view.New Method of Dialectics.
Judah b. Ezekiel introduced a new and original method of instruction in the school which he built up at Pumbedita; by emphasizing the need of an exact differentiation between, and a critical examination of, the subjects treated, he became the founder of Talmudic dialectics (Sanh. 17b; Ḥul. 110b; B. M. 38b). His method of instruction, however, did not please some of his older pupils, and they left him; among these was Ze'era, who went to Palestine despite Judah's declaration that no manshould leave Babylonia for that country (Ket. 111a). But the new method was acceptable to most of his disciples, and was especially attractive to the young, so that the school at Pumbedita steadily increased in importance and popularity. After the death of Huna, head of the Academy of Sura, most of his pupils went to Pumbedita, which, until the death of Judah, remained the only seat of Talmudic learning. Although Judah devoted himself chiefly to dialectics, he did not fail to interpret the mishnayot, to explain peculiar words in them (Pes. 2a; M. Ḳ. 6b), or to determine the correct reading where several were given (Beẓah 35b; Suk. 50b).
Judah gave little attention to Haggadah, and what work he did in that field was almost entirely lexicographical (Ned. 62b; Ḥul. 63a; Ta'an. 9b; Giṭ. 31b). In his daily conversation he took pains to acquire the habit of exact and appropriate expression, for which his contemporary Naḥman b. Jacob praised him (Ḳid. 70a, b). A lover of nature, Judah was a close observer of the animal and plant life around him. "When in the springtime thou seest Nature in her beauty thou shalt thank God that He hath formed such beautiful creatures and plants for the good of mankind" (R. H. 11a). Several of his explanations of natural phenomena have been preserved (Ta'an. 3b, 9b), as well as etymologies of the names of animals and descriptions of their characteristics (Ḥul. 63a; M. Ḳ. 6b; Shab. 77b).
Judah was celebrated for his piety, and it is related that whenever he ordained a fast in time of drought rain fell (Ta'an. 24a). According to him, piety consists chiefly in fulfilling one's obligations to one's fellow creatures and in observing the laws of "meum et tuum" (B. Ḳ. 30a). It was probably for this reason that he applied himself chiefly to the Mishnaic treatise Neziḳin (Ber. 20a).
- Bacher, Ag. Bab. Amor. pp. 47-52;
- Weiss, Dor, iii. 186-189.