AḤAI B. JOSIAH:
By: S. Mendelsohn
Tanna of the fourth and fifth generations (second century). His father, Josiah, was probably the well-known tanna R. Josiah, a pupil of R. Ishmael. The following legend, intended to demonstrate the consciousness of the dead, and citing a conversation between an amora of the fourth century and Aḥai's ghost, incidentally points out the place of Aḥai's sepulcher:
Grave-robbers engaged in digging in soil belonging to Rab Naḥman suddenly heard a groan issuing from the ground. They hastened to report this to R. Naḥman ben Isaac [see MS. M. in "DiḲduḲe Soferim," ad loc.], who immediately repaired to the scene. The following dialogue tells the rest: Naḥman: Who art thou, sir? Ghost: I am Aḥai ben Josiah. N. Did not Rab Mari declare that the bodies of the pious dead returned to dust? Gh. Who is Mari? I know him not. N. Well, then, it is written in the Bible [Eccl. xii. 7]: The dust shall return to the earth as it was. Gh. Evidently he who hath taught thee the Book of Ecclesiastes did not teach thee the Book of Proverbs. There it is stated [xiv. 30]: Envy is rottenness of the bones. Whoever cherishes envy in his breast, his bones will become rotten; but he who doth not nourish envy in his breast, his bones shall not rot. [Here Naḥman touched the ghost, and finding it substantial, addressed it]: Arise, my master! and come into my house. Gh. Thou betrayest thy ignorance even of the Books of the Prophets; for there it is said [Ezek. xxxvii. 13]: Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you out of your graves. Until then the dead can not rise. N. But is it not written [Gen. iii. 19]: Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return? Gh. That will come to pass shortly before the Resurrection [Shab. 152b].
Now, as Naḥman ben Isaac (compare "DiḲduḲe Soferim" to l.c.) was a Babylonian, and his land lay in Babylonia, Aḥai's body, resting in Naḥman's ground, was also in Babylonia. Moreover, there is other evidence of Aḥai's having been in Babylonia during the course of his life. Judah I. states that there were some fishermen who violated the Sabbath by plying their trade on that day; and that Aḥai b. Josiah, observing this, excommunicated them. This happened in Birta de-Saṭia, in Babylonia (ḳid. 72a). Further, we are informed that he had some personal property in Babylonia, while he himself was in Palestine; for the Talmud relates: R. Aḥai b. Josiah owned a vesselof silver which was in Nehardea. He commissioned Dositai ben Jannai and Jose ben Kippar to reclaim it and, on their return to Palestine, to bring it to him (Giṭ. 14a). From all these data it is evident that Aḥai ben Josiah was buried in Babylonia, where he had spent his last days; that he had been in that country before the death of Judah I., and that he had some personal property in Babylonia, even while he himself was in Palestine. There is, in fact, little doubt that Aḥai spent his riper years on Babylonian soil and with Babylonian scholars. This accounts for the failure to find him mentioned in the Palestinian Talmud or the Palestinian Midrashim; while he is referred to in the Babylonian Talmud and in the halakic Midrashim compiled by the disciples of Rab (Be-Rab) in Babylonia ('Er. 13a, Giṭ. 45a, Mek. Bo, 3—twice; ibid. Baḥodesh, § 7; compare ibid. Ki Tissa; Sifre, Num. 106, 126).
As an ethical teacher, Aḥai tried to impress the strictest morality on the people. "Whoever eyes woman will eventually fall into sin; and whoever watches her step will rear unworthy children" (Ned. 20a). On domestic economy he observed:
"Whoso purchases breadstuff in the market is like the infant whose mother is dead, and who is therefore carried from door to door to suckle at strangers' breasts, never getting its fill. Whoso purchases bread in the market is like one interred. But whoso eats of his own store is like the child raised on its own mother's breasts." He also remarked, "As long as a man supports himself he enjoys peace of mind; but when he is dependent, even on his own parents or on his own children, he has no peace of mind: still less so when he depends on strangers" (Ab. R. N. xxxi. [ed. Schechter, xxx.]; compare Men. 103b, Yer. SheḲ. iii. 51a, and parallels).
- Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 393, 394.