Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works
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Hebrew Name(s): רב אשי
Other Names: Rav Ashi, Rabbi Ashi
Period: Amoraim — 5th Century
Location: Sura, Babylonia
Dates: 352–427 CE
A Babylonian Sixth Generation Amora between the 4th and 5th Century, Ashi was known to come from an old and wealthy family and to be a precocious child. He became principal of the Sura academy at the age of twenty.
Ashi, known as Rav Ashi and Rabbi Ashi, was a celebrated scholar who re-established the academy at Sura which had been closed following the death of R. Ḥisda in 309 CE. Under his leadership the academy flourished and regained its old importance. It was said of him that since the days of Rabbi Judah haNasi, "learning and social distinction were never so united in one person as in Ashi."
According to a tradition preserved in the academies, Rav Ashi was born in the same year that Raba (Abba ben Joseph ben Ḥama), the great teacher of Mahuza, died, and he was the first teacher of any importance in the Babylonian colleges after Raba's death. Simai, Ashi's father, was a rich and learned man, a student of the college of Naresh near Sura, which was directed by Rav Papa, Raba's disciple. Ashi's teacher was Kahana, a member of the same college, who later became president of the academy at Pumbedita.
R. Ashi was first editor of the Babylonian Talmud. R. Ashi made it the labor of his life, which he undertook with his disciples and collected scholars, to collect under the name of Gemara, those explanations of the Mishnah that had been handed down in the Babylonian academies since the days of Rav, together with all the discussions connected with them, and all the halakhic and haggadic material treated in the schools. The schools of Nehardea and Pumbedita, which held Ashi and the academy at Sura in high esteem assisted in the undertaking. The work begun by R. Ashi continued after his death and was completed by Rabina (d. 499 CE). It was stated by Saboraim, who added slight additions to Rabina's work, that "Ashi and Rabina are the last representatives of independent decision (hora'ah)" acknowledging that their work on the Talmud was to have the same importance to coming generations as the Mishnah had had for the Amoraim.
R. Ashi married Rami b. Ḥama's daughter (Beẓah 29b) and his son Tabyomi was a recognized scholar always referred to as Mar (Master), the son of Rab. Ashi. In 455 CE, twenty eight years after his father's death he became head of the school in Sura which, following the prominence it gained during the time of R. Ashi, remained the intellectual center for Babylonian Jews for two centuries until the beginning of the Goanic period when the school of Pumbedita became a rival.
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