Students of the Talmud, who wrestle with legal arguments and explore Jewish legends and traditions, are also introduced to a myriad of rabbinic personalities, each of whom brings his own unique perspective and argument style into the beautiful mosaic of the Oral Torah. Today, Jewish Treats brings you a brief introduction to one such sage, Abaye.
Actually, Abaye (meaning little father) was his nickname. His actual name was Nachmani, after his grandfather. It is recorded that Abaye was an orphan whose father died before he was born and whose mother died during childbirth (Talmud Kiddushin 31a). There are, however, many references of Abaye quoting his mother (generally on food-related topics). These references actually refer to his foster mother, the wife of his uncle Rabbah bar Nachmani (also a noted sage). Abaye, who was born and raised in Babylon, succeeded his uncle as the head of the Talmudic Academy of Pumbedita.
While much of what is included about Abaye in the Talmud is in reference to his legal arguments and his interchanges with the sage Rava, there are some interesting notes that provide insight into his personal character. Two such example are:
“Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar said: How do we know that the sage must not trouble [the people]? …Abaye said: We have it [on tradition] that if he [the sage] takes a circuitous route, he will live [long]. Abaye took a circuitous route (to avoid the people so they would not have to stand for him out of respect)…” (Talmud Kiddushin 33b).
“A favourite saying of Abaye was: A man should always be subtle in the fear of heaven. A soft answer turns away wrath, and one should always strive to be on the best terms with his brothers and his relatives and with all men and even with the heathen in the street, in order that he may be beloved above and well-liked below and be acceptable to his fellow creatures” (Talmud Brachot 17a).