The Ruling of R. Abbahu in Caesarea

Meir Bar-Ilan

This article sets out to study the famous ruling of R. Abbahu about the blowing of the Shofar: "R. Abbahu prescribed in Caesarea that there should be a teki'ah, then shebarim, a teru'ah and a teki'ah" (Rosh Hashana 44a).

The gemara weighs various possible interpretations of the ruling, concluding finally that R. Abbahu was in doubt about how the commandment of blowing the shofar should be observed: whether by teki'ah or by teru'ah. It will be shown that R. Abbahu synthesized two approaches, the one presented by the Mishnah and that of the baraita, to create a third approach that included both styles of shofar-blowing. The matter is further addressed in a responsum of Rav Hai Gaon; it emerges that there had not been any doubt as to the correct observance of the commandment, but that R. Abbahu wanted one style to be observed exclusively, apparently a reference to the Karaites. Maimonides, on the other hand, holds that R. Abbahu was in fact unsure about the correct observance of the commandment, and his method is to be seen as a compromise between the two differing opinions.

Following a discussion of the traditional interpretations, it will be suggested that R. Abbahu's ruling was designed to apply only to the city of Caesarea where he lived, and which is in fact mentioned in the ruling itself. Caesarea had special status as it was located neither in Judea nor in Galilee, and was inhabited by Jews from both these regions. Consequently, no custom prevailed there; R. Abbahu sought to adapt his ruling to the two practices the city inhabitants followed, as we know he did in other matters. In later times his ruling was accepted by all the Jewish communities, in accordance with the dictum "And so we say both of them": i.e., the sages' preferred to combine two different methods rather than choose one over the other.

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last updated: June 2, 1997 - June 28, 2001