The Sea of Talmud I

The emergence of amoraic schools of study.

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The existence of actual institutions, academies, in amoraic times is difficult to confirm. More than likely, there were no formal institutions in Babylonia, where central institutions of learning did not develop because the exilarch's political authority was separate from the religious authority of the rabbis. On the other hand, in Palestine, the patriarchal academy, located for most of the amoraic period at Sepphoris or Tiberias, served as the center of much of the amoraic activity.

In Babylonia, individual teachers occasionally had enough authority for their schools to function as de facto central academies, but the circles around them appear to have made no attempt to so constitute themselves as to automatically continue into the next generation. This is what distinguishes these schools form full-fledged academies.

It must be stressed that the students of these masters were often quite mature in their own scholarship. Many of the face to‑face discussions recorded in the Talmudstook place in such circles before the scholars in question became independent masters. Some modern scholars have suggested that there were no face‑to‑face discussions, maintaining that the ones recorded in the Talmud were virtually all constructed by its editors. That such debates did really occur, however, can be demonstrated by comparing their form with that of other disputes in which the redactors of the Talmuds artificially constructed arguments out of independent statements by individual amoraim. The artificial debates can usually be detected by examining the literary style of the text.

In Palestine, however, much more of the activity can be safely assigned to the central academies at Tiberias, Sep­phoris, and Caesarea and to other formalized institutions. It was only later, in the gaonic period, after the redaction of the Talmuds, that central institutions developed in Babylonia, to some extent under the influence of the Islamic academies lo­cated there.

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.