Talmud pages

Bava Kamma 80

Who's your Pappa?

On today’s daf, the Talmud shares the following collections of teachings:

The court sounds the alarm on Shabbat over a breakout of sores. 

A door that is locked will not be opened quickly. 

When one purchases a house in the land of Israel, one writes a bill of sale for the transaction even on Shabbat.

In the discussion that follows, the Gemara clarifies which specific sores qualify (dry, but not moist), provides several interpretations for the cryptic statement about locked doors (for example, Rav Ashi says it means that anyone who is treated poorly will not soon be treated well) and clarifies the notion that we can write a bill of sale on Shabbat (only a non-Jew may do this).

What caught my eye, however, was not the analysis of these three teachings, but rather the way in which they were introduced:

Rabbi Aha bar Pappa says the following three statements in the name of Rabbi Abba bar Pappa, who said them in the name of Rabbi Adda bar Pappa. And some say Rabbi Abba bar Pappa says them in the name of Rabbi Hiyya bar Pappa, who said them in the name of Rabbi Aha bar Pappa. And some say Rabbi Abba bar Pappa says them in the name of Rabbi Aha bar Pappa, who said them in the name of Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa.

In total, five rabbis are mentioned — all sons of Pappa. So who is this Pappa? 

We are not exactly sure. There are three Pappas mentioned in the Talmud. The most well known is the fifth-generation Babylonian Amora. The second Rav Pappa lived three generations earlier and is called Rav Pappa Sava (Rav Pappa the Elder or Grandfather Pappa) to differentiate him from the first who was more prominent, earning the right to be known solely by his first name. The third is Rav Pappa bar Shmuel, a third/fourth generation Amora, also from Babylonia. Could it be any of these?

Unlikely, as the five sons of Pappa mentioned on our page all possess the title rabbi, which was used in Israel, not in Babylonia. The three Pappas, in contrast, are all titled rav, which indicates that they are Babylonian — so it’s a good bet that none of them are the patriarch of this particular gaggle of rabbis.

Still, they are all sons of a man called Pappa, so could they be brothers? Although it is normative practice for rabbis to quote teachings in the name of the person from whom they learned them, the presenting sage almost always quotes a teacher and not a contemporary. If these rabbis are brothers, they are attributing the teaching to a brother who learned it from another brother — an unusual formulation. But it would also be unusual for a teacher and their student and their student’s student to all have fathers of the same name.

This is not the only list of rabbis whose father is named Pappa. The second paragraph of the liturgy that is recited at a siyyum (the ceremony for the completion of a tractate of Talmud) contains one as well:

“May it be Your will, our God, and the God of our ancestors, that we should be loyal to your Torah in this world, and it should be with us in the next world. Haninah bar Pappa, Rami bar Pappa, Nahman bar Pappa, Ahai bar Pappa, Abba bar Pappa, Rafram bar Pappa, Rahish bar Pappa, Sorhav bar Pappa, Adda bar Pappa, Daro bar Pappa.”

According to tradition, these bar Pappas are brothers and are mentioned in the liturgy because their father, the mononymous Rav Pappa, would invite them to join him in a festive meal at the completion of a tractate, so we mention them when we do the same. (This tradition is alive and well today despite the fact that already in the tenth century, Rav Hai Gaon, who would become the head of the academy in Pumbedita, noted that, based upon the talmudic record, these sages lived in different generations and could not all be siblings.) The Jewish mystics believed that reciting the names of these bar Pappas was good for one’s memory and reciting them at a siyyum helps one to retain what one has learned. Alas, if only reciting their names helped us remember more about who each of the bar Pappas was.

Read all of Bava Kamma 80 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 21st, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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