Moed Katan 25

A funeral gone awry.

Among the rabbinic personalities we’ve encountered many times already in our study of Daf Yomi is Rav Huna, a leading scholar who lived during the third century. Tradition tells us that he was the head of the academy in Sura, Babylonia, and there raised up a gaggle of scholars. As the leader of his generation, his funeral was sure to have been a memorable one. On today’s daf we learn that it was — but not for the reasons that one might have thought.

Because of his great status, Rav Huna’s students sought to honor him by placing a Torah on his funeral bier. But Rav Tahlifa stopped them by citing an example from Rav Huna himself:

I saw Rav Huna, who wished to sit on his bed, and there was a Torah scroll placed on it. And he turned a jug over and placed the Torah scroll on it. Apparently he holds that it is prohibited to sit on a bed upon which a Torah scroll lies. 

Because Rav Huna held that one should not sit on a bed with a Torah scroll, Rav Tahlifa posits that it would be inappropriate to honor him in that way after he died. But this was not the only miscue by Rav Huna’s mourners. When removing his body from the house, they discovered that the bier wouldn’t fit through the door. So they tried to lift it out through an opening in the roof. That is, until Rav Hisda related another teaching from Rav Huna:

This I learned from him: A scholar’s honor is for him to be taken out through the main opening.

In response, Rav Huna’s body was transferred to a smaller bier that would fit through the door. But Rav Hisda intervenes again with yet another teaching from Rav Huna. 

I learned from him as follows: A scholar’s honor is for him to be taken out on the first bier.

Not having so many options left, the doorway was broken down so the first bier could be carried out. 

One would hope things would have gone smoothly from here on out. If only!

At the funeral, a eulogy was delivered by Rabbi Abba, who began by saying:

Our rabbi was so worthy that the divine presence should rest upon him, except for the fact that Babylonia caused it not to. 

In other words, Rav Huna would have merited having God’s presence reside with him during his lifetime, but for the fact that he lived in Babylonia. We’ve seen these sorts of piquant slights exchanged by the rabbis of Babylonia and Israel before in Daf Yomi, but still this is a curious way to open a eulogy and a voice from the crowd objects. This time, instead of Rav Hisda, it is one of his sons:

Is it not stated: “The word of the Lord came [hayo haya] to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans” (Ezekiel 1:3)?

The questioner asserts that it’s possible for God’s presence to rest upon a great figure outside the land of Israel and that Rabbi Abba was wrong to suggest otherwise. But the Gemara rejects this, noting that the doubling of the verb in the verse, hayo haha, suggests that God’s presence came to Ezekiel first in Israel and stayed with him as he travelled to the land of the Chaldeans. 

Rabbi Abba’s opening, in other words, has merit. But Rav Hisda is nonetheless embarrassed by his son’s interruption and slaps him with his sandal: “Have I not told you not to trouble everyone (with questions in the middle of a eulogy)?

Based upon Rav Huna’s words, this may not have been an isolated incident. It seems Rav Huna’s son may have been a blurter or struggled with impulse control. Either way, the scolding created an additional interruption to the funeral service, adding to the chaos of the day.

Why would all these incidents have been entered into the talmudic record and preserved for posterity? From the Talmud’s perspective, everyday occurrences in the lives of the rabbis — or, in this case, at their funerals — are also Torah, and we record them so that future generations can learn from them.

In this case, we learn that treating a scholar respectfully after they die includes adhering to their teachings about ritual performances. And from the behavior of Rav Hisda’s son at the funeral, we learn that while it may be OK to challenge a colleague in the beit midrash, we shouldn’t give voice to our objections during a funeral. These incidents too are Torah — and we should learn from them.

Read all of Moed Katan 25 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on February 6th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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