I encountered an interesting sugya today (Bava Qama 102b), in which we are told that, "in the west", the rabbonim laughed at the interpretation of Rabbi Yohanan. Presumably, this is a reference to Rabbi Yohanan bar Nafcha, who headed the academy in Tiberius.

In the Aramaic:

מחכו עלה במערבא לר' יוחנן אליבא דר' יהודה

In the translation of the Koren edition, this reads as follows:

The Gemara notes that they laughed at it in the West, Eretz Yisrael, at the explanation of Rabbi Yohanan, who said that according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, a deviation by an agent from the terms of his assignment does not result in the acquisition of the item for the agent himself.

What follows is a short back-and-forth as various rabbonim attempt to make sense of Rabbi Yohanan's opinion, but I am struck by the image of their laughing at him. Really? One of the greatest sages of his generation, a student of Rabbi and the teacher of so many other scholars - including some of the ones who are named within this sugya. What does it mean to suggest that they laughed at him? How is that not disrespectful?

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    You ask in line 2 of your question, "rabbonim laughed at the interpretation and then you say at the end "to suggest that they laughed at him". They did not laugh at him. Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 8:13
  • 1
    3 more similar instances: Berachot 19b and the other references in Mesorat Hashas there (on גברא רבה אמר מילתא לא תחיכו עליה)
    – b a
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:31
  • It probably happens all the time. Rabbis are people not humanized formal writers. There's a way to write and behave in formal settings and there's a way to be relaxed.
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 14:50
  • Related (dupe?): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/14868
    – DonielF
    Commented Sep 13, 2019 at 11:04

1 Answer 1


There are many examples of our sages, talking to each other in a common way, mocking (seriously or in a humorous manner), or even playing tricks at each other.

Some examples:

כתובות עג א

רב פפא ורב הונא בריה דרב יהושע זבן שומשמי אגידא דנהר מלכא, אגור מלחי לעבורינהו, קבילו עלייהו כל אונסא דמתיליד, לסוף איסתכר נהר מלכא, אמרו להו: אגורו חמרי אפקעינהו ניהלן, דהא קבילתו עלייכו כל אונסא דמיתליד; אתו לקמיה דרבא, אמר להו: קאקי חיורי משלחי גלימי דאינשי

Gitin 73a

Rav Papa and Rav hun son of Rav Yhosuha bought sesame seeds on the bank of king's river, and hired sailors to ship it. The sailors accepted to be responsible for any disaster. The river was blocked. They told the sailors: we don't pay your fee, because you said that you are responsible for all disasters! they came to Rava who said, those white geese (according to Rashi, mocking them for being old), taking other people clothes.

You are surprised for mocking one sage? look at this:

בכורות נח א

בן עזאי אומר כל חכמי ישראל דומין עלי כקליפת השום חוץ מן הקרח הזה

Bechorot 58a

Ben Azai said: For me, all the sages of Israel Are [worthless] as garlic's peel except this bald man [R' Akiva]

One example of playing tricks, for good measure:

נדרים נא א

א"ל בר קפרא לברתיה דרבי למחר שתינא חמרא בריקודא דאבוך ובקירקני דאמך ... א"ל בר קפרא לרבי מאי (ויקרא כ, יג) תועבה כל דא"ל רבי דהכין הוא תועבה פרכה בר קפרא א"ל פרשיה את א"ל תיתי דביתכי תירמי לי נטלא אתת רמיא ליה א"ל לר' קום רקוד לי

Nedarim 51a

Bar Kapra told Rabbi's [Rabbi Yehuda Hannsie] daughter "tomorrow I will drink wine, while your father is dancing, and you mother gave me the goblet!" ... [The other day, at a party] Bar kapra asked Rabbi what is the meaning of the word "Toeva"? all the answers of Rabbi, were countered by Bar Kapra. Rabbi told him, you tell me the meaning. Bar Kapra said, after your wife will give me a glass of wine! after he received the glass, he told Rabbi , get up and dance for me!

I'm not saying that our sages were always offensive and disrespectful to each other. It's just that this behavior also exists - especially when arguing about Sugia!

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    IMHO perhaps all these incidents allude to something far deeper and can't be understood according to p'shat?
    – nosh
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:06
  • @nosh IMHO This way of thinking would get me nowhere. I've been thought how to work with Drash, but it's not the case. BTW I was super easy with this answer, I could very easily bring examples of conflicts between sages, that even ended up with causalities. Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:54
  • Are you thinking of the purim seudah incident? there its takkeh very deep. Why would it get you nowhere?
    – nosh
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:55
  • @nosh One of many... Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:57
  • ''I've been thought how to work with Drash, but it's not the case.'' could you elaborate on what you mean by this?
    – nosh
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 13:59

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