If there is a positive mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael, why did the scholars of Pumbedisa, Sura, Nahardai, Mechoza, etc. remain in Bavel. If it was to learn Torah from the giants, then we can focus the question on the roshei yeshivos themselves.

  • btw, there is no etc.. in your list of towns with yeshivot. At least according to Rav Hai Gaon.
    – avi
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 7:39
  • @avi, where does R. Hai Gaon say this? We hear, besides the places that YDK listed, of yeshivos in Pum Nahara (unless R. Hai is saying that that's identical with one of the cities already mentioned) and Masa Mechasya (a suburb of Sura).
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 17:49
  • In the shaalot book that I refered to before. He says that there were only ever 2 yeshivot running at any one time, and they were based in one of those 4 cities.
    – avi
    Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 16:09
  • I really didn't give much thought, I just rambled out what i remembered.
    – YDK
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:50

4 Answers 4


There is also the halachic opinion of Rav Yehudah, quoted in several places in the Gemara (Berachos 24b, Shabbos 41a, Kesubos 110b-111a) that it is in fact forbidden to move from Bavel to Eretz Yisrael. He bases this on his understanding of Jer. 27:22 ("they shall be brought to Bavel, and there they shall remain until the day I am mindful of them"), plus some verses in Song of Songs (the famous "three oaths").

  • Interesting, is this the basis for the so-called religious anti-zionist groups?
    – AviD
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 7:02
  • @AviD: partly, yes. The "three oaths" that the Gemara mentions there are analyzed extensively in R. Yoel Teitelbaum's (the Satmar Rebbe) works. Lots of ink has been spilled on both sides of the issue, on whether and how these apply.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 16:02
  • Was Yirmiyahu going on the first or second galus?
    – YDK
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:43
  • @YDK: the context is talking about the first one. But Tosafos to Kesubos there says that evidently Rav Yehudah would say that it applies after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash too.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 3:16
  • @Alex Did it stop applying in the interim between the two galuyos? What is the indicator for when it applies or not.
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 6:21

Conditions in Israel at the time were generally worse than they were in Bavel. The Romans empire (especially after it converted to Christianity) treated the Jews much worse than the Persian government did. In Bavel, the Jews were granted a certain amount of autonomy and freedom, which allowed them to study and keep the Torah without persecution.

  • Was there an ideological split by those who remained in Israel or did most just stay where they were? Or were they just able to learn well despite the conditions?
    – YDK
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:47

I've heard that the first scholar to go to Bavel was Rav, sent by Ribbi Yehuda HanNasi. He opened up a yeshiva in Sura for the sake of the general population that resided there at the time, which was uneducated to a certain degree. He created his own talmidim. At little later, Shemuel broke off and started a yeshiva in Naharda'a (which I think may have been later relocated to Pumbedita). These yeshivot grew and produced more and more talmidei chachamim to the extent that the Torah-center of the world shifted to Bavel. At this point, students gathered from across the world to study in these great yeshivot.

So, in a sense, Torah in Bavel started as an outreach program for the Jewish population already living there, and eventually developed into a community too large to be abandoned.

By the way, Wikipedia has a ton about this stuff.

  • True to a degree: Rav's arrival indeed revitalized the Jewish community in Bavel, and became a watershed in its history (see Gittin 6a). But there were indeed great scholars in Bavel before that, among them Hillel and R. Chiya, about both of whom the Gemara says (Sukkah 20a) that when the Torah was being forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, they came up from Bavel and re-established it.
    – Alex
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 14:18

The answer is really very simple. They were exiled and not allowed to move to Israel. They were not just leaders of their Yeshivas, they were also members of the Babylonian government, known as the Exilarch.

However, the history of the Exilarch before the destruction of the second temple, is a bit more complicated and I'm not aware of any good reason given for why they kept the Exilarch position in Babylon when Ezra was returning the Jews to Israel.

  • 2
    While geopolitics certainly played a role, from the Talmudic description of the people usually doing the job of "reish galuta", or exilarch, they were usually good Jews, but seldom great scholars.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 7:34
  • Read the Shailot of Rav Hai Gaon.
    – avi
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 7:38
  • 1
    That is not the reason. I don't think any of the amora'im were ever in the resh galusa position.
    – Ariel K
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 14:12
  • 2
    @Ariel, there were some - for example, Rav Huna bar Nassan, who was reish galusa contemporary with Rav Ashi and was one of his disciples. But as Shalom said, that was something of a rarity.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 15:22
  • There were certainly those who traveled back and forth. Didn't Rav Zeira move there?
    – YDK
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 2:49

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