Why do tanaim and amoraim use disparaging terms (bavlai tipshai, for instance) or insults when talking with one another. If there is something positive to be learned from this behavior why is it no longer employed?

I have heard many attempts to explain this away, none that are satisfactory.

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    Rishonim did it all the time too. (Ramban and Baal HaMaor; Raavad on the Rambam)
    – Double AA
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 19:36
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    @DoubleAA Nekudas Hakesef on the Taz. IIRC The Shach (who IIRC was in his 20s when he wrote the Nekudas Hakesef on the Taz who was in his 70s) wrote that "if he had a brain his his skull, he wouldn't have written this." Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 20:32

3 Answers 3


Chavos Yair (152) discusses a number of these cases.

In some of them, he says, the person delivering the insulting remark is the other one's teacher; the halachah is indeed that if a teacher sees that his students aren't applying themselves properly to their studies, he should "get angry at them and insult them verbally" to spur them to correct behavior (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 246:11).

In others, an apparent insult is in fact a complimentary statement. As an example, in several places where Rav Sheshes says of Rav, "He must have been falling asleep when he said this," Chavos Yair says that it means just that: it would be impossible for a great Torah scholar like Rav to have made a mistaken statement except under such conditions.

And then there are various other types that he lists. (One that I don't understand is his treatment of the expression תרדא\תדורא in a few places: he says that the people who made these statements were "their colleagues and greater than them, so that they didn't mind at all" - yet in one of his examples, in Bava Metzia 20b, the person so addressed does seem to have minded, and there were consequences.)

  • awesome, thank you, I'm going to check this source out.
    – none
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 22:08

The Chafetz Chaim in the B'er Mayim Chaim (8:23) wrote that they were not trying to disparage their colleague in a personal way. Their intent was to undermine the authority of one making a ruling that was still subject to debate. The accuser was concerned for the negative consequences of those who followed the statement as law.

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    can you explain this further? why was such language ok to use to accomplish that goal? Why do we no longer employ this kind of technique in torah learning?
    – none
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 20:21
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    @Moshe some do :) Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 20:24
  • @Moshe, I'm afraid Shmuel is right. Many disparage talmidei chachamim to "save" others from their "crum" hashkafos. But the real answer is- can we do so 100% leshem shamayim? perhaps those mentioned above knew they could. Although i'm not sure how their intent circumvents the laws. I don't know to what extent we apply es laasos, but that could be a factor.
    – YDK
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 21:18
  • I think we need some concrete documentation, this seems to only be speculation
    – none
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 21:25
  • I once attended a gemoro shiur in which the magid shiur said something like, "Rovo said, 'My dear Abaye, you are mistaken ...etc.' and Abaye replied in similar respectful tones. Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 21:29

While there are many ways to justify their behavior post factum as brought in the other answers, it seems that their behavior wasn't Halachic at all.

The simplest proof to that is that none of those behaviors was brought to Halacha by the later Poskim as an Asmachta (see Meforshim on Rambam's original T"T 4,5), in other words Rambam didn't say "one must reprimand and shame his students just as R' X did it in the Gemmorah".

Note: It is important to stress that those acts are not just light misbehaviors but a clear transgression of the Deorayso Mitzvah of אונאת דברים - Rambam 251, Chinuch 338, Tur 228. Even if we say that they held some lenient opinions, Sofek Deorayso should be more stringent, and there's also a Mar'is Ayn - the fact that the question was asked shows that it is perceived as a transgression.

  • -1 As previously discussed here, they either weren’t insults or were halachically correct in insulting them.
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:09
  • @DonielF Says who? Only two Poskim were brought to justify and they weren't thorough. If their acts were Halachic they would be brought as Asmachtot. As nobody did it - No Posek saw those insults as Halachical. Find me one to disprove.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:13
  • @DonielF BTW Why wasn't that answer accepted? It seems others think it just donesn't cut.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:14
  • I don’t need to find a Posek for you to disprove - Alex already did. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:11: חייב לכעוס עליהם ולהכלימם בדברים כדי לחדדן ועל זה אמרו זרוק מרה בתלמידים.
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:22
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    Are you seriously arguing on the Shulchan Aruch because a random guy on the Internet didn’t award him a check mark? Maybe he just forgot.
    – DonielF
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 0:23

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