I've noticed that in the Gemara you often see a pattern where two people are discussing an issue in front of an Amorah (e.g R' Yirmiyah) while he was asleep. After their discussion he wakes up and gives his opinion. Is there any solid source for why the Amoraim would be conducting a discussion in such a manner?

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    Can you please cite one such instance? – Baal Shemot Tovot Apr 1 '12 at 5:18
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    ...or, better yet, several? – msh210 Apr 1 '12 at 6:21
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    It's actually not just R. Yirmiyah. In a search, I find three times where this is said about him (Shabbos 63b, Nedarim 29b-30a and Gittin 11b), but there's also one each about R. Yochanan (Shabbos 145b), R. Idi bar Avin (Pesachim 35a) and Rava (Bava Basra 16b). – Alex Apr 1 '12 at 14:08
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    Good stuff @Alex. I edited to reflect that. Also, this shouldn't be tagged as Agada, part of the oddity here is that this is found in halachic areas of the Gemara. – Yaakov Kuperman Apr 1 '12 at 14:44
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    Also, I didn't realize there was a 'sleep' tag. Thats awesome. – Yaakov Kuperman Apr 1 '12 at 14:44

No sources that I know of, but a couple of possibilities:

  1. It shows how devoted these students were to their teacher - they wanted to be able to study from him at all hours (and, if he wasn't up to teaching, they'd at least be able to review what they had already learned).

  2. Conversely, it shows how devoted the teacher was, that he'd be sitting and teaching his students even to the point of exhaustion and needing a short nap.

  3. In Moed Katan 28a the term מנמנם is used to mean "near death." Conceivably, then, in at least some of these cases the meaning is the same - that R. Yirmiyah or R. Yochanan or whoever was about to draw his last breath but still rallied his energies to teach his students one final lesson.

  • Re: 3, I think that it's more of a euphemism (like Nach Nafshei (rested his soul) -> Pass Away so Menamnem (almost asleep) -> almost dead). – ertert3terte Apr 1 '12 at 23:49
  • #3 makes a lot of sense to me. Why stress that the Rabbi was sleeping? Makes more sense to stress that he was near death. – Yaakov Kuperman Apr 2 '12 at 0:57

Rav Shlomo Volbe wrote that they actually were sleeping. Their learning had become such an integral part of their being that they would give an entire shiur while sleeping in bed.

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