1- Do we know if any of the Tannaim or Amoraim had below average intelligence?

2- Were all of the Tannaim/Amoraim highly intelligent?

My question has to do with something I'm trying to figure out. What, if any, raw talents and gifts were necessary for the level (of spirituality) they reached?

  • 1
    Aren't your two questions logically equivalent?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 16:35
  • 3
    How do you define "intelligence"? Perhaps some of their memories were more eidetic, let's say, but they certainly didn't know as much about mitochondrial DNA or the Lorentz force. Do you care about spacial reasoning? Olfactory recall? Perfect pitch?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 16:39
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    There were large yeshivos with many talmidim. I'm sure some of them were not so bright. But to assume that any of the imbeciles comments made it into the discussion and then made it through hundreds of years of clarifications and redactions is insulting. I wasn't one of the downvoters. As of yet. Im sure if you provided some info for what you are trying to 'work out' this question might strike people differently.
    – user6591
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 17:34
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    If the question is whether yeridas hadoros (assuming it exists) is predicated on a decrease in intelligence, this is the understanding of the Chafetz Chaim as clear from his letter about modern technology. He asks why we have these things that previous generations didn't have. If they were smarter than us then why didn't they invent them? I have not found an earlier source that connects yeridas hadoros with decreased intelligence. Rather I assumed that it has to do with distance from the Sinaic revelation.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:46
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    In R' Shrira Gaon's famous iggeres he writes that "it was decided that amoraim couldn't argue on tannaim" but he doesn't mention anything about decreased intelligence.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


The Talmud tells the following story:

Eruvin 54b

רבי פרידא הוה ליה ההוא תלמידא דהוה תני ליה ארבע מאה זימני וגמר יומא חד בעיוה למלתא דמצוה תנא ליה ולא גמר א"ל האידנא מאי שנא א"ל מדההיא שעתא דא"ל למר איכא מילתא דמצוה אסחאי לדעתאי וכל שעתא אמינא השתא קאי מר השתא קאי מר א"ל הב דעתיך ואתני ליך הדר תנא ליה ד' מאה זימני [אחריני] נפקא בת קלא וא"ל ניחא ליך דליספו לך ד' מאה שני או דתיזכו את ודרך לעלמא דאתי אמר דניזכו אנא ודריי לעלמא דאתי אמר להן הקב"ה תנו לו זו וזו

R. Pereda had a pupil whom he taught his lesson four hundred times before the latter could master it. On a certain day having been requested to attend to a religious matter he taught him as usual but the pupil could not master the subject. ‘What’, the Master asked: ‘is the matter to-day?’ — ‘From the moment’, the other replied. ‘the Master was told that there was a religious matter to be attended to I could not concentrate my thoughts, for at every moment I imagined, now the Master will get up or now the Master will get up’. ‘Give me your attention’, the Master said, ‘and I will teach you again’, and so he taught him another four hundred times. A bath kol issued forth asking him, ‘Do you prefer that four hundred years shall be added to your life or that you and your generation shall be privileged to have a share in the world to come?’ — ‘That’, he replied. ‘I and my generation shall be privileged to have a share in the world to come’. ‘Give him both’, said the Holy One, blessed be He. (Soncino translation)

It seems like the reason for this student's struggles could have been that he had below average intelligence. If the student was considered (either at the time, or later) an amora, then this could potentially be an example of one who had below average intelligence.

  • Maybe the student had ADD?
    – Gavriel
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 20:20
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    @ShmuelBrin I think it's a good answer because it says something about the generation of the amora'im. It's not as if the amora'im were an entirely different race than ordinary students
    – b a
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 8:06

The Gemara in Eiruvin 53a says:

אמר אביי ואנן כי סיכתא בגודא לגמרא אמר רבא ואנן כי אצבעתא בקירא לסברא אמר רב אשי אנן כי אצבעתא בבירא לשכחה

On the topic of the steady decline of the generations, Abaye said: And we, as far as our capabilities are concerned, are like a peg in the wall with regard to Torah study. Just as a peg enters a wall with difficulty, our studies penetrate our minds only with difficulty. Rava said: And we are like a finger in wax [kira] with regard to logical reasoning. A finger is not easily pushed into wax, and it extracts nothing from the wax. Rav Ashi said: We are like a finger in a pit with regard to forgetfulness. Just as a finger easily enters a large pit, similarly, we quickly forget our studies.

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