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Rashbam in B.B. 157b ד״ה מהדורא בתרא

מהדורא בתרא - כשחזר לימודו פעם שניה נמצא בתשובת רב האי ובפר"ח רב אשי חיה ששים שנה ובכל שנה מחזר לימודו בשני חדשי הכלה ניסן ותשרי ולכשהגיעו שלשים שנה סיים כל לימודו וכן עשה בשלשים שנים אחרונים ומהדורא קמא היינו שלשים שנים ראשונים ומהדורא בתרא הן שלשים שנים אחרונים:

He seemingly prefaces that Rav Ashi lived 60 years and מהדורא קמא refers to the first 30 years and מהדורא בתרא refers to the second 30. Does he mean to say the first thirty years of his life and if so that mean it wasn’t really a full 30 years of review as he wrote. And if not how do these two 30 year time periods fit in with how he wrote that Rav Ashi lived 60 years?

  • The truth is that the 2 cycles were 30 and 30 years of editing and review of the Talmud, however, he started when he was already a young scholar. Chabad.org claims he was about 90 years old when he passed. (others say 75) I do not know the information well enough first hand, but the 60 years were certainly study years, not the full length of his life. – David Kenner Apr 10 '18 at 0:34
  • If so, why does Rashbam use the word חיה in רב אשי חיה ששים שנה? What does he mean? – Dr. Shmuel Apr 10 '18 at 0:37
  • Since scholars were accepted in their positions for life, (they didn't get fired or retire, they died in office) it seems appropriate to say he lived 60 years as head of the academy. – David Kenner Apr 10 '18 at 1:09
  • To support @DavidKenner take a look at Horayos 14, where it discusses Rabbah and R’ Yosef as Roshei Yeshiva - Rabbah took office for life, then R’ Yosef. – DonielF Apr 10 '18 at 16:27
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According to Marcus Jastrow and Wilhelm Bacher in the Jewish Encyclopedia entry for "Ashi":

A celebrated Babylonian amora; born 352; died 427; reestablished the academy at Sura, and was the first editor of the Babylonian Talmud. According to a tradition preserved in the academies (Ḳid. 72b), Ashi was born in the same year that Raba, the great teacher of MaḦuza, died, and he was the first teacher of any importance in the Babylonian colleges after Raba's death.

Further there:

A particularly important element in Ashi's success was the length of his tenure of office as head of the Sura Academy, which must have lasted fifty-two years, but which tradition, probably for the sake of round numbers, has exaggerated into sixty. According to the same tradition, these sixty years are said to have been so symmetrically apportioned that each treatise required six months for the study of its Mishnah and the redaction of the traditional expositions of the same (Gemara), thus aggregating thirty years for the sixty treatises. The same process was then repeated for thirty years more, at the end of which period the work was considered complete.

And further:

The artificiality and unreality of this legendary account are made clear by the facts that the treatises are of different degrees of length and difficulty, and that a large number of them possess no Gemara whatever. Probably all that is historical in this statement is that Ashi actually revised the work twice—a fact that is mentioned in the Talmud (B. B. 157b). Beyond this, the Talmud itself contains not the slightest intimation of the activity which Ashi and his school exercised in this field for more than half a century.

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