06 May 2008

An Intro to the Stam(maim)

Who were the stammaim?
Their work "constitutes just over half of the total text of the Babylonian Talmud and which frames the discussion of the rest. This framework, post-dating the statements of identified figures, introduces questions, often provides solutions, and, in general, controls the interpretation of the earlier sources. It was composed by the late-fifth /early-sixth centuries, no later than c. 542 when the Black Plague appeared in Byzantium and proceeded to ravage the region for two centuries."1 Their work was already pointed out by Tosafists "some two hundred times".2
Of the stammaitic work, maybe 5% is early stam.3 Rava is not only one of the major motivating factors in the Babylonian Talmud, but the stam is greatly influenced by him.
As far as their style is concerned,
…it is highly typical for the stam to interpret earlier sources in a forced manner, and it has been suggested that this characteristic is attributable in large part to the length of time separating the stam from its sources. It is reasonable to assume that the level of forced interpretations would be dramatically reduced if the stam were contemporary with the amoraim whose statements it was explicating. A contemporary would be able to ask the amora personally what his meaning was, and would not be forced to rely on his own independent understanding.5
However, as far as this last point is concerned, "but communication wasn’t where you could just pick up a phone and call."
Lastly, "the stam often appears to engage in argument for argument’s sake, out of sheer delight in dialogue and rhetoricity."7
I hope to return to these important sages in a later post....
(Elman also refers the reader to David Weiss Halivni, Midrash,Mishnah, and Gemara: The Jewish Predilection for Justified Law [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986], pp. 76–92 for further reading on this topic,
8 so I hope to get around to reading that.)
1 Yaakov Elman, "The Babylonian Talmud in its Historical Context," in Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein, ed. Sharon Lieberman Mintz & Gabriel M. Goldstein (New York: Yeshiva University Museum, 2005), 19.
2 Ibid., 23.
3 Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva University, "Introduction to Amoraic Literature," Lecture #9, New York City, 30 March 2006.
4 Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva University, "Introduction to Amoraic Literature," Lecture #10, New York City, 6 April 2006.
5 Richard Kalmin, “The Post-Rav Ashi Amoraim: Transition or Continuity? A Study of the Role of the Final Generations of Amoraim in the Redaction of the Talmud,” AJS Review 11:2 (Fall 1986), 166.
6 Elman, "Introduction," Class #10.
7 Kalmin, "The Post-Rav Ashi Amoraim," 170, n. 41.
8 Elman, "The Babylonian Talmud in its Historical Context," 19, n. 3.

1 comment:

Rabbi Sedley said...

For a fuller discussion of the 'stam' voice of the Talmud and when it was written (and by whom) check out Rabbi Triebitz's series of shiurim available at www.hashkafacircle.com.
He discusses the contemporary literature and analyzes it in light of the Talmud, Gaonim and Rishonim.