15 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase I: בעא מיניה

From my post of a week ago, here kicks off my series on "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase". This first post is on the phrase "בעא מיניה". This phrase means "he asked him"1 or, more literally, "requested/required of him". Specifically, it "introduces a problem that an amora posed to his teacher or his colleague."2
As to the amoraim involved, this phrase "and similar expressions reflect a situation in which one amora behaves as if subordinate to the other, yielding to the other’s scholarly and halakhic authority."3 As to how this subordination worked, "throughout the Babylonian Talmud, the age of a scholar was the major factor determining the hierarchical relationship between each pair of amoraim. The younger scholar always conducts himself as subordinate to the older, bowing to his halakhic authority, even if the younger scholar holds a higher position such as head of an academy."4
Often, the "point of the question is generally followed by the interrogative מהו how is it? The two sides of the question are usually set forth by ...או דלמא shall we say... or ...מי אמרינן or perhaps...."5 In other words, the inquiring amora asks regarding a halakhic quandary, wondering which of two options ought to be selected in a given situation, seeing as both are legitimate possibilities.
As to how this problem is solved, the
solution of a problem (the verb is פשט) is introduced by the phrase תא שמע come and hear. When rejected, another solution introduced by the same phrase is generally attempted. The final acceptance of a solution is indicated by the closing phrase שמע מיניה hear it therefrom, i.e., this settles the question, this is the correct solution.6
And when a solution is not found, "it is indicated by the term תיקו it stands (
=תיקום), i.e., the question remains unsolved."7

I hope this posting helps you understand this phrase better in your Talmudic studies.
1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 51.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Avinoam Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion of Subordination Among the Amoraim?", Jewish Quarterly Review 92, nos. 3-4 (January-April 2002), 279.
4 - Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion," 310.

5 - Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (Cincinnati & Chicago: The American Hebrew Publishing House, 1894), 244.
6 - Ibid.
7 - Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, 245.

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