Now, the Babylonian Talmud "contains over 750 cases in which alternate attributions (ואיתימא, ואמרי לה and, occasionally, איכא דאמרי, sometimes linked in chains) are given,"3 so what's unique about this particular phrase?
This phrase denotes that
the variant attributions can often be understood as possibilities arising from association, where the memra is attributed to contemporaries who are closely associated, as in the case of R. Yohanan and R. Abbahu (Pes 100a), or when the two names can easily be confused aurally, as in the case of R. Abin and R. Abina (Ber 7a) or R. Ahali and R. Yehiel (‘Erub 12a), or when one element of a name is common to both, as in the case of R. Yose b. Abin and R. Yose b. Zevida (Ber 13a), or R. Levi b. Hamma and R. Hamma b. Hanina (Suk 47a). These alternatives are such as might have occurred in the process of oral transmission, either as an aural error or when one authority had actually quoted the other.4Fascinatingly, "Rava’s name crops up some 39 times within ואיתימא chains. Of these, 13 involve disciples or associates…. Another 14 involve Palestinian amoraim…."5 Moreover, "Rava is always mentioned first in these chains, and that, aside from disciples and associates, he is never confused with any amora of less than the first rank, one of the two or three greatest authorities of each amoraic generation."6
More generally, these sorts of
variations of attribution are recorded in the same way as halakhic variants – indicating that variants regarding attributions were considered as important as other variants regarding halakhic detail. This is precisely what we might have expected, since the authority of a tradition or statement may often have rested with the amora to whom it was attributed. This would also explain why most variants are recorded in connection with major authorities and their associates, since their authority was greater.7Again, I hope this posting helps the reader in understanding this term's usage when one comes across it in their studies.
1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 24.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Yaakov Elman, How Should a Talmudic Intellectual History Be Written? A Response to David Kraemer’s Responses, review of Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature, by David Kraemer, Jewish Quarterly Review 89, nos. 3-4 (January-April 1999), 375-376.
4 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 385-386.
5 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376.
6 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 377.
7 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376