10 December 2012

Pirsumei Nisa in the Babylonian Talmud: Who Uses פרסומי ניסא?

With today being the second day of Hanukah, one of the terms tossed around at this time of year is "פרסומי ניסא" (pirsumei nisa), "publicization of the miracle".  Last year before Hanukah, I was befuddled, when looking at the section in the Babylonian Talmud and discovered that none of the Tannaitic texts discussed the purpose of candle-lighting for the holiday!  And I looked at the amoraic texts that followed and still didn't uncover a reason.  When I mentioned this befuddlement to some other rabbis, they said that it was brought up on Shabbat 23b.  I realized I had missed the statement of Rava there querying about a halakhic matter, wherein he mentioned that miracle publicization seemed to be the function of candle-lighting.  I thought (and still) thought it was a bit strange that only in a by-the-way mention in the Talmud is the purpose of candle-lighting brought up for Hanukah.  Nevertheless, it's there and by one of the most significant Talmudic rabbis.  
It is still worthy of consideration to see how frequently and who uses the term in the Babylonian Talmud.
The first time פרסומי ניסא is brought up is by Ahi, a tanna at Rabbi Hiyya's school, inquiring of Rabbi Hiyya with regards to interrupting either reciting Hallel or reading the megillah (Berakhot 14a).  
However, after that, Rava is the primary mentioner of פרסומי ניסא.  He, too, uses the term with regards to reading of the megillah (Megillah 3b).*  He also is the only person in the Talmud to use the term with reference to Hanukah.  He uses it in regard to lighting the Hanukah lamp  (Shabbat 23b), which is particularly remarkable since there is no other mention of this principle in the Babylonian Talmud with regard to lighting the Hanukah lamp.  There were people in his generation who inquired whether or not to make mention of Hanukah in the Grace After Meals and Rava was able to respond to them, quoting Rav Sehora, in turn quoting Rav Huna (Shabbat 24a).
The one other time the term is used in the Babylonian Talmud is by the one of the stammaim in reference to the four cups of the Passover seder (Pesahim 112b)

* In this reference, Rava asks a מהו question, weighing up two different possibilities, eventually deciding on one of the possibilities.  In this vein, the Talmud uses the term הדר פשטה.  This term is used in reference to a question (בעי usually) eighteen times throughout the Babylonian Talmud.  Of these eighteen times, the Talmud uses it twelve times in reference to Rava (BB 175a, BK 53b, BK 105a (2x), BK 110b, BK 96a, Gittin 29b-30a, Gittin 83b-84a, Zevahim 98a-98b, Megillah 3b, Menahot 7b, & Sanhedrin 10a).  So, it would seem that, for whatever reason, Rava is found commonly to be asking a question and going back over it and making a decision.  The other six mentions are used with Rabbah (BK 27a), Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (Kiddushin 9a-9b & Kiddushin 48a), Rabbi Elazar (Zevahim 105a), Rav Oshia (Hullin 126b), and Rabbi Abba (Gittin 82b).

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