Rabbi Ammi

Rabbi Ammi

Ammi, Aimi, Immi (Hebrew: רבי אמי) is the name of several Jewish Talmudists, known as amoraim, who lived in the Land of Israel and Babylonia. In the Babylonian Talmud the first form only is used; in the Jerusalem Talmud all three forms appear, Immi predominating, and sometimes R. Ammi is contracted into "Rabmi" or "Rabbammi" (Yer. Ab. Zarah, v. 45a, b).


The most distinguished "Ammi" is an amora of the third generation (3rd century). His native country is not named, but it is generally assumed to be Babylonia. It seems probable that the lifelong friendship existing between R. Ammi and R. Assi had its origin in ties of blood. R. Assi is identical with R. Assi (Jose) b. Nathan, and R. Ammi's full name, as given by himself, is Ammi ben Nathan (Giṭ. 44a); both of them, moreover, were of priestly descent (Meg. 22a, Ḥul. 107b), so that they seem to have been the sons of the same father; and as R. Assi is a native Babylonian, there is reason for assuming R. Ammi's Babylonian nativity.

In his early age Ammi attended the college at Cæsarea, presided over by R. Hoshaiah I (Yer. Shab. iii. 5d), and later he went to Tiberias and became the disciple of R. Johanan, at whose death he voluntarily observed the ritual period of mourning prescribed on the death of nearest relatives only (M. Ḳ. 25b). When he once heard that his Babylonian contemporary, R. NaḦman, had expressed himself disrespectfully of a misapplied opinion of R. Johanan, he indignantly exclaimed, "Does NaḦman think that because he is the son-in-law of the exilarch, he may speak disparagingly of R. Johanan's opinions?" (Ḥul. 124a). In Tiberias he became the center of a large circle of learned friends, among whom were R. Abbahu, R. Ḥanina (Ḥinena) b. Pappi, R. Isaac, and R. Samuel b. NaḦmani (M. Ḳ. 17a, 20a; Yeb. 48b), but the closest and most enduring friendship existed between him and R. Ḥiyya b. Abba and R. Assi (Berachot 16a, Yer. Pes. iii. 30b), both of whom were Babylonian immigrants.

Tamar's lawsuit

Although R. Ammi had been in Palestine long before R. Assi, they were both ordained at the same time, and received a warm greeting from the students, who sang, "Such men, such men ordain for us! Ordain for us not those who use words like 'sermis' and 'sermit,' or 'hemis' and 'tremis'" (Ket. 17a, Sanh. 14a; see the explanation of these expressions in Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." ii. 145, note 1; Krauss, "Lehnwörter," ii. 276; Jastrow, "Dict." p. 477; idem, "Future of Talmudic Texts," p. 15), which was an allusion to the simple language used by these rabbis as contrasted with the admixtures of foreign terms employed by other teachers. These two, together with R. Ḥiyya, constituted a court of justice, the administration of which at one time endangered their liberty, if not their lives. For a certain offense they had passed a severe sentence on a woman named Tamar, whereupon she preferred charges against them before the proconsular government for interfering with the Roman courts. Fearing the consequences of this denunciation they requested R. Abbahu to exert his influence with the government in their behalf, but he had anticipated the request, and nothing more was heard of the case (Yer. Meg. iii. 74a). Among their Babylonian contemporaries, Ammi and Assi were known as "the Palestinian judges," or as "the distinguished priests of Palestine" (Giṭ. 59b, Sanh. 17b). On the other hand, when R. Ammi quoted a doctrine of Rab or of Samuel, he introduced it with the expression, "Our masters in Babylonia say" (Shebu. 47a; compare Sanh. l.c.).

Rector at Tiberias

Eventually R. Ammi succeeded to the rectorate of the college at Tiberias (Ḥul. 134b), but that did not prevent him from attending to his judicial functions, in conjunction with Assi. Indeed, it is reported that they interrupted their studies hourly, and, rapping at the college door, announced their readiness to hear causes if required (Shab. 10a). They would offer their prayers in the college building, preferring for that purpose the spaces between the pillars to all the thirteen synagogues in the city (Ber. 8a, 30b). Besides filling these offices, they, together with R. Ḥiyya, acted as inspectors and, where necessary, as organizers of schools for children and for adults. One of the instructions given by Ammi to the schoolmasters was to accommodate itinerant scholars in the schoolrooms (Yer. Meg. iii. 74a). In connection with one of the tours of inspection, the following characteristic anecdote is related:(Yer. Ḥag. i. 76c, Midr. Teh. on l.c.).

:They came to a place where there were neither primary schools for children nor advanced schools for adults, and requested that the guardians of the city be summoned. When the councilmen appeared before them, the rabbis exclaimed, "Are these the guardians of the city? They are the destroyers of the city!" When asked who were the guardians, they replied, "The instructors of the young and the masters of the old; for thus the Scripture says (Ps. cxxvii. 1), 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain'"

Besides their familiarity with Halakah and Aggadah, Ammi and Assi also possessed some knowledge of the sciences of their time. They prescribed remedies in cases of sickness (Ab. Zarah, 28a), and studied the habits of animals (Lev. R. xix. 1, Midr. Sam. v.). Much as they valued the study of the Law, they prized pious deeds still higher. Therefore they and R. Ḥiyya did not scruple to absent themselves from college and to miss a lecture by R. Eleazar, when the interment of a stranger required their attention (Yer. Pes. iii. 30b); and when once a considerable sum of money was presented to the college, Ammi took possession of it in the name of the poor, among whom it was subsequently distributed (Ḥul. 134b). Once R. Ammi, accompanied by R. Samuel b. NaḦmani, undertook a journey to the court of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra (267-273), to intercede for Zeir b. Ḥinena, who had been seized by her orders. Zenobia refused to liberate him, remarking, "Your God is accustomed to work miracles for you," when a Saracen, bearing a sword, entered and reported, "With this sword has Bar Nazar killed his brother"; this incident saved Zeir b. Ḥinena (Yer. Ter. viii. 46b). On another occasion he was ready to ransom a man who had repeatedly sold himself to the Ludi (lanistæ, procurers of subjects for gladiatorial contests—Jastrow, "Dict." p. 695). He argued that although the Mishnah (Giṭ. iv. 9) exempted a Jew from the duty of ransoming a man who repeatedly sells himself to non-Israelites, still it was his duty to ransom the children (to save them from sinking into idolatry); so much the greater was this obligation in a case where violent death was imminent. Ammi's colleagues, however, convinced him that the applicant for his protection was totally unworthy of his compassion, and he finally refused to interfere (Giṭ. 46b et seq.).

R. Ammi as Exegete

R. Ammi and R. Assi are very frequently cited in both Talmuds and in the Midrashim, and often together, either as being of the same opinion or as opposed to each other. Owing to this circumstance, the same doctrines are quoted sometimes in the name of one and sometimes in that of the other (compare Ber. 9b; Pes. 119a; Suk. 34a; Ta'anit, 3a; Suk. 44a; M. Ḳ. 3b). The same uncertainty manifests itself even where the reporter had probably received the tradition directly from one of them (Ḥul. 84b; Ber. 20b; Soṭah, 4b; Giṭ. 7a). Following are some specimens of R. Ammi's exegetics:
* Commenting on Lam. iii. 41, "Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens," he observes, "No man's prayer is heard of heaven, unless he carry his soul in the hands which he raises in prayer."
* "The prayer for rain is granted only for the sake of the men of faith." In support of this remark, Ammi, by means of an exegetical substitution of synonymous Hebrew words, quotes the verse (Ps. lxxxv. 11), "When Faith springeth forth from the earth, Beneficence looketh down from heaven" (Ta'anit, 8a).
* In Moses' designation of Israel as "a stiff-necked people" (Ex. xxxiv. 9), Ammi sees not so much a reproach as a praise of its firmness in religion, even in the face of persecution: "The Jew would either live as a Jew or die on the cross" (Ex. R. xlii.).
* According to R. Ammi, death is the consequence of sin, and suffering the penalty of wrongdoing; the first observation he derives from the Scriptural saying (Ezek. xviii. 4), "The soul that sinneth, it shall die"; the second from Ps. lxxxix. 33, "I will visit their transgressions with the rod (of chastisement), and their iniquity with stripes" (Shab. 55a, Eccl. R. on v. 4).

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

*Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 2d ed., iv. 300-307;
*Frankel, Mebo, p. 63a;
*Weiss, Dor, iii. 96;
*Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. ii. 143-173.

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