Shmuel Yarchina’a

June 14, 2006

Shmuel was one of the most famous of the Amoraim of “Bavel” (Babylonia) and he flourished in the first generation of Amoraim. His greatest expertise in Torah matters was deemed to be in the area of monetary law. That is why the general rule is laid down in the Talmud that in his disputes with his great contemporary, friend and Torah adversary, Rav, the halachah is according to the opinion of Rav in ritual matters and according to the opinion of Shmuel in monetary matters.

Shmuel is also referred to occasionally as “Shvor Malka,” which is the Aramaic form of the name of the Persian king, Shapur, with whom Shmuel was quite friendly. Because of this friendship, many advantages were gained for the Jewish Community.

In the opinion of Shmuel, the Torah prohibits the Jew from deceiving any human being, Jew or otherwise (Chullin 94a), because “Before the throne of the Creator, there is no difference between Jews and non-Jews.” (Talmud Yerushalmi, Rosh HaShanah 57a)

Shmuel was also an expert physician and astronomer. Because of his skill in astronomy, and his expertise in determining the new-moon, he was given the name Yarchina’a, based on the word “yerach,” meaning moon. He once said (Berachot 58b), “The paths in heaven are as clear to me as the streets of Nehardea.” After the death of Shila, he was appointed Head of the Yeshiva of Nehardea, one of the great institutions of Torah learning in Bavel.
Shmuel was often quite literal in his interpretation of the Torah’s Laws. For example, the Torah commands that a robber return a stolen object. Shmuel ruled that a robber who’d stolen a beam and built it into his palace, if he wished to repent and fulfill the Command of the Torah to return the stolen object, he must dismantle his entire palace and retrieve the stolen beam. (This is not necessarily the halachah in this case, especially if the aggrieved party is willing to accept payment for the beam or another beam).

Shmuel was, for others, a “meikil,” a lenient interpreter of the halachah. For example, in Eruvin 79b, Shmuel declared that it was permissible to kindle a fire on Shabbat for a woman in childbirth, or for one who was seriously ill. Regarding the question about rending a garment upon the simultaneous deaths of one’s father, mother, brother and sister, Shmuel ruled that one tear was sufficient (Moed Katan 26b). For himself, however, he was a “machmir,” a stringent interpreter of the Law. When he heard of the death of Rav, his beloved friend and Torah adversary, Moed Katan 24a records that he tore twelve of his own garments, and said, “Gone is the one before I stood in awe.”