LEVI

LEVI (fl. third quarter of the third century), Palestinian amora. Generally Levi is mentioned without his patronymic but he may be identical to Levi b. Laḥma (Ḥama) mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (RH 29b). (However, as the name Levi b. Lahma never appears in Palestinian sources, he may have gone to Babylon.) He was a contemporary of R. Ze'ira I, R. Abba b. Kahana, and R. Ḥama b. Ukba (Ukva). Levi was primarily an aggadist; his frequent quotations from Ḥama b. Ḥanina suggest that he was his pupil. He and R. Judah b. Naḥman gave popular lectures on alternate Sabbaths in Johanan's academy, for which each was paid two selas. On one occasion his lecture, in which he reconciled two opposing opinions, so pleased R. Johanan that he appointed him to a regular lectureship, a post which he held for 22 years. In those days non-ordained scholars apparently lectured standing, while ordained scholars lectured sitting, and R. Johanan expressed the hope that one day he would be privileged to deliver his lectures sitting (Gen. R. 98:11; cf. TJ, Hor. 3:9, 48c; Eccles. R. 6:2). It seems from this that he was not then an ordained teacher. There are no halakhot in his name, but he does sometimes explain halakhah (e.g., on Ber. 60b; RH 22a, 29b), though even then his teachings have an aggadic flavor. His lectures were so highly esteemed that R. Ze'ira, who generally did not have a high opinion of aggadah, nevertheless advised scholars (ḥavrayya, colleagues) to attend his lectures, as they were always instructive (TJ, RH 4:1, 59b). Levi sometimes lectured on the same text for quite a long time and could easily switch from one interpretation to the opposite (TJ, Sanh. 10:2, 28b). He claimed the ability to link together texts from the different sections of the Bible and penetrate to their inner meaning – an ability which he did not concede to most preachers (Song R. 1:10). Frequently he explained different words in biblical texts by reference to Arabic words (Gen. R. 87:1; Ex. R. 42:4; Song R. 4: 1) and he may have lived in Arabia for a while. He also composed elaborate parables to elucidate texts, and was regarded as a master of interpretation (Gen. R. 62:5). Among his numerous sayings are: "The punishment for (false) measures is more severe than for incest" (BB 88b); "Living without a wife is not living" (Gen. R. 17); "However much a man does for his soul, he does not fully discharge his obligations, … because it comes from on high" (Lev. R. 4:2); "To rob a human is worse than robbing the Almighty" (BB 88b). His yearning for the messianic period is reflected in a number of his statements, such as: "If Israel would keep but one Sabbath properly, the son of David would immediately come" (TJ, Ta'an. 1:1, 64a: see also Song R. 3:1).   -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Frankel, Mavo, 111; A. Bruell, Fremdsprachliche Redensarten (1869), 41–46, 50; Bacher, Pal Amor; Hyman, Toledot, 8, 51, 57; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 256f. (Harry Freedman)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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