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Yalta’s Claim to Fame

Dr. Pearl Herzog

Very few women are alluded to by name in the Gemara. And even if they are, they are hardly mentioned. Yalta, the daughter of Rabah bar Avuha, is the rare exception. Known as the wisest woman of her time, she is the most-discussed woman in the Gemara.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

feather ink

Yalta(Aramaic for doe or mountain goat) grew up a daughter of privilege, in a wealthy and learned home. Her father was a scion of the Davidic line and a Reish Galusa; he represented the Jewish community to the Parthian Empire.Yalta’s father would collect the community’s taxes and petition the rulers for its needs.

Yalta’s family lived in Bavel, in the flourishing city of Nehardea(a composite of two words, nehar for river, deah for knowledge) situated on theEuphratesRiver. Nehardea was overrun in 259 CE during an uprising lead by Pappa bar Netzer against King Shabur (Sapor I 241–272). Most of the Jewish population fled the unstable region. Some of the rabbis and scholars relocated to Mechoza, in the general area ofBaghdad. There, a leading disciple of Rav and Shmuel, Rabah bar Avuha,Yalta’s father, established a large yeshivah.

One of Rabah bar Avuha’s favorite students, a talmid chacham and a third-generation Amora, was young Rav Nachman. Rav Nachman had been orphaned at a young age and Rabah took him under his wing. It was this prize student and surrogate son that Rabah bar Avuha chose as a husband for his outstanding daughter,Yalta.

Rav Nachman bar Yaakov was appointed by his father-in-law Rabah bar Avuha as a dayan in his rabbinic court. After the latter passed away, Rav Nachman took over as rosh yeshivah and political leader of Mechoza.

When Nehardea rose from the rubble and many Jews returned, Rav Nachman transferred the yeshivah in Mechoza to that city.


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