Johanan bar Nappaha

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See Yohanan for more rabbis by this name.

Johanan bar Nappaha (Hebrew: יוחנן בר נפחא Yoḥanan bar Nafḥa) (also known simply as Rabbi Yochanan, or as Johanan bar Nafcha) (lived 180–279 CE)[1] was a leading rabbi in the early era of the Talmud. He was an amora of the second generation.

Johanan's opinion is quoted thousands of times across the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds. The compilation of the Jerusalem Talmud is generally ascribed to him.[2][3]


Opinions vary on whether "bar Nappaha" (literally "son [of the] blacksmith") derives from his father's profession, or from the name of his ancestral region, or perhaps represents a physical or psychological quality of his.

He was born in Sepphoris in the Roman-ruled Galilee (then part of Syria Palaestina province). His father, a blacksmith, died prior to his birth, and his mother died soon after; he was raised by his grandfather in Sepphoris. Judah ha-Nasi took the boy under his wing and taught him Torah. Due to the disparity in ages, though — Johanan was only fifteen years old when Rabbi Yehudah died — Johanan was not one of Yehuda's prime students; rather, he studied more under Rabbi Yehudah's students. It is said that he sat seventeen rows behind Rav (Abba Arikha) in the school taught by Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi.[4] He studied Torah diligently all his life, even selling a field house and an olive shed that he had inherited from his parents in order to be able to devote his time to study;[5] after that was spent, he lived a life of poverty.

When the time came to start teaching Torah, Johanan decided to move from Sepphoris to Tiberias, so as not to show disrespect to great rabbis in Sepphoris who did not have their own centers of Torah study. He was considered, however, the greatest rabbi in the Land of Israel, and was even esteemed in the other center of Rabbinical Judaism, Babylonia — so much so that after the deaths of Abba Arikha and Samuel of Nehardea in Babylonia, Johanan was considered by Babylonian Jews as the greatest rabbi of the generation. He started a school in Tiberias, and let anybody in if they wanted to learn, a controversial move at the time. He laid the foundations for the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud). He cites many traditions relating to the destruction of the Second Temple.

His colleague, Shimon ben Lakish, was also his brother-in-law. He is believed to have never left Israel in all his life, a rare feat for rabbis in those days, who frequently visited Babylonia. Johanan was known for being healthy and of a goodly countenance and reportedly lived more than one hundred years. The Talmud relates of him:[6] "He that wishes to see the beauty of Rabbi Johanan, let him bring a silver chalice when it comes out of the silversmith's refinery, and let him fill it with the red kernels of a pomegranate, and then let him adorn the chalice around its brim with red roses, and then place it between the sunlight and the shade. The emanating radiance would be somewhat similar to the beauty of Rabbi Johanan." Another Talmudic story about him relates that Johanan was accustomed to go and sit at the gates of the bathing place. He said: "Let the daughters of Israel look at me when they come up from the mikvah and their children will be as handsome as I am and they will learn Torah like I do." He then said a special verse so no jealousy or haughtiness would result from this.[7]

Eleazar ben Pedat succeeded Yohanan as head of the Tiberias school. Another student was Rabbi Isaac the smith.


Johanan's method in deciding halakha was to establish broad rules that apply in many cases; for example, he held that the halakha always follows a s'tam mishnah (an undisputed anonymous mishnah), and he had rules for which tanna ("Mishnah teacher") to follow in cases of dispute.


  1. ^ Why We Pray What We Pray by Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, page 84
  2. ^ Rambam and Yerushalmi
  3. ^ An Overview of the Talmud Yerushalmi
  4. ^ Rabbi Nosson Dovid Rabinowich (ed.), The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon, Jerusalem 1988, p. 71, quoting the Babylonian Talmud (Chullin 137b).
  5. ^ Salomon Buber (ed.), Pesiqata Derav Kahana, Lvov 1868, p. 178b (s.v. ולקחתם לכם)
  6. ^ Baba Metzia 84a
  7. ^ Bava Metzia (Talmud) 84a
  • Margaliyot, Mordekhai, ed. Entziklopedya l'chachme haTalmud v'hag'onim (2d ed., vol. 1). Jerusalem, 1945 or 1946.
  • Gross, Moses David. Avos hadoros: monografyot al avos haMishna v'haTalmud (5th ed.). Tel Aviv: Yavneh, 1966.