How can someone tell if their prospective husband or wife is from a Jewish family?
That is the focus of today’s daf. Somewhat surprisingly, the sages considered the families in Bavel to have the most reliable ancestry, and everyone was accepted to be from a Jewish family unless proven otherwise, while in Israel it depended on what was known about each specific family, and in other countries families were expected to show proof that they were Jewish.
Based on this, the Gemara tells stories about rabbinic figures who refused to marry into the families of other sages, apparently because they did not consider their family ancestry reliable enough. The Gemara relates that Ze’iri, who came to study in Israel from Bavel, would try to avoid Rabbi Yohanan – who headed the academy in Israel – because he knew that Rabbi Yohanan wanted him to marry his daughter. After he showed him great honor (nearing a large puddle, Ze’iri put Rabbi Yohanan on his shoulders and carried him across), Rabbi Yohanan asked him why he honored the Torah of Israel but not the daughters of Israel, claiming that there were families of questionable background in both Babylonia and Israel and that all families should be considered equally reliable or suspect.
While the Gemara responds that Rabbi Yohanan had apparently forgotten the teaching of Rabbi Elazar that Ezra the Scribe had “sifted” the families in Bavel until they were “fine flour” (i.e. that Babylonia’s Jewish community really was more “pure” as far as family background was concerned), the conclusion of the Gemara is that the most reliable indicator of Jewish ancestry is the behavior of a family. According to the Gemara, a family that is known to be a quiet family that does not get involved in quarrels is likely a Jewish family. Rashi explains that a problematic family probably honed their talents in verbal battles defending themselves against accusations against their backgrounds.