Heretics and Believers in Judaism Edit

Introduction Edit

In the course Heretics and Believers, the issues of belief, heresy, community, and dissent in the classical Jewish (tannaitic and amoraic) texts will be discussed. The primary discussion will be on the figure Elisha ben Abuya, a first century Rabbi who is famous for leaving his community. The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud will be only source used for this course.

Jewish Text Structure Edit

Written Law (Torah)--------------------------------------------------------------Oral Law

                                       Oral Law 
                                     Tannaitic Text    70-200 CE   
                                3.Midrash Halacha (comments on Torah Text)
                                     Amoraic Text
                                1.Jersalem Talmud 400 CE
                                2.Babylonian Talmud 500-600 CE

Full Text Elisha ben Abuya Story Babylonia Talmud Edit

Aher mutilated the shoots.11 Of him Scripture says: Suffer not thy mouth to bring thy flesh into guilt.12 What does it refer to? — He saw that permission was granted to Metatron13 to sit and write down14 the merits of Israel. Said he: It is taught as a tradition that on high15 there is no sitting16 and no emulation, and no back,17 and no weariness.18 Perhaps, — God forfend! — there are two divinities! [Thereupon] they led Metatron forth, and punished him with sixty fiery lashes,19 saying to him: Why didst thou not rise before him when thou didst see him? Permission was [then] given to him to strike out the merits of Aher. A Bath Kol20 went forth and said: Return, ye backsliding children21 — except Aher.22 [Thereupon] he said: Since I23 have been driven forth from yonder world,24 let me go forth and enjoy this world. So Aher went forth into evil courses.25 He went forth, found a harlot and demanded her. She said to him: Art thou not Elisha b. Abuyah? [But] when he tore a radish26 out of its bed on the Sabbath and gave it to her, she said: It is another [Aher].27 After his apostasy, Aher asked R. Meir [a question], saying to him: What is the meaning of the verse: God hath made even the one as28 well as the other?29 He replied: It means that for everything that God created He created [also] its counterpart. He created mountains, and created hills; He created seas, and created rivers. Said [Aher] to him: R. Akiba, thy master, did not explain it thus, but [as follows]: He created righteous, and created wicked; He created the Garden of Eden,30 and created Gehinnom.31 Everyone has two portions, one in the Garden of Eden and one in Gehinnom. The righteous man, being meritorious,32 takes his own portions and his fellow's portion in the Garden of Eden. The wicked man, being guilty,33 takes his own portion and his fellow's portion in Gehinnom. R. Mesharsheya said: What is the Biblical proof for this? In the case of the righteous, it is written: Therefore in their land34 they shall possess double.35 In the case of the wicked it is written: And destroy them with double destruction.36 After his apostasy, Aher asked R. Meir: What is the meaning of the verse: Gold and glass cannot equal it; neither shall the exchange thereof be vessels of fine gold?37 He answered: These are the words of the Torah, which are hard to acquire like vessels of fine gold, but are easily destroyed38 like vessels of glass. Said [Aher] to him: R. Akiba, thy master, did not explain thus, but [as follows]: Just as vessels of gold and vessels of glass, though they be broken, have a remedy,39 even so a scholar, though he has sinned, has a remedy.40 [Thereupon, R. Meir] said to him: Then, thou, too, repent! He replied: I have already heard from behind the Veil:41 Return ye backsliding children — except Aher. Our Rabbis taught: Once Aher was riding on a horse on the Sabbath,42 and R. Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah43 at his mouth. Said [Aher] to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already measured by the paces of my horse that thus far extends the Sabbath limit.44 He replied: Thou, too, go back! [Aher] answered: Have I not already told thee that I have already heard from behind the Veil: ‘Return ye backsliding children’ — except Aher. [R. Meir] prevailed upon him and took him, to a schoolhouse. [Aher] said to a child: Recite for me thy verse!45 [The child] answered: There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.46 He then took him to another schoolhouse.47 [Aher] said to a child: Recite for me thy verse! He answered: For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before Me, saith the Lord God48 . He took him to yet another schoolhouse, and [Aher] saidto a child: Recite for me thy verse! He answered: And thou, that art spoiled, what doest thou, that thou clothest thyself with scarlet, that thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, that thou enlargest thine eyes with paint? In vain dost thou make thyself fair etc.1 He took him to yet another schoolhouse until he took him to thirteen schools: all of them quoted in similar vein. When he said to the last one, Recite for my thy verse, he answered: But unto the wicked God saith: ‘What hast thou to do to declare My statutes etc.?2 That child was a stutterer, so it sounded as though he answered: ‘But to Elisha3 God saith’. Some say that [Aher] had a knife with him, and he cut him up and sent him to the thirteen schools: and some say that he said: Had I a knife in my hand I would have cut him up. When Aher died,4 they said:5 Let him not be judged, nor let him enter the world to come. Let him not be judged, because he engaged in the study of the Torah; nor let him enter the world to come, because he sinned. R. Meir said: It were better that he should be judged and that he should enter the world to come. When I die I shall cause6 smoke to rise from his grave.7 When R. Meir died, smoke rose up from Aher's grave. R. Johanan said: [What] a mighty deed to burn his master! There was one amongst us, and we cannot save him;8 if I were to take him by the hand, who would snatch him from me! [But] said he:9 When I die, I shall extinguish the smoke from his grave.10 When R. Johanan died, the smoke ceased from Aher's grave. The public mourner11 began [his oration] concerning him12 thus: Even the janitor13 could not stand before thee, O master! Aher's daughter [once] came before Rabbi and said to him: O master, support me! He asked her: ‘Whose daughter art thou?’ She replied: I am Aher's daughter. Said he: Are any of his children left in the world? Behold it is written: He shall have neither son nor son's son among his people, nor any remaining in his dwellings.14 She answered: Remember his Torah15 and not his deeds. Forthwith, a fire came down and enveloped Rabbi's bench.16 [Thereupon] Rabbi wept and said: If it be so on account of those who dishonour her,17 how much more so on account of those who honour her! But how did R. Meir learn Torah at the mouth of Aher? Behold Rabbah b. Bar Hana said that R. Johanan said: What is the meaning of the verse, For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts?18 [This means that] if the teacher is like an angel of the Lord of hosts, they should seek the Law at his mouth, but if not, they should not seek the Law at his mouth! — Resh Lakish answered: R. Meir found a verse and expounded it [as follows]: Incline thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thy heart unto my knowledge.19 It does not say, ‘unto their knowledge’, but ‘unto my knowledge’.20 R. Hanina said, [he decided it] from here: Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house etc.21 The verses contradict one another!22 There is no contradiction: in the one case Scripture refers to an adult,23 in the other to a child. When R. Dimi came [to Babylon] he said: In the West,24 they say: R. Meir ate the date and threw the kernel25 away. Raba expounded: What is the meaning of the verse: I went down to the garden of nuts, to look at the green plants of the valley etc.?26 Why are the scholars likened to the nut? To tell you that just as [in the case of] the nut, though it be spoiled with mud and filth, yet are its contents not contemned, so [in the case of] a scholar, although he may have sinned, yet is his Torah not contemned. Link titleRabbah b. Shila [once] met Elijah.27 He said to him: What is the Holy One, blessed be He, doing? He answered: He utters traditions in the name28 of all the Rabbis, but in the name of R. Meir he does not utter. Rabbah asked him, Why? — Because he learnt traditions at the mouth of Aher. Said [Rabbah] to him: But why? R. Meir found a pomegranate; he ate [the fruit] within it, and the peel he threw away! He answered: Now29 He says: Meir my son says: When a man suffers,30 towhat expression does the Shechinah give utterance? ‘My head is heavy, my arm is heavy’.31 If the Holy One, blessed be He, is thus grieved over the blood of the wicked, how much more so over the blood of the righteous that is shed. Samuel found Rab Judah leaning on the door-bolt weeping. So he said to him: O, keen scholar,32 wherefore dost thou weep? He replied: Is it a small thing that is written concerning the Rabbis?33 Where is he that counted, where is he that weighed? Where is he that counted the towers?34 ‘Where is he that counted?’ — for they counted all the letters in the Torah. ‘Where is he that weighed?’ — for they weighed the light and the heavy35 in the Torah. ‘Where is he that counted the towers?’ — for they taught three hundred halachoth36 concerning a ‘tower which flies in the air’.37 And R. Ammi said: Three hundred questions38 did Doeg39 and Ahitophel40 raise concerning a ‘tower which flies in the air’. Yet we have learnt: Three kings and four commoners41 have no share in the world to come. What then shall become of us? Said [Samuel] to him. O, keen scholar, there was impurity42 in their hearts. — But what of Aher?43 — Greek song did not cease from his mouth.44 It is told of Aher that when he used to rise [to go] from the schoolhouse,45 many heretical books46 used to fall from his lap.Nimos the weaver47 asked R. Meir: Does all wool that goes down into the [dyeing] kettle come up [properly dyed]?48 He replied: All that was clean on its mother49 comes up [properly dyed], all that was not clean on its mother does not come up [properly dyed].

Fragmented text Elisha ben Abuya Story Jerusalem Talmud Edit

Links to complete Babylonian Talmud Edit


Instruction Edit

In this course every student must submit a written response of the posted question by right clicking the edit sign below the question. This exercise should help students understand the material, and compare their responses to their classmates’ responses.

The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud often conflict each other; therefore, each question should have two responses, one for the Jerusalem Talmud and one for the Babylonian Talmud.

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