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Elʿazar ben ʿAzaryah


ELʿAZAR BEN ʿAZARYAH (late first and early second centuries ce), Palestinian tanna, was a rabbinic sage of the Mishnaic period. Elʿazar, whose traditions are recorded in the Mishnah and related texts, is described as a wealthy priest who was a direct descendant of Ezra. It is as a result of this status that Elʿazar was appointed to be the head of the academy in Yavneh during the brief period that Gamliʾel of Yavneh was removed from that position (J.T., Ber. 4.1, 7d and parallels). This event is already echoed in the Mishnah (e.g., Yad. chap. 4), but its full import is unclear. The Babylonian tradition claims that "on that very day [when Elʿazar was appointed] ʿeduyyot was taught " (B.T., Ber. 28a). Some modern scholars have understood this tradition to mean that the Mishnaic tractate ʿEduyyot, which they take to be the earliest tractate, was composed on that day under the direction of Elʿazar. Internal evidence, however, does not support this assertion. Whatever the nature of the event, it is clear that it had significant contemporary impact.

The position of honor accorded Elʿazar is illustrated by his frequent appearance in the company of the most respected sages of his generation. Also central to Elʿazar's image is his moderation. This is the ideal that he advocates in the Mishnah (Avot 3.17), where in a list of similar statements he suggests that "if there is no flour there can be no Torah, if no Torah, there can be no flour." Such moderate tendencies are particularly meaningful against the background of his prestige and legendary wealth; he is described as being especially sensitive to the difficulty of supporting oneself in this world (B.T., Pes. 118a). Moderation may have also been one of the lessons in his replacement of Gamliʾel; Gam-liʾel was insensitive to the difficulty of making a living, and while Gamliʾel restricted entrance into the academy, Elʿazar opened the doors to all.

Elʿazar contributed to both the legal and exegetical traditions. His legal record reflects no overall agenda or philosophy, although in certain notable cases moderation is evident. In exegesis he is considered to have been willing to accept the simple meaning of scripture.

See Also



The Traditions of Eleazar ben Azariah, by Tzvee Zahavy (Missoula, Mont., 1977), is the most comprehensive work available on Elʿazar. The traditions relating the ascension of Elʿazar to the leadership of the Yavneh academy are analyzed by Robert Goldenberg in "The Deposition of Rabban Gamaliel II: An Examination of the Sources," Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (Autumn 1972): 167190. Essential contributions to understanding these traditions are also made by Louis Ginzberg in Perushim ve-iddushim bi-Yerushalmi, vol. 4 (New York, 1961), pp. 174220.

New Sources

Boyarin, Daniel. "A Tale of Two Synods: Nicaea, Yavneh, and Rabbinic Ecclesiology." Exemplaria 12 (2000): 2162.

David Kraemer (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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