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MEʾIR (second century ce), Palestinian tanna. According to legend, Meʾir was descended from a family of proselytes that traced its line back to the Roman emperor Nero. He allegedly studied with both ʿAqivaʾ ben Yosef and Yishmaʿeʾl. Meʾir was one of the five rabbis secretly ordained by Yehudah ben Bavaʾ during the Hadrianic persecutions that followed the collapse of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (c. 132135 ce), and he was one of the seven disciples of ʿAqivaʾ who issued a famous edict concerning the intercalation of the year that was crucial to the maintenance of the Jewish festivals.

Meʾir is associated with Elishaʿ ben Avuyah, a heretic also known as Aer, "the Other." Some rabbinic sources depict Meʾir as a sometime student of Elishaʿ (B.T., ag. 15a).

The tomb of the legendary Meʾir Baʿal ha-Nes in Tiberias, a famous place of pilgrimage, is identified in some accounts as the burial place of Meʾir. Other Talmudic traditions suggest that Meʾir died in self-imposed exile in Asia Minor, where, at his request, he was buried beside the sea so that he could be near the waters that wash up on the shores of the Land of Israel (J.T., Kil. 9.4, 32c).

Meʾir is prominently linked to the major rabbinic legislative and political activities of his generation. He served as the akham ("sage") of the revived Sanhedrin that met at Usha in the Galilee. His ability to defend both sides of opposing legal viewpoints was greatly extolled. Ultimately, his opposition to the authority of the nasiʾ Shimʿon ben Gamliʾel was the basis for his exile from Israel.

Legal rulings ascribed to Meʾir make up an important part of the earliest rabbinic compilations, the Mishnah and the Tosefta. The Talmud states that all anonymous rulings in the Mishnah are to be attributed to Meʾir. Epstein (1957) believes that the corpus of his teachings was one of the primary documents used in the redaction of the Mishnah. Since the laws in the Mishnah form the basis for much of Talmudic and later rabbinic thought and practice, it is fair to say that Meʾir is one of the most influential classical rabbinic figures.

Meʾir's dicta deal with most of the central values of rabbinic Judaism; he placed extreme emphasis on the study of Torah and strongly castigated the unlettered. One tradition attributed to him indicates his understanding of rabbinic ritual as a coherent system of practice that demanded punctilious observance: "Rabbi Meʾir used to say, 'There is no man in Israel who does not perform one hundred commandments each day [and recite over them one hundred blessings]. And there is no man in Israel who is not surrounded by [reminders of the] commandments: [Every person wears] phylacteries on his head, phylacteries on his arm, has a mezuzah on his doorpost and four fringes on his garment around him'" (Tosefta, Ber. 6.2425). Many Midrashic teachings and several fables are also attributed to Meʾir.

See Also



No systematic critical analysis has been made of the rich and extensive corpus of traditions associated with Meʾir. Two biographical treatments of Meʾir are Adolf Blumenthal's Rabbi Meir: Leben und Wirken eines jüdischen Weisen (Frankfurt, 1888), which is a classical treatment of rabbinic biography, and Naomi G. Cohen's "Rabbi Meir: A Descendant of Anatolian Proselytes," Journal of Jewish Studies 23 (Spring 1972): 51-59, which critically examines the sources pertaining to Meʾir's lineage. Jacob N. Epstein in his Prolegomena ad Litteras Tannaiticus (Jerusalem, 1957) discusses, in Hebrew, the role of Meʾir's materials in the formation of the Mishnah. Robert Goldenberg's analysis in The Sabbath-Law of Rabbi Meir (Missoula, Mont., 1978) is confined to the examination of Meʾir's contribution to the laws of a single tractate. Rabbi Meir: Collected Sayings (Jerusalem, 1967) is a compendium, in Hebrew, of all the references to Meʾir in rabbinic literature, edited by Israel Konovitz. Avigdor Shinan in his "The Brother of Rabbi Meir," Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature 2 (1983): 720, analyzes a Midrashic story about Meʾir.

New Sources

Kushelevsky, Rella. "The Image of Woman in Transition from East to West: The Tale of R. Meir and His Friend's Wife in the 'Book of Comfort' and in Manuscript Parma 2295 de Rossi 563." Aschkenas 11 (2001): 938.

Tzvee Zahavy (1987)

Revised Bibliography