Shimʿon ben Laqish
SHIMʿON BEN LAQISH
SHIMʿON BEN LAQISH was a third-century amora, generally known in the Jerusalem Talmud by his full name and in the Babylonian Talmud by the acronymic form ReSH (Rabbi Shimʿon) Laqish. Although Shimʿon may have had some early training in rabbinic learning (see J.T., Kil. 9.4, 32b), he eventually became a circus gladiator, perhaps out of financial distress (see J.T., Git. 4.9, 46a–b; Ter. 8.5, 45d). Later, a chance encounter with Yoḥanan (bar Nappaḥaʾ) led him to marry that sage's sister and enter the world of the rabbinate. He settled in Tiberias, the site of Yoḥanan's academy, and there became his colleague and close companion. The Talmud refers to them as the "two great[est] men of the world," that is, of their time (J.T., Ber. 8.6, 12c; and see B.T., Ket. 54b).
As a scholar Shimʿon was noted for the encyclopedic breadth of his learning, his faithful loyalty to received tradition, and his dialectical acuity (J.T., Git. 3.1, 44d; B.T., San. 24a). In his teaching he emphasized the importance of regular study of Torah (J.T., Ber. 9.5, 14d) and was reputed to review each day's lesson forty times in advance of presenting it before his teacher (B.T., Taʿan. 8a). Shimʿon defended the honor and privileges of the learned elite against patriarchal pressures for a more monarchial structure in rabbinic leadership (J.T., San. 2.1, 19d–20a; Gn. Rab. 78.12). While he condemned the Romans as more cruel than all previous oppressors combined (Lv. Rab. 13.5), he also praised them for enforcing justice in the land (Gn. Rab. 9.13; to be sure, he also spoke in defense of flattery, B.T., Sot. 41b). He was noted for his custom of avoiding anyone whose personal honesty was subject to question and, perhaps as a result of his earlier career, he was noted for his personal bravery.
Some of Shimʿon's aggadic opinions are interesting for their counter-traditional stand. For example, he is said to have claimed that the Jews borrowed the names of the angels from the Babylonians during their enforced stay in that land and that the events described in the Book of Job never took place (J.T., Sot. 5.6, 20d).
Shimʿon is said to have died of grief after his dear friend Yoḥanan made mocking reference to his martial skill during a halakhic argument (B.T., B.M. 84a). Yoḥanan himself, it is said, thereupon wasted away of remorse.
Aaron Hyman's Toledot tannaʾim ve-amoraʾim (1910; reprint, Jerusalem, 1964) is an uncritical compendium of traditional lore concerning Shimʿon. It is almost useless as a tool for modern, critical biography, but it remains valuable as an encyclopedic gathering of information. Avraham Wasserman's "Resh Laqish bein ha-lisṭim," Tarbiz 49 (1980): 197–198, deals with one aspect of Shimʿon's career.
Brettler, Marc Zvi. "Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish at the Gladiator's Banquet: Rabbinic Observations on the Roman Arena." HTR 83 (1990): 93–98.
Robert Goldenberg (1987)
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