Akavyah ben Mahalalel

views updated


AKAVYAH BEN MAHALALEL (first century c.e.), member of the Sanhedrin. He engaged in a dispute with *Ḥanina Segan ha-Kohanim and *Dosa b. Harkinas (Neg. 1:4) and the three are mentioned consecutively in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (Version a, 19–21). Akavyah was offered the position of av bet din on condition that he renounce four of his decisions in which he disagreed with the majority but he declined, declaring: "It is better for me to be called a fool all my days than that I should become even for one hour a wicked man in the sight of God; and that men should say, 'He withdrew his opinions for the sake of getting power'" (Eduy. 5:6). Three of these dissenting opinions appear in the Mishnah (Neg. 5:3; Nid. 2:6; Bek. 3:4). A fourth, concerning the administration of the water of bitterness to a proselyte or emancipated slave suspected of infidelity to her spouse, indirectly resulted in Akavyah's excommunication. After testimony had been adduced in the name of Shemaiah and Avtalyon, he scornfully remarked, 'Degma hishkuha,' i.e., "they made her drink in simulation only," or, as explained by others, "men who were like her (i.e., proselytes or descendants of proselytes) made her drink" Eduy., ibid.). Although he did not retract his statements before his death, Akavyah admonished his son to accept the opinion of the majority. His son's entreaty, "Commend me to your colleagues," elicited the reply: "Your own deeds will bring your commendation or your rejection" (Eduy. 5:7). According to the Mishnah Akavyah died while still under the ban of excommunication, and the bet din stoned his coffin (ibid., 6). R. Kahana considered him a "rebellious elder," but he was not executed because he based his opinions on tradition (Sanh. 88a). Judah b. Ilai (Eduy., ibid.) and Judah b. Bathyra (Sif. Num. 105), however, denied that Akavyah was put under a ban. The former declared, "God forbid that (we would think that) Akavyah was excommunicated, for the Temple court was never closed in the face of any man in Israel so great in wisdom and in fear of sin as Akavyah b. Mahalalel." Akvayah's maxim, "Reflect upon three things and you will not come within the power of sin: know whence you came, whither you are going, and before whom you are destined to give account" (Avot 3:1; cf. arn1, 29), illustrates his own stress on ethical conduct.


Mendelsohn, in: rej, 41 (1900), 31–44; Marmorstein, ibid., 81 (1925), 181–7; Hoenig, in: Studies and Essays in Honor of A.Neuman (1962), 291–8; Alon, Meḥkarim. 1 (1957), 115–20; J. Brand, in: Minḥah li-Yhudah (Zlotnick) (1950), 5–9, 19.

[Bialik Myron Lerner]