Bar Kappara

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BAR KAPPARA (beginning of third century c.e.), Palestinian scholar in the transition period between the tannaim and the amoraim. When quoted in tannaitic sources, he is called by his full name, "R. Eleazar ha-Kappar Beribbie." In his role as an amora, both when expressing his own opinion and when transmitting earlier tannaitic sources, he is referred to by the more informal title "Bar Kappara." The term "Beribbie," often used as a title of respect, may serve here as an abbreviation for "Beribbie Eleazar ha-Kappar," i.e., "the son of R. Eleazar ha-Kappar," as it seems that the father and the son were called by the same name. This fact has lead to some confusion as to which traditions, especially those mentioned in the later literary levels of the tannaitic works and in the talmudic beraitot are to be ascribed to the father and which to the son. Some scholars tend to ascribe almost all of the R. Eleazar ha-Kappar traditions to the father, and others to the son, while others have claimed that they are one and the same person. While there is clear evidence for the distinction between the father and the son – for example the use of the long form "R. Eleazar ben Eleazar ha-Kappar Berribie" (e.g., Tosef., Beẓah 1:7), to refer to the son – the notion that the two engaged in an halakhic dispute with each other (cf. Ḥul. 27b–28a) seems unfounded, as it fails to distinguish between Bar Kappara's role as a tanna, and his role in transmitting earlier tannaitic sources (cf. Sifra, Sheraẓim 10:1, Sifre Deut. 78).

Bar Kappara was a disciple of *Judah ha-Nasi and like his contemporaries, *Ḥiyya bar Abba and *Oshaya Rabbah, was the author of a compilation of halakhot. These were called "The Mishnah of Bar Kappara" or "The Great Mishnayot of Bar Kappara" (bb 154b; Eccles. R. 6:2). This collection, a supplement to the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi, was used to explain obscure passages in the standard Mishnah and brought to the knowledge of the amoraim various traditions and opinions that differed from the Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasi.

The academy of Bar Kappara was reported to be in the "south" (tj, Nid. 3:2, 50c), perhaps in Caesarea or in nearby Parod (Av. Zar. 31a). It has also been suggested that it was in Lydda (Lieberman, p. 123). In 1969, however, a stone, which was apparently the lintel over the main entrance to a bet midrash, was found in the Golan area, inscribed with the words: "This is the bet midrash of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar." It is unclear whether this inscription refers to the father or to the son. Some scholars have suggested that Bar Kappara was the final compiler of Sifrei Zuta, and, though a number of their proofs have been challenged, more research is still needed in order arrive at a definite conclusion in this matter. Among his associates were some of the outstanding scholars of the generation, such as *Oshaya and *Joshua b. Levi, who transmitted his halakhah and aggadah (Ker. 8a; Ber. 34a, et al.).

In addition to his role in the transmission of halakhic tradition, Bar Kappara's opinions on a number of important aggadic traditions have been preserved. For example, it is reported in his name: "Whosoever can calculate the movements of the solstices and planets, but fails to do so, to him is applied the verse [Isa. 5:12] 'But they regard not the work of the Lord; neither have they considered the operation of His hands'" (Shab. 75a). This tradition reflects the notion, common also among gentile sages of the time, that the celestial order reflects both divine wisdom and power, and so represents an early form of "natural theology." He apparently also looked favorably upon the use of Greek, even recommending it to his disciples: "Let the words of Torah be uttered in the language of Japheth [Greek] in the tents of Shem" (Gen. R. 36:8, in reference to Gen. 9:27). While permitting metaphysical speculation, he placed limitations on such speculations (Gen. R. 1:10; cf. Tos. Ḥag. 2:7. tj, Ḥag. 2:1 77c), perhaps in response to the excesses of Gnostic teaching that were widespread at that time. Commenting on the verse, "For ask now of the days past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from one end of heaven unto the other" (Deut. 4:32), Bar Kappara stated: "You may speculate upon what came after creation and not upon what came before it. You may investigate from one end of heaven unto the other, but not what is beyond it." His opposition to asceticism is seen in the statement, "to what does Scripture refer when it says [of the Nazirite, Num. 6:11], 'Make atonement for him, for that he sinned by reason of the soul?' Against which soul did he sin? Against his own soul, in that he denied himself wine. And if one who denied himself only wine is termed a sinner, how much more so he who denies himself the enjoyment of all permitted things" (Ta'an. 11a, and parallel passages).

Bar Kappara showed great talent as a poet, and as an author of fables and epigrams. The Jerusalem Talmud (Ber. 1:8, 3d) quotes a beautiful prayer which he composed and which he used to recite during the repetition of the Thanksgiving blessing in the Amidah. It is related that during the marriage feast of Simeon, son of Judah i (or of his son, see Lev. R. 28:2), Bar Kappara told 300 *fox fables, and so intently did the guests listen that they completely ignored the fact that their food was becoming cold. According to the Talmud, tensions existed between Bar Kappara and the house of Judah ha-Nasi: "On one occasion, Simeon, son of Judah, and Bar Kappara were studying together when a difficulty arose about a certain halakhah. Simeon said to Bar Kappara, 'Only my father, Rabbi Judah, can explain this.' Bar Kappara retorted, 'There is no rabbi in the world who understands it' [Rashi to mk 16a]. Simeon told his father, who was vexed, and when Bar Kappara next presented himself, Judah said to him, 'I have never known you'" (mk 16a), thus disowning him. On another occasion, Bar Kappara and Ben Elasah, the rich but ignorant son-in-law of Judah, were in the nasi's house at a gathering of scholars who were engaged in learned discourse. Bar Kappara proposed to Ben Elasah that he too take part in the discussion, and to this end composed for him a poetic riddle to present to his father-in-law as a genuine problem. The riddle was in fact a criticism of the conduct of Judah's household and of the fear which he inspired. The nasi, realizing from the smile upon Bar Kappara's face that he was the author of the riddle, exclaimed, "I do not recognize you as an elder" (i.e., "I do not wish to grant you recognition"), and Bar Kappara understood that he would not be ordained (tj, mk 3:1, 81c). It is nevertheless told that Bar Kappara was the first to inform the sages, in moving words, of the nasi's death: "Mortals and angels have been wrestling for the holy ark; the angels have won and the ark has been taken captive."


Y.M. Kahana, in: Ha-Asif, 3 (1886), 330–33; Graetz, Hist, 2 (1949), 455–6, 470; Bacher, Tann; Hyman, Toledot, 288–92; Alon, Toledot, 2 (1961), 145–7; S. Lieberman, Sifrei Zuta al Sefer ba-Midbar (1968), 104–24; Epstein, Mishnah 2 (19642), 285–6, 288; Ch. Albeck, Meḥkarim bi-Beraita ve-Tosefta (1944), 69–70; S. Lieberman, Sifrei Zuta (1968), 104–29; Ḥadashot Archeologiyot (April, 1969), 1–2; D. Urman, in: iej, 22 (1972), 16–23; idem, in: Beer-Sheva, 2 (1985), 7–25 (Heb.).

[Yitzhak Dov Gilat /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]