Ben Zoma, Simeon

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BEN ZOMA, SIMEON (second century), tanna. A contemporary of *Akiva, he appears to have studied under *Joshua b. Hananiah (Naz. 8:1, and cf. Tos. Ḥag. 2:6). The Mishnah says that he was the last of the authoritative biblical expositors (Sot. 9:15). According to Tosefta Ber. 6:2, when Ben Zoma was convinced that the scholar was the "crown of creation," and when he would see the multitude of different kinds of people and professions which populated the world, he would declare: "Blessed be He who created all of them to serve me." In further explanation of his position he continued: "In what labors was Adam involved before he obtained bread to eat? He had to plow, sow, reap, bind the sheaves, thresh and winnow and select the ears of corn; he had to grind them and sift the flour, to knead and bake, and only then could he eat; whereas I get up and find all these things prepared for me. And how much Adam had to labor before he found a garment to wear. He had to shear, wash the wool, comb it, spin and weave it, and only then did he acquire a garment to wear; whereas I get up and find all these things done for me. All kinds of craftsmen come early to the door of my house, and I rise in the morning and find all these things before me" (Ber. 58a, cf. Tos. Ber. 6:2). Many of his sayings became proverbs, such as "Who is wise? – he who learns from every man. Who is mighty? – he who subdues his evil inclination. Who is rich? – he who rejoices in his lot. Who is honored? – he who honors his fellow men" (Avot 4:1). He was one of the tannaim who occupied themselves with cosmological speculation, the ma'aseh bereshit (Tos. Ḥag. 2:6). According to Tos. Ḥag. 2:4 he was one of the four sages who "entered paradise," it is said (ibid.) that "he cast a look and went mad," while his companion Ben Azzai died as a result of this mystical experience. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Hag. 2:1, 77b) their roles are reversed. According to the Bavli he was regarded as "a disciple of the sages" (Kid. 49b and Rashi ibid.), and as one of those "who discussed before the sages" (Sanh. 17b and Rashi ibid.). Nevertheless, he was considered an outstanding scholar, so that it was said that whoever sees Ben Zoma in a dream "may hope for wisdom" (Ber. 57b).


Bacher, Tann; Hyman, Toledot, 1172–73; S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Feshutah, 5 (1962), 1294.

[Zvi Kaplan]