Eleazar ben Damma

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ELEAZAR BEN DAMMA (early second century c.e.), tanna. Eleazar is mentioned in two places in the early tannaitic sources, both in connection with R. *Ishmael. In Tosefta Shevuot 3:4 Ben Damma asked R. Ishmael a question concerning a halakhah, who in responding called him "My son!" In Tosef. Hul. 2:22–23 it is told that "R. Eleazar Ben Damma was bitten by a snake and Jacob of Kefar Sama came to heal him in the name of Jesus b. Pandira. Ishmael said to him, 'it is forbidden, Ben Damma.' He rejoined 'I will cite a verse to prove that he may heal me,' but he did not manage to prove it before he died. Whereupon Ishmael said: 'Happy art thou, Ben Damma, that thou hast departed from this world in peace and hast not transgressed the words of the sages'" (cf. tj, Av. Zar. 2:2, 40d). A later Midrash (Koh. R. 1) retells the story from the Tosefta, but refers to Ben Damma as R. Ishmael's nephew, a detail lacking in the earlier tradition. He is similarly described as R. Ishmael's nephew in the Babylonian Talmud Ber. 56b, where he asked his "uncle" to interpret his dream for him. This elaboration of earlier stories, including the filling in of the family ties between earlier talmudic figures, is characteristic of the later talmudic tradition, especially the Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud also tells of his inclination toward Greek culture, as reflected in the following passage: "Ben Damma, son of Ishmael's sister, once asked Ishmael, 'May such as I who have studied the whole of the Torah study Greek wisdom?' Ishmael thereupon read to him the verse, 'This book of the law shall not depart from thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night' (Josh. 1:8) and added, 'Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night'" (Men. 99b). His name is cited in Heikhalot Rabbati, 4, as one of those arrested by the Romans, but it appears that the reference is to Judah b. Damma, one of the *Ten Martyrs enumerated in the Elleh Ezkerah published by Jellinek (Beit ha-Midrash, 2 (19673), 64).


Hyman, Toledot, 161.

[Jehonatan Etz-Chaim]

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Eleazar ben Damma

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Eleazar ben Damma