Eleazar ben Ḥarsom

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ELEAZAR BEN ḤARSOM , in the aggadah described as a priest and a scholar. No mention is made of him in the extant tannaitic sources. In one place in the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'an. 4:8, 69a; cf. Lam. R. 2:2) it is stated that "there were 10,000 cities on the king's mountain; Eleazar b. Ḥarsom owned 1,000 of them, and corresponding to them he owned 1,000 ships on the sea, and all were destroyed." It would seem from the context that they were destroyed during the Bar Kokhba revolt. In another place (Yoma 3:6, 40d) the Jerusalem Talmud relates that "his mother made him a tunic worth 20,000 minas and his brother priests would not allow him to wear it because [it was transparent and] he looked as though he were naked." In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 35b) these two traditions about his wealth are joined together, and integrated with an image of Eleazar b. Ḥarsom as a wandering scholar, who took a sack of flour upon his shoulder and went from city to city and from province to province to study Torah. The moral of the story is stated explicitly at the end: "Eleazar b. Ḥarsom condemns the rich" who will not be able to justify their neglect of learning on the plea that the cares of their wealth prevented them from devoting themselves to study. In Kid. 49b he has turnedinto the very epitome of the wealthy man: "[If one betroths a woman] on the condition that he is wealthy, it is not necessary that he be as wealthy as Eleazar b. Ḥarsom." His status as a priest is elaborated further in Yoma 9a, where – according to one alternative tradition – he is accorded the rank of High Priest during the time of the Second Temple. In the list of martyrs given in Lamentations Rabbah (2:2) it says "…there are some who exclude Tarfon and include Eleazar b. Ḥarsom," but his name is not included in the other lists (Mid. Ps. to 9; Piyyutei Yannai, ed. by M. Zulay (1938), 374). It is obvious that all these different traditions cannot refer to the same historical figure, nor is it likely that a high priest would be identified as a scholar with the title "rabbi." Rather, each tradition must be seen as reflecting the narrative and moralistic concerns of each storyteller and each editor as determined by the specific context.


Hyman, Toledot, 176–7; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 5 (1951), 21.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]

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Eleazar ben Ḥarsom

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