Eleazar ben Shammua

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ELEAZAR BEN SHAMMUA (c. 150 c.e.), tanna. He is generally referred to simply as "Eleazar," without his patronymic. He is quoted frequently in the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and the Midrashei Halakhah, appearing together with R. Meir, R. Shimon, R, Johanan ha-Sandelar, and other students of R. Akiva. Many of Eleazar's mishnayot were incorporated into the Mishnah by Judah ha-Nasi. It is difficult, however, to determine the precise extent of this incorporation because of the repeated confusion throughout talmudic literature between Eleazar and Eliezer (b. Hyrcanus). Tannaitic sources record that when Eleazar and Johanan ha-Sandelar reached Sidon on their way to Nisibis to study under *Judah b. Bathyra they recalled Ereẓ Israel, and with tears streaming from their eyes, returned home, declaring, "Living in Ereẓ Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot of the Torah" (Sif. Deut. 80). He is the author of the law that the witnesses of its delivery validate a get (bill of divorce) or any other document, even if the document itself is unsigned by witnesses (Git. 9:4). Among his aggadic statements is: "The Bible and the sword came down from heaven, bound together. God said to the Jews: 'If you keep what is written in this book, you will be saved from the sword, but if not, you will ultimately be killed by the sword'" (Sif. Deut. 40). According to the Babylonian Talmud he was a kohen (Sot. 39a) and one of the last pupils of R. *Akiva (Yev. 62b; cf. Gen. R. 61:3), whose views are cited on several occasions as the bases for some of Eleazar's statements (Ket. 40a; Zev. 93a; et al.). After the Bar Kokhba revolt Eleazar, among others, was ordained by *Judah b. Bava, who consequently suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Romans (Sanh. 14a). Other talmudic sources, however, do not mention Eleazar among Akiva's pupils at any of the gatherings of the sages after the period of the persecutions (tj, Ḥag. 3:1, 78d; Song R. 2:5; Ber. 63b). Judah ha-Nasi, who was his pupil (Men. 18a), said that Eleazar's bet ha-midrash was so crowded that six pupils used to sit there in the space of one cubit (Er. 53a). Highly esteemed by the early amoraim, Eleazar was called by Rav "the happiest of the sages" (Ket. 40a), while Johanan said of him that his heart was as broad as the door of the temple porch (Er. 53a). The Talmud tells that he lived to an old age, and when asked by his pupils to what he attributed his longevity, replied: "I have never taken a short-cut through a synagogue; I have not stepped over the heads of the holy people (i.e., of other pupils to get to his place in the bet midrash); and I have not raised my hands (for the priestly benediction) without first reciting a blessing" (Meg. 27b). Later Midrashim include Eleazar among the *Ten Martyr of the Hadrianic persecutions.


J. Bruell, Mevo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 195–7; Bacher, Tann; Hyman, Toledot, 205–10; Frankel, Mishnah, 182–4; Epstein, Tanna'im, 158–9.

[Shmuel Safrai]