Eleazar Ḥisma

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ELEAZAR ḤISMA (fl. first third of the second century c.e.), tanna, one of the sages of Jabneh. Some consider Ḥisma to have been his father's name and refer to him as Eleazar b. Ḥisma, but it appears rather to have been his byname, meaning "the strong," said to have been given to him because of the strength he displayed in overcoming his former ignorance (Lev. R. 23:4; for another interpretation, see Midrash David on Avot (1944), 75). A pupil of Joshua b. Hananiah and perhaps also of Akiva, he transmitted halakhot in the name of the former and, together with him, he gave an aggadic interpretation of a biblical passage (Tosef., Zav. 4:4; Mekh., Amalek, 176). Some of his statements are recorded in the Mishnah, baraita, and halakhic Midrashim. For example, on the verse (Deut. 23:25) which permits a laborer, while harvesting grapes, to eat the fruit, Eleazar commented: "A laborer may not eat more than his wage" (Sif. Deut. 266; bm 7:5). He objected to excessive demonstrativeness in prayer, applying to the person who "blinks with his eyes, gesticulates with his lips, or points with his fingers while reciting the Shema," the verse "thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob" (Isa. 43:22; Yoma 19:6). Though proficient in astronomy and mathematics, he did not ascribe too much importance to them; hence his statement: "(Even) ordinances concerning bird sacrifices and the purification of women constitute the essence of the law, whereas astronomy and geometry are (merely) auxiliaries to knowledge" (Avot 3:18). He remained extremely poor, as was expressed in R. Joshua's comment to Rabban Gamaliel: "Marvel at two of your disciples in Jabneh, Eleazar b. Ḥisma and *Johanan b. Nuri (this is the correct reading: see Sif. Deut. 16), who can calculate how many drops the ocean contains, but have neither bread to eat nor clothes to wear." To enable them to earn a livelihood, Gamaliel wished to appoint them supervisors in the academy at Jabneh. When, in their modesty, they declined the offer, Gamaliel sent for them a second time, saying: "You imagine that I offer you rulership? It is servitude that I offer you," whereupon they accepted the appointment (Hor. 10a–b).


Bacher, Tann, 1 (19032), 368–70; Weiss, Dor, 2 (19044), 110; Hyman, Toledot, 217–8; Frankel, Mishnah, 142; Alon, Toledot, 1 (19583), 143, 299, 306.

[Yitzhak Dov Gilat]