Eleazar of Modi'in

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ELEAZAR OF MODI'IN (ha-Moda'i ; end of the first and the beginning of the second century c.e.), tanna. He came from Modi'in, the home of the Hasmoneans, and was principally renowned as an aggadist, earning the praise of R. Gamaliel who said of him: "We still have need of [the aggadic interpretation of] the Modi'ite" (Shab. 55b; bb 10b). Defining the nature of aggadah, Eleazar said that it captivates men's hearts (Mekh., Va-Yassa, 5). Even the sole halakhah quoted in his name has an aggadic flavor about it; disputing the view that wherever "Adonai" is mentioned in the Pentateuch in connection with Abraham it refers to God, except in Genesis 18:3, "Adonai [my Lord], if now I have found favor in Thy sight," Eleazar is cited as saying: "This too, is sacred"; i.e., it also refers to God (Shevu. 35b). Some of his contemporaries protested against his exaggerated aggadic interpretations: "O Man of Modi'in, how long will you rake words together" (Yoma 76a). In Avot (3:11) he is recorded as declaring: "He who profanes the sacred things and despises the festivals and puts his fellow-man to shame in public and rejects the covenant of Abraham our father and gives the Torah a meaning contrary to its right one, even though he is learned in the Torah and has good deeds to his credit, has no share in the world to come." His reference to rejecting the covenant of Abraham – that is, to those who disguised their circumcision in order to hide their Jewish origin – is aimed at the Jews who forsook their people during the Bar Kokhba revolt (Tosef., Shab., 15:9). Most of his aggadic remarks are to be found in the Mekhilta on the portions dealing with the manna and with Amalek, where he is mentioned more than 40 times.

It is stated (tj, Ta'an. 4:68d; Lam. R. 2:2) that Eleazar was the uncle of Bar Kokhba and was in Bethar during the final stages of its siege. Suspecting Eleazar's loyalty, Bar Kokhba struck him a mortal blow. "Immediately thereafter Bethar was taken and Ben Koziba was killed." It is thus probable that "Eleazar the priest," whose name occurs on coins of Bar Kokhba with that of "Simeon the prince of Israel" or by itself, refers to Eleazar of Modi'in. Although it is not stated in the sources that he was a priest, this may be taken for granted, since most of the scholars who bore this name, that of the son of Aaron the high priest, were kohanim (in contrast to Eliezer).


Frankel, Mishnah (1923), 135; Bacher, Fann, 1; Alon, Toledot, 2 (19612), 37; J. Guttmann, in: mgwj, 42 (1898), 303–5, 337–45; L. Mildenberg, in: hj, 11 (1949), 77–108.

[Shmuel Safrai]