Elisha Ba'al Kenafayim

views updated


ELISHA BA'AL KENAFAYIM (Heb. אֱלִישָׁע בַּעַל כְּנָפַיִם; "Elisha the man-of-the-wings"; c. second century c.e.), pious man of the tannaitic period whose name is said to reflect his miraculous escape from death during the Roman persecutions. The talmudic story reads as follows: "… the wicked state (i.e., Rome) once proclaimed a decree against Israel that whoever put on phylacteries should have his brains pierced; yet Elisha put them on and went out into the streets. A quaestor saw him; and when Elisha fled from him, the latter gave pursuit. As he overtook him, Elisha removed the phylacteries from his head and held them in his hand. 'What is that in your hand?' he asked, to which Elisha replied 'The wings of a dove.' He opened out his hand and the wings of a dove were found therein. Hence he is called 'Elisha the man-of-the-wings'" (Shab. 49a, 130a). The Jerusalem Talmud states "Whoever is not like Elisha the man-of-the-wings should not put on phylacteries" (Ber. 2:3, 4c; see Penei Moshe, ibid.). It seems however, that the epithet "man of the wings" is in fact a euphemism for "one with clean hands," i.e., that he was scrupulous with regard to the ritual washing of hands (see Arukh ha-Shalem, ed. by A. Kohut, 4 (1926), s.v.Kanaf, and S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Feshutah, 1 (1955), 215).

[Jacques K. Mikliszanski]