Ḥanina Bar Ḥama

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ḤANINA BAR ḤAMA (early third century c.e.), Palestinian scholar of the transitional generation from tannaim to amoraim. Ḥanina was born in Babylon (tj, Pe'ah 7:4, 20a), and studied there under a scholar called Hamnuna (tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a). He went to Ereẓ Israel and lived in Sepphoris where he was a distinguished pupil of Judah ha-Nasi (tj, Nid. 2:7, 50b). He transmitted information about the rulings and customs of his teacher (tj, Ber. 3:5, 6d) who greatly admired him (Av. Zar. 10b). He was friendly with Ishmael b. Yose, with Bar Kappara, and with Ḥiyya, in whose presence Ḥanina boasted of the sharpness of his intellect, saying, "Were the Torah, God forbid, to be forgotten in Israel, I would restore it by means of my dialectics" (Ket. 103b; bm 85b). Ḥanina's colleagues were Rav, Jonathan, and Joshua b. Levi, and he went with the last to visit the Roman proconsul in Sepphoris (tj, Ber. 5:1, 9a). According to the Jerusalem Talmud Ḥanina was not ordained by Judah ha-Nasi during the latter's lifetime, because he was vexed with him over a certain matter, but he ordered his son Gamaliel who succeeded him to ordain him (tj, Ta'an. 4:2). According to a baraita quoted in the Babylonian Talmud, however (Ket. 103b), Judah ha-Nasi ordered before his death: "Ḥanina b. Ḥama shall preside," which Rashi explains as meaning to preside over the college. This indeed seems to be the meaning of the phrase in its context which deals with the appointments to be made in the college after Judah's death. Further it is stated that Ḥanina refused to accept this appointment "because R. Afes was two and a half years older than he." Afes was appointed, and only after his death did Ḥanina accept the office. Among his most prominent pupils were Johanan and Simeon b. Lakish and also Eleazar, who frequently transmits in his name. Eleazar's statement in the name of Ḥanina: "The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world, as it says [Isa. 54:13]: and all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children. Read not banayikh ['thy children'] but bonayikh ['thy builders']" (Ber. 64a; et al.) has become famous and is incorporated in the daily prayer book.

Ḥanina lived to a very advanced age (Ḥul. 24b). He earned a living by trading in honey (tj, Pe'ah 7:4, 20b) and also practiced medicine, in which he was regarded as an expert (Yoma 49a). He harshly rebuked his fellow citizens of Sepphoris and bemoaned their hardheartedness (tj, Ta'an, 3:4, 66c). He emphasized the value of rebuke in his statement: "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they did not rebuke each other" (Shab. 119b). He frequently spoke in praise of Ereẓ Israel (tj, Pe'ah 7:4, 20b) and explained the description of Ereẓ Israel as ereẓ ẓevi (lit. "land of the hind," jps "beauteous," av "glorious"; Dan. 11:41) as follows: "Just as the skin of the hind cannot hold its flesh; so the land of Israel when it is inhabited can provide space for everyone, but when it is not inhabited it contracts" (Git. 57a). Ḥanina was strongly opposed to anyone leaving the land of Israel, and said of him, "He has abandoned the bosom of his mother, and embraced the bosom of a stranger" (tj, mk 3:1, 81c). He was especially opposed to a priest leaving the country, even for religious reasons (ibid.).

Ḥanina's aggadic statements are numerous. He was of the opinion that the planets influence Israel too, and that "the constellation of the hour is the determining influence" (Shab. 156a). This influence, however, does not limit the activity of divine providence, since both witchcraft and constellations are subject to the providence of the creator "for if there be no decree from Him, they can do him no harm" (Rashi to Ḥul. 7b; cf. Sanh. 67b). The overall power of providence is stressed in his saying: "No man bruises his finger here on earth, unless it was so decreed against him in heaven" (Ḥul. 7b). But this emphasis does not nullify the value of man's freedom of will: "Everything is from heaven, excepting cold draughts, as it is written [Prov. 22:5]. Cold draughts [thus he understands the words usually rendered "thorns and snares"] are in the way of the froward; he that keepeth his soul holdeth himself far from them" (bm 107b). Moreover it is certain that no one should rely upon his constellation or upon providence in all that pertains to his character, since "Everything is in the hand of heaven except the fear of heaven" (Ber. 33b), but the attainment of the fear of heaven is not given to all men equally and for the same effort (ibid.). Ḥanina stressed the heinousness of profaning the Divine Name: "The Holy One was indulgent of idolatry – but He was not indulgent of the profanation of the Name" (Lev. R. 22:6); "It is better for a man to commit a transgression in secret – and not profane the Name of Heaven in public" (Kid. 40a). Among his other noteworthy sayings are, "He who lifts a hand against his fellow, even without smiting him, is called a sinner" (Sanh. 58b); "Let not the blessing of a common person be light in your eyes" (Meg. 15a); "The son of David will not come until the haughty in Israel are extinct" (Sanh. 98a).


Bacher, Pal Amor; Hyman, Toledot, s.v.; E.E. Urbach, in: Sefer ha-Yovel le-Yeḥezkel Kaufmann (1960), 141–6.

[Zvi Kaplan]