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Ḥoni Ha-Me'aggel

ḤONI HA-ME'AGGEL

ḤONI HA-ME'AGGEL , renowned miracle worker in the period of the Second Temple (first century b.c.e.). The Talmud recounts wondrous tales as to the manner in which his prayers for rain were answered. "It once happened that the people turned to Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel and asked him to pray for rain. He prayed, but no rain fell. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it and exclaimed, 'Master of the Universe, Thy children have turned to me because they believe me to be as a member of Thy household. I swear by Thy greatname that I will not move from here until Thou hast mercy upon Thy children.' Rain then began to fall. He said, 'It is not for this that I have prayed but for rain to fill cisterns, ditches, and pools.' The rain then began to come down with great force. He exclaimed, 'It is not for this that I have prayed but for rain of benevolence, blessing and bounty.' Rain then fell in the normal way… Thereupon Simeon b. Shetaḥ sent to him this message: 'Were it not that you are Ḥoni I would have placed you under the ban [because he troubled the All-Present about the rain many times; see Rashi on Ber. 19a], but what can I do unto you who importune God and He accedes to your request as a son importunes his father and he accedes to his request'" (Ta'an. 3:8; an extended version occurs in Ta'an. 23a; tj, Ta'an, 3:10–12, 66d). His name, ha-Me'aggel ("circle drawer"), is usually taken to be connected with this incident (see Rashi on Men. 94b). Ẓemaḥ Gaon, however (quoted in the Sefer ha-Yuḥasin ha-Shalem, p. 63), regarded it as the name of a place, and another suggestion is that it refers to his calling which was to repair roofs – or ovens – with a ma'gillah ("roller"; S. Klein in Zion, 1 (1929/30), no. 1, p. 3f.; S.H. Kook, ibid., p. 28). Josephus (Ant. 14:22), who also refers to him as a saint and miracle worker, describes the courageous act which, according to him, caused Ḥoni's murder during the period of fratricidal warfare between the Hasmonean brothers Aristobulus ii and Hyrcanus ii. When Aristobulus was besieged in Jerusalem by the army of Hyrcanus, his men seized Ḥoni and requested him to curse Aristobulus and his army. Ḥoni, however, prayed, "Master of the Universe, these men are Thy people, and those who are besieged are Thy priests; I beseech Thee not to do what they ask," and he was thereupon stoned to death. The aggadah in the Talmud, on the other hand, gives a different account of his death. Ḥoni once saw a man planting a carob tree and asked him how long it took for it to bear fruit. When the man answered, "Seventy years," he said to him, "Are you certain you will live another 70 years?" The man replied, "As my forefathers planted for me, so do I plant for my children." Ḥoni sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. Hidden from sight by the rocky nature of the terrain, he slept for 70 years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him whether he was the one who planted the carob tree. The man replied, "I am his grandson," and Ḥoni realized that he had slept for 70 years. He then went to his house and asked, "Is Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel's son alive?" The people replied, "His son is no more, but his grandson is still living." He said to them, "I am Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel," but they did not believe him. He then repaired to the bet ha-midrash, where he heard the scholars saying: "The halakhot are as clear to us as in the days of Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel, for whenever he entered the bet ha-midrash he would resolve for the scholars any difficulty they had." Whereupon he called out, "I am he," but they did not believe him, nor did they accord him the honor due to him. This grieved him greatly and he prayed for death and died (Ta'an. 23a). The Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'an. 3:10, 66d) relates a similar story about an earlier Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel, the ancestor of this one, who lived shortly before the destruction of the First Temple.

Ḥoni appears as a charismatic personality and the people considered him undoubtedly a kind of folk prophet with the ability to work miracles. Even Simeon b. Shetaḥ, despite his displeasure with Ḥoni's self-confidence and his wish to place Ḥoni under a ban, was compelled to give way to those who regarded Ḥoni as "a son who importunes his father." On the other hand, the story of the 70 years sleep, found only in the amoraic aggadah, is merely the Hebrew version of a popular legend. Diogenes Laertius attributes a similar story to Epimenides the wonder worker of Knossos in the sixth century b.c.e., and a similar story is found in the apocryphal iv Baruch. Despite the fact that the above-quoted passage refers to him as a great scholar, no halakhic statements by him or in his name are found in the Talmud.

bibliography:

E.E. Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 17 (1946), 7; G.B. Sarfatti, ibid., 26 (1957), 126–53.

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