Jonathan ben Eleazar

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JONATHAN BEN ELEAZAR (beginning of the third century c.e.), amora. He is the R. Jonathan mentioned in the Talmud and Midrash without patronymic. Jonathan was of Babylonian origin but went to Ereẓ Israel in his youth and *Johanan Nappaha referred to him as "our Babylonian colleague" (Git. 78b). He was a pupil of Simeon b. Yose b. Lakunya in whose name he frequently transmits dicta. He was the teacher of *Samuel b. Naḥman and one of the associates of *Ḥanina b. Ḥama. Jonathan lived in Sepphoris and was called Sar ha-Birah ("the prince of the city") – a designation whose exact connotation is unknown. He belonged to the intimate circle of the *nasi and together with Johanan went to the "south" (Lydda) on his mission, apparently, of "peacemaking" (tj, Ber. 9:1, 12d; the reading there is not clear). He once paid a visit to Jerusalem to see the ruins of the Temple (tj, Ma'as. Sh. 3:3) and to Tiberias to bathe in the hot springs (tj, Er. 6:4, 23c). Several scholars, including Johanan, transmit statements in Jonathan's name.

Jonathan is hardly referred to in the halakhah. On the other hand he is regarded as one of the great aggadists. His well-known defense of such biblical personalities as Reuben, the sons of Eli, the sons of Samuel, David, Solomon, and others (despite the explicit reference in the Bible to their transgressions) begins with the words: "Whoever maintains that so-and-so sinned is in error!" (Shab. 55b–56a). He also engaged to a considerable extent in polemics with heretics. He comments, for instance, on Genesis 1:26, "let us make man in our image": "When writing the Torah, Moses wrote down the acts of creation of each day. When he came to this verse, 'let us make man in our image after our likeness,' he said to God, 'Sovereign of the universe! Why dost Thou provide an opening for heretics? [since the plural form of the verse suggest dualism].' Replied [the Almighty] 'whoever wishes to err, let him err. From this man that I have created, great and small men shall spring. If the great man should say, "why do I need to request permission from one of less importance than I," they will answer him: Learn from thy Creator who created all that is above and below, yet when He came to create man, He took counsel with the ministering angels'" (Gen. R. 8:8).


Bacher, Pal Amor; Z.W. Rabinowitz, Sha'arei Torat Ereẓ Yisrael (1961), 436f.; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 167f.

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]