Judah Bar Ilai

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JUDAH BAR ILAI (mid–second century c.e.), tanna. He is the R. Judah mentioned in the Talmud and tannaitic literature without patronymic. Judah came from Usha in Galilee (see Song R. 2:5 n. 2). He studied under his father, who was a pupil of *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Tosef. Zev. 2:17).

While still young Judah went to reside in Lydda, close to *Tarfon (Tosef. Meg. 2:8, Neg. 8:2), becoming one of his pupils (Ned. 6:6; Tosef., Yev. 12:15, et al.). He also studied under *Akiva (Tosef., Kel. bm 6:7, Oho. 4:2).

Judah played a central role in the establishment of the new centers of learning in Galillee after the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt. The sources preserve a number of contradictory aggadot concerning these events. According to one tradition in the Babylonian Talmud, Judah was one of the five ordained by *Judah b. Bava, at the cost of his life, during the time of the Hadrianic persecutions (Sanh. 14a). The historical authenticity of this account has been seriously and convincingly challenged (Oppenheimer, 78–79). According to another tradition he was among "the seven elders" who convened to intercalate the year in the valley of Rimmon (tj, Ḥag. 3:1, 78c). According to a third tradition, Judah played a leading role in the convention of scholars in Usha at which the Sanhedrin was reestablished, being granted the honor of speaking first, since Usha was his home town (Song R. loc. cit.). In a later Babylonian version of this tradition, there is a "shift of venue," from Usha to Jabneh (Ber. 63b). Judah is still portrayed as the opening speaker at this convention of the Sanhedrin, but this honor is no longer explained by Judah's connection to the location, but rather by means of an obscure title: "R. Judah, the first speaker in every situation" (Oppenheimer, 80–82). This title is then explained by the Talmud as resulting from Judah's role in the events which eventually led to R. Simeon's flight from the Romans with his son, seeking refuge for years in a cave (Shab. 33b). However, there is no evidence in earlier Palestinian sources for the title "first speaker in every situation" with respect to Judah, nor does Judah play any role in the parallel Palestinian versions of the saga of R. Simeon and his son (cf. tj, 9, 38d, Gen. R. 79:6, pdrk 11:16). As a further sign of Judah's prominent position in the eyes of later tradition, all the scholars of his generation were described as "the generation of Judah b. Ilai" (Sanh. 20a). Judah was the halakhic authority in the house of the nasi, *Simeon b. Gamaliel ii (Men. 104a), and *Judah ha-Nasi was one of his pupils (Shevu. 13a), as was *Ishmael b. Yose (Suk. 18a).

Tannaitic literature has many statements and teachings by Judah. Long series of mishnayot and halakhot, as well as whole chapters in the Mishnah and the Tosefta, are from his Mishnah. In his Mishnah Judah had a special place for the halakhot of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus which he had received from his father Ilai (cf. Tosef. Zev. 2:17), and for early halakhot that he received from Tarfon, particularly with regard to the Temple and its service. He gave the Mishnah of Akiva as the view of an individual (Ma'as. Sh. 5:8) and recorded the disputes between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel in accordance with a tradition which differed from that of Akiva. The Babylonian Talmud describes Judah's share in the Sifra – the halakhic Midrash to the Book of Leviticus – by the words, "an anonymous Sifra is by Judah" (Sanh. 86a). Though this statement is ascribed in the Babylonian Talmud to R. Johanan, neither its authenticity nor its accuracy can be confirmed. Rules explaining the language used by Judah have been laid down, and in the view of the amora, Joshua b. Levi: "Wherever Judah said 'when' or 'these words apply' in our Mishnah, his intention was only to explain the words of the scholars; but where Johanan said 'when' he introduces an explanation, while 'these words apply' indicates disagreement" (Er. 81b–82a). His tendency to generalize is also discernible in his own statement: "Collect the words of the Torah as general rules – and divide them up like the drops of dew which are small … for if a man collects them in items, they will weary him and he will not know what to do" (Sif. Deut. 306). In a dispute between Meir – or Simeon – and Judah, the halakhah follows Judah, but in a dispute with Yose, the halakhah follows Yose, but some disagree with regard to this (Er. 46b). Another rule laid down was: "Wherever Judah taught a law concerning the eruv, the halakhah follows him" (Er. 81b).

Explanations of Scripture by Judah have been preserved, which give the plain meaning; some explain difficult words, and some explain the subject matter. Judah issued a warning about the difficulty of giving an accurate Aramaic translation of the Bible: "He who translates a verse literally is a liar, and he who adds to it is a libeler" (Tosef., Meg. 4:41). In his view in several places Scripture removes anthropomorphic or offensive expressions (Mekh. Shirata, 6). His interpretations touch upon many and varied topics. His main disputant in halakhah is *Simeon b. Yoḥai and in aggadah*Nehemiah; no less than 180 disputes between Judah and Nehemiah have been preserved in both tannaitic literature and in the amoraic Midrashim, particularly in the early Genesis Rabbah. Their style shows them to be the product of a dialogue – at times there is not even a substantial difference of view between them – and from them it is possible to discern the aggadic exegetical method of the tannaim. Their disputes touch upon all the books of the Bible except Leviticus and Job.

Judah was known for his piety, so that the Talmud states that wherever it is stated, "it once happened with a certain pious man," the reference is either to Judah b. Bava or to Judah b. Ilai (bk 103b). Several of his practices were transmitted by the amora Judah in the name of Rav: "This was the practice of Judah b. Ilai. On the eve of the Sabbath a basin filled with hot water was brought to him. He washed his face, hands and feet, and wrapped himself in fringed linen robes, and was like an angel of the Lord of Hosts" (Shab. 25b); "On the eve of the Ninth of Av, dry bread with salt was brought to him, and he sat between the baking oven and the cooking stove and ate and drank with a pitcher of water and looked as if a dead relation were lying before him" (Ta'an. 30a–b); he used to take a myrtle twig, dance before the bride, and say: "Beautiful and graceful bride" (Ket. 17a). A memory of the impressive figure of Judah is found in the story (tj, Pes. 10:1, 31c and parallels; and cf. Ned. 49b) of a Roman matron who, because of Judah's shining countenance, suspected him of being either a moneylender or a pig breeder – his shining face being due to his wealth – or of having drunk excessively, but he referred her to Ecclesiastes 8:1 ("A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine").


Hyman, Toledot, 534–42; I. Konovitz, Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai (1965); Frankel, Mishnah (1923), 167–73; Bacher, Tann. add. bibliography: Epstein, Tannaim, 106–25. A. Oppenheimer, in: Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern. Y. Tsafrir (eds.), Eretz Israelfrom the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest, (Hebrew) (1982), 75–82.

[Zvi Kaplan /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]