Judah ben Bathyra

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JUDAH BEN BATHYRA , tanna of the second century c.e. He was apparently a student of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and *Joshua b. Hananiah (Pes. 3:3; Eduy. 8:3; Neg. 9:3, 11:7), and an associate of *Akiva (Kelim 2:7) and Tarfon (Peah 3:6). His name is regularly associated with *Nisibis in Babylon (Tosef. Yev. 12:4; Tosef. Ket. 5:1; Sifre Num. 117), and the story is told that Simeon ben Shammua and *Johanan ha-Sandelar were on their way to Nisibis to learn Torah from Judah ben Bathyra, but when they reached the border, "tears streamed down and they tore their garments…, saying: 'Residence in the Land Israel is equivalent to the fulfillment of all the precepts of the Torah,' and they returned to the Land of Israel" (Sif. Deut. 80). His yeshivah in Nisibis is mentioned in the Talmud among the centers of study which were recommended to students as worthy of attendance (Sanh. 32b). According to the aggadah, Judah b. Bathyra claimed to be a descendant of the dead whom Ezekiel (ch. 37) brought to life, and that the tefillin left to him by his paternal grandfather came from them (Sanh. 92b). Another talmudic aggadah tells of a certain gentile who once boasted to Judah b. Bathyra that, despite the fact that gentiles are forbidden to eat of the paschal sacrifice, he would regularly go up to Jerusalem, and passing himself off as a Jew, eat from the "juiciest parts" of the paschal lamb. Judah b. Bathyra advised him: "When you go there, tell them to let you eat from the tail fat." Since the tail fat is not eaten, but rather burned up on the altar, his request brought suspicion upon himself, and after an investigation the gentile was exposed. The sages in Jerusalem then sent Judah a message, saying: "Peace be upon you, R. Judah b. Bathyra, for while you remain in Nisibis, your trap is set in Jerusalem" (Pes. 3b). This somewhat fanciful and anachronistic story created problems for some overly literal-minded scholars, who posited the existence of another, earlier Judah b. Bathyra, who must have lived during the time of the second Temple – also in Nisibis – despite the fact that virtually all traditions transmitted in the name of Judah b. Bathyra in talmudic literature clearly refer to the "second" Judah b. Bathyra (Margalioth), the "first" Judah b. Bathyra having left virtually no record in talmudic sources other than this story itself. Compare Mik. 4:5, where Judah b. Bathyra reports a precedent in the name of Bet Shammai, which occurred in Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple, which has been construed by some as further "evidence" that Judah b. Bathyra himself lived during the time of the Second Temple. See also, Tosafot to Men. 65b.


Frankel, Mishnah, 99–102; Halevy, Dorot, 1 pt. 5 (1923), 681–8; Hyman, Toledot. M. Margalioth, Encyclopedia, 412–415.

[Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]