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Judah ben Bava


JUDAH BEN BAVA (second century c.e.), tanna, and according to the later aggadah, a martyr of the era of *Jabneh. A number of halakhot are reported in his name in the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the tannaitic Midrashim. One dealt with the case of a husband's death in order to permit his wife to remarry (Yev. 16:3, 5), and Judah was the only one of the scholars of Ereẓ Israel in his generation to permit this on the testimony of a single witness (Yev., 16:7), giving evidence that that was the halakhic decision to this effect. He also testified concerning many other halakhot, including some belonging to the period before the destruction of the Temple (Eduy. 6:1, 8:2). After the crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Judah, as a sign of mourning, forbade the use of foliatum (aromatic oil of spikenard; Tosef., Sot. 15:9). The Tosefta of Bava Kama (8:13) states:

"It was said of Judah that all his actions were for the sake of Heaven," except for one: he transgressed the injunction against the rearing of small cattle. The Tosefta then tells a story of a painful and protracted illness from which Judah suffered. The only remedy for the pain was to drink warm milk from a small goat which he kept in his house. When he eventually died (apparently from this same illness), the sages determined that this was in fact his only sin. As a result of this piety the Talmud states (bk 103b): "Wherever the phrase occurs, 'It once happened to a certain pious man' [ḥasid], it refers either to Judah b. Bava or to Judah b. Ilai." According to another tannaitic tradition, despite the fact that he was renowned for his piety and modesty, Judah was not properly eulogized, apparently because of the troubled times (Tosef., Sot. 13:4).

According to an aggadah in the Babylonian Talmud, Judah's death occurred as a result of Hadrian's decrees of religious persecution, because he transgressed a Roman decree forbidding the *ordination of scholars. This tradition, ascribed to the early amora Rav, stated that Judah "sat between Usha and Shefaram and there ordained five scholars, namely Meir, Judah, Simeon, Yose, and Eleazar b. Shammua, and according to some, also Nehemiah. When they were surprised by the Romans, Judah said to them: 'My children, flee.' They said to him: 'What will become of thee, Rabbi?' He said: 'I lie before them like a stone which none can overturn' [i.e., let them do their will]. It was said that the enemy did not leave the spot until they had driven 300 iron spearheads into his body, making it like a sieve" (Sanh. 14a). The historical authenticity of this tradition has been seriously questioned, both because of the alternative tradition concerning the circumstances of his death (Tosef. bk 8:13), and also because of an alternative tradition concerning the ordination of Meir and Simeon by Akiva himself (cf. tj, Sanh. 1, 19a; Oppenheimer, 78–79). According to other late aggadot, when the report of the execution of R. Akiva in Caesarea was received, Judah and Hananiah (Ḥanina) b. Teradyon said that his death was an omen: very soon there would be no place in Ereẓ Israel where corpses would not be found, and the city councils (see *Boule) of Judea would come to an end. Their forebodings were fulfilled (Sem. 8:9, ed. by M. Higger (1931), 154). The aggadot about the *ten martyrs, contrary to these earlier aggadic traditions, describe the execution of Judah as the result of a verdict given after judicial proceedings.


Hyman, Toledot, 554f.; J. Bruell, Mevo ha-Mishnah, 1 (1876), 133f.; Bacher, Tann; A. Buechler, Der galilaeische ʾAm ha ʾAreṣ (1906), 305f.; Alon, Meḥkarim, 2 (1958), index. add. bibliography: A. Opperheimer, in: Eretz Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest, (ed.) Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern. Y. Tsafrir (Heb., 1982), 78–80.

[Moshe David Herr /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]

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