Mattiah (Mattityahu) ben Ḥeresh

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MATTIAH (Mattityahu) BEN ḤERESH (second century c.e.), tanna, mentioned twice in the Mishnah (Yom. 8:6, Avot 4:15), and a few times in the tannaitic midrashim. One tannaitic midrash lists Mattiah among a group of scholars who fled Ereẓ Israel (apparently after the fall of *Betar), who, as they were leaving, were overcome with the love of EreẓIsrael, tore their clothes, and proclaimed, tears streaming from their eyes, that one who dwells in Ereẓ Israel is as if he has fulfilled all the commandments of the Torah (Sif. Deut. 80). Another tannaitic midrash (Mekh. of R. Ishmael, Bahodesh 7) relates that Mattiah once went to visit R. Eleazar Hakappar in Lydda to inquire about one of R. Ishmael's teachings. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanh. 32b) Mattiah founded a yeshivah in Rome, and, according to the Talmud, when *Simeon b. Yohai visited Rome to protest to the emperor against the Palestinian governor's emergency decrees, Mattiah consulted him on points of halakhah and aggadah (Me'il. 17a; Yoma 53b).

In Mishnah Yoma (8:6) Mattiah applies the principle that Sabbath prohibitions may be overruled in order to save human life to a specific case, but he is not accredited as the author of the principle itself (cf. Tosef. Shab. 15:17, Yoma 85b). He is quoted in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds (e.g., Yev. 61b; tj, Sanh. 10:1, 27c). His most famous maxim is: "Be a tail to lions, and not a head to foxes" (Avot 4:15; in tj, Sanh. 4:10, 22b), which stands in contrast to the Roman proverb, "Be a head to foxes, rather than a tail to lions" (cf. Zohar Ḥadash, Song, 18b). In the later aggadah Mattiah's piety became legendary. The Tanḥuma relates that on one occasion, he deliberately blinded himself rather than be seduced by Satan (who appeared to him in the guise of a beautiful woman). He only accepted healing at the hands of the angel Raphael, after a divine promise that he would not be temptedagain (Yal., Gen. 161).


Hyman, Toledot, 913–5, s.v.; Bacher, Tann, 1 (19032), 380–4.

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