MEIR (second century c.e.), tanna, one of the leaders of the post-Bar Kokhba generation. Essentially a halakhist, he played a decisive part in the development of the *Mishnah. His main teacher was *Akiva, by whom he was apparently ordained (tj, Sanh. 1, 19a), but he also studied under *Ishmael. According to a Palestinian amoraic aggadic tradition he was also a disciple of Elisha b. Avuyah (Ruth R. 6; Ecc. R. 7; tj, Hag. 2:1, 87b), but Meir's connection to these traditions is in all likelihood more literary than historical (see *Elisha b. Avuyah, and cf. Tosef., Dem. 2:9). Meir is mentioned in most of the talmudic traditions that describe the reestablishment of the center of learning in the Galilee after the Bar Kokhba revolt. Thus he is listed as one of the five ordained by Judah b. Bava at the cost of his life (Sanh. 14a), and also among the scholars who gathered at Usha to reconstruct the religious life of the people (Song R. 2:5, no. 3). He was also described as having been active at Bet Rimmon when the renewed calendar arrangements were made (tj, Ḥag. 3:1). Though these traditions have been viewed by some as representing distinct historical events, they should more properly be viewed as a family of related traditions with definite lines of literary dependence between them, as has been recently argued convincingly (Oppenheimer, 78–79).
According to the aggadah, Meir was a descendant of proselytes. One tradition holds that his real name was Nehorai (the Aramaic form of Meir), but that he was called Meir ("the Illuminator") because he "enlightened the eyes of the sages of the halakhah" (Er. 13b; see Dik. Sof.), though little historical credence should be accorded this tradition (see *Nehorai).
An aggadah in the Babylonian Talmud (Hor. 13b–14a) relates that when Simeon b. Gamaliel was appointed nasi, R. Nathan was appointed av bet din, and Meir, ḥakham. According to this tradition Simeon b. Gamaliel took steps to strengthen the status and honor of his office at the expense of these two other sages, which Meir and Nathan took as a personal affront. Nathan and Meir engaged in a conspiracy to discredit Simeon b. Gamaliel and to remove him from office. Their plan was foiled and Simeon in turn attempted, unsuccessfully, to have them removed from the bet ha-midrash. Nevertheless, as a punishment for their opposition to the nasi, it was decreed that all subsequent statements made by Meir and Nathan should be introduced anonymously, the former being quoted merely as "others say," and the latter as "some say" (Hor. 13b–14a). While some scholars have held that this story accurately reflects the forms of communal leadership practiced during the late tannaitic period, and have also accepted it as evidence for a power struggle between these well-known historical figures, Goodblatt has shown quite convincingly that this story is in fact a late Babylonian elaboration and embellishment of certain earlier Palestinian traditions (cf. tymk 3:1, 81c), and has little or no historical value.
The Talmud ascribes to R. Johanan the statement that "an anonymous mishnah represents the view of Meir following that of Akiva" (Sanh. 86a), but the authenticity of this statement is doubtful and its proper interpretation remains somewhat unclear (cf. tj, Yev. 4:11, 6b). According to tradition, Meir frequently spoke in praise of living in Ereẓ Israel: "Whoever lives permanently in Israel and speaks the holy language … he is assured of a share in the world to come" (tj, Shek. 3:4, 47c). Meir died in Asia (probably Ezion-Geber). Before his death he ordered that his body be taken to Ereẓ Israel, and requested that until then his bier be put on the shore in order that it may be lapped by the sea that washes the shores of Ereẓ Israel (tj, Kil. 9:4, 32c). His extreme attitude in demanding study of Torah emerges clearly in the saying: "Whoever forgets one word of the Torah is accounted by Scripture as if he had forfeited his life" (Avot 3:8), and the Talmud ascribes to him the statement that a gentile who occupies himself with the Torah is the equal of a high priest (bk 38a; Av. Zar. 3a), and also states that he required that one should not be satisfied with acquiring knowledge of the Torah, but should also teach it to others (Sanh. 99a). Three hundred fox *fables are ascribed to Meir, of which three are given (Sanh. 38b). In connection with the definition of the concept of am ha-areẓ, Meir takes a more stringent view than his colleagues. According to Meir anyone not eating ordinary food in ritual purity belongs to the category of the *am ha-areẓ while his colleagues apply the term only to someone who disregards the duty of giving tithes. On the other hand the words ascribed to him in the Talmud, "Whosoever marries his daughter to an am ha-areẓ is as though he bound her and laid her in front of a lion" (Pes. 49b), are almost certainly pseudoepigraphic, and do not represent the views of the historical Meir (Wald). Together with the study of Torah, Meir stresses the importance of labor: "A blessing rests only upon labor" (Tosef., Ber. 7:8); "A man should always teach his son a clean craft" (Kid. 4:14). He similarly stresses the importance of prayer: "'And it came to pass as she prayed long' [i Sam. 1:12], this implies that whoever prays long is answered" (tj, Ber. 4:17c; et al.). According to the Talmud his contemporary, Yose b. Ḥalafta, called him: "A great man, a holy man, a modest man" (tj, Ber. 2:7, 5b), while Simeon b. Lakish called him "holy mouth" (Sanh. 23a).
According to the aggadot of the Babylonian Talmud, Meir was married to *Beruryah, the daughter of the martyred *Hananiah b. Teradyon. After the Bar Kokhba War her sister was taken to a brothel from where Meir rescued her (Av. Zar. 18a). According to a legend quoted by Rashi (Av. Zar. 18b), Beruryah herself was seduced by one of the scholars. None of these traditions, however, seem to have any historical basis (see *Beruryah). According to another late aggadic tradition (Midrash Proverbs 31) his two sons died simultaneously while he was busy in the college.
Hyman, Toledot, 865–78; I. Konovitz, Rabbi Meir (Heb., 1967); A. Blumenthal, Rabbi Meir (Ger., 1888); Bacher, Tann; Frankel, Mishnah, index; A. Buechler, Der galilaeische Am ha'Areṣ des zweiten Jahrhunderts, in: xiii. Jahresbericht der Israelitisch-Theologische Lehranstalt in Wien (1906), esp. 157–90; Alon, Toledot, 2 (19612), index; M. Avi-Yonah, Bi-Ymei Roma u-Bizantiyyon (19522), 1–21; Safrai, in: Zion, 22 (1957), 183–93. add. bibliography: A. Oppenheimer, in: Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern, Y. Tsafrir (eds.), Ereẓ Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest (Heb., 1982); D. Goodblatt, in: Zion, 49 (1984),349–374 (Heb.); S. Wald, bt Pesaḥim iii (2000), 231–33.
[A'hron Oppenheimer /
Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]