Nahum of Gimzo

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NAHUM OF GIMZO

NAHUM OF GIMZO (late first and early second century c.e.), tanna, mentioned once only in tannaitic sources (Tosef. Shav. 1:6) as the man from whom R. Akiva derived his famous hermeneutical method of expounding the particles "akh" (but) and "rak" (only) as exclusionary, on the one hand, and "et" and "gam" (also) as inclusory, on the other (see *Midrashei Halakhah, Distinct Exegetical Methods). Though in all our talmudic sources his name is written "gam zo" (two words), it has been suggested his name is derived from *Gimzo (ii Chron. 28:18) in the center of Ereẓ Israel. Despite the importance of his contribution to the history of rabbinic exegetical methodology, no additional information about him or his teachings has been preserved from the early tannaitic period. In three places, Gen. R. (1, 22, and 53) ascribes to R. Ishmael the statement that R. Akiva studied under Nahum for "22 years." This, however, is almost certainly a late aggadic embellishment of the tradition in Tosefta Shavuot, based on the notion that Akiva was willing to expound not only particles like "et" and "gam," but also individual Hebrew letters – hence 22 years, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Like many tannaitic figures about whom we possess only the most meager information, the talmudic aggadah transmits a number of fascinating legends concerning Nahum. The designation Gimzo (גמזו) was regarded as meaning "this too" (גם זו, gam zo), in reference to his custom of asserting of every happening, however inauspicious it seemed, "this too is for the best" (gam zo le-tovah), a habit elsewhere attributed to Akiva (Ber. 60b). Thus when on one occasion he was carrying a casket full of jewels as a gift to the Roman emperor and they were stolen from him at an inn and replaced by earth, he declared "this too is for the best." When he arrived at his destination and the emperor desired to put him to death for mocking him, the prophet Elijah appeared in the guise of a senator and suggested that this was possibly the legendary earth which, if thrown at the enemy in battle, is converted into deadly arrows. On being put to the test, it did indeed prove to be that earth (Ta'an. 21a). Nahum's piety is described in a story concerning a journey on which a poor man accosted him and asked for food. The tanna asked the man to wait until he had unloaded his ass, but meanwhile the hungry man died. Nahum reproached himself for not being quicker in providing help and prayed that, as a punishment, he should lose his hands, feet, and sight, and his whole body be covered with sores. Thereafter he lay in that condition in a dilapidated house on a bed with its legs immersed in water to keep away the ants, with his disciples tending him (ibid., cf. tj Peah 8:8, 21b, Shek. 5:4, 49b).

bibliography:

Bacher, Tann, s.v.; Hyman, Toledot, 920–1.

[David Joseph Bornstein /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]