Phinehas ben Ḥama Ha-Kohen

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PHINEHAS BEN ḤAMA HA-KOHEN (mid-fourth century), Palestinian amora. In the Jerusalem Talmud and Genesis Rabbah he is known as R. Phinehas, while in the later Midrashim he appears with his full name: Phinehas (ha-Kohen) b. Ḥama. Though born and brought up in Palestine, he was familiar with the genealogy of both Babylonian and Palestinian families (Kid. 71a), and showed his preference for the former (ibid.). He appears to have resided in the town of Sikhnin where his brother Samuel is recorded to have died (Mid. Sam. 9:3), and he probably lived to an old age (Kid. 71a and Rashi ibid.).

In the halakhah, Phinehas was primarily a pupil of R. Jeremiah, details of whose ritual practice he records (e.g., tj, Kil. 4:4, 29b; tj, mk 1:2, 80b; tj, Ket. 6:7, 31a). He was a colleague of R. Yose, with whom he often debated halakhic points (tj, Yev. 1:2, 2d, et al.), and his main pupil in halakhah was Hananiah (of Sepphoris) who handed down most of his halakhic statements (see tj, Dem. 3:1, 23b). Phinehas transmitted many aggadic aphorisms in the name of earlier amoraim, especially those of the previous generation – Hilkiah, Ḥanin, Reuben, and others. His own aggadot, both aphorisms and homiletic exegesis, are also extensive, and he often added a light anecdote to his homily to bring home the moral. In what appears to be a polemical reference to Christianity he declared, "While other laws decree that one must renounce one's parents to pledge allegiance to the king (cf. Matt. 10:35–37), the Torah says, 'Honor thy father and thy mother'" (Num. R. 8:4). His deduction from Job that "Poverty in a man's house is worse than 50 plagues" (bb 116a) may well be a bitter reflection on current economic conditions, and he laments the moral decline of the nation in its contemporary promiscuity (Lam. R. 1:11, no. 39) and gambling (Mid. Ps. to 26:7). His maxim that only one who does not leave after him a son of his own caliber is truly dead (bb 116a) is indicative of his keen concern for right education; and his best-known maxim is that "the name a person gains for himself is worth more than the one endowed him from birth" (Eccles. R. 7: 1, no. 4).


Bacher, Pal Amor, 3; Hyman, Toledot, s.v.; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 347–8.

[Benjamin Cohen]