Sheshet

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SHESHET

SHESHET (late third century and the first half of the fourth century c.e.), Babylonian amora. Sheshet's main teacher is not definitely known. He attended *Huna's lectures (Yev. 64b; Ket. 69a) and quotes statements in the name of *Jeremiah b. Abba (Eruv. 12a) and *Rav (Yev. 24b). He taught in Nehardea (Meg. 29a) and Maḥoza (Ned. 78a), and later founded an academy at Shilḥe on the Tigris (Letter of Sherira Gaon, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 82). His most constant colleagues were *Naḥman b. Jacob and *Ḥisda. Sheshet suffered from both physical frailty (Pes. 108a) and blindness (Ber. 58a). However, although requiring the aid of a reader (Sanh. 86a), he overcame these difficulties by his great determination (Men. 95b) and an extremely retentive memory (Shev. 41b). It is recorded that Ḥisda's lips trembled in admiration when he saw the ease with which Sheshet quoted beraitot (Eruv. 67a).

The distinctive feature of his teaching was his insistence on the authority of precedent. He usually justified a decision by saying, "We have learnt it in the Mishnah or in a baraita" (bm 90a; Yoma 48b; Yev. 11b). His favorite question to his pupils was, "What is my source for this?" and his answer would be "For we have learned it in a baraita" (Kid. 68a; compare Yev. 35a, 58a; Shab. 123b). He was a keen scholar (Ber. 8a) and used to recapitulate his studies every 30 days (Pes. 68b). It was once said of him, "It is good when one possesses a keen understanding in addition to the inheritance of tradition" (Bek. 52b and Rashi ad loc., see Eccles. 7:11). He was, however, averse to the casuistry of Pumbedita. He once answered one of Amram's quibbling objections with the remark, "Are you not from Pumbedita, where they draw an elephant through the eye of a needle?" (bm 38b). *Naḥman testified that Sheshet taught halakhot, *Sifra, *Sifrei, *Tosefta, and all of the Talmud (Shevu. 41b). Sheshet himself admitted, however, that in matters of aggadah, "I cannot dispute with Huna" (Suk. 52b and Rashi ad loc.). He explained Proverbs 3:16, "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honor," to mean that whoever studies the Torah with due respect receives as his reward length of days as well as riches and honor. He who does not do so, receives riches and honor, but is denied length of days (Shab. 63a). He was also the author of the maxim, "A borrower is the slave of the lender" (Git. 14a).

The Talmud illustrates his piety by recording that he never took more than four paces without wearing his tefillin (Shab. 118b and Rashi ad loc.). It is also related that a sectarian once taunted Sheshet that because of his blindness, he would not be able to know when the king, whom a large crowd was waiting to see, would pass by. Despite the efforts of the sectarian to mislead him, Sheshet nevertheless managed to identify the exact moment of the king's passage. In reply to the enquiry as to how he knew, he replied, "The earthly kingdom is like unto the heavenly, and (in i Kings 19:12–13) God's appearance is announced by a deep silence" (Ber. 58a).

bibliography:

Bacher, Bab Amor; Hyman, Toledot, 1231–35; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 312–4.