Simeon Bar Yoḥai
SIMEON BAR YOḤAI
SIMEON BAR YOḤAI (mid-second century c.e.), tanna. Simeon was one of the most important pupils of *Akiva. In the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and those midrashei halakhah belonging to the school of R. Akiva, he is almost universally called R. Simeon without any patronymic, whereas in the midrashei halakhah belonging to the school of R. Ishmael he is consistently called by his full name, R. Simeon ben Yoḥai. Because of his close association with the teachings of his master, tradition states that: "every anonymous statement in the Sifrei is by Simeon in accordance with the views of Akiva" (Sanh. 86a). Similarly, the Talmud reports the following statement: "Simeon said to his pupils: My sons, learn my rules, since my rules are refined from those refined by Akiva" (Git. 67a). The aggadah tells that Simeon and *Ḥanina b. Ḥakhinai studied under Akiva in Bene-Berak for 13 years (Lev. R. 21:8), and that when Akiva was imprisoned for teaching Torah in public, Simeon continued to study under him and attended on him (Pes. 112a). According to another tradition, Akiva once said to him, "It is sufficient for you that I and your Creator recognize your power" (tj, Sanh. 1:3, 19a), and in this context it is stated that Simeon was also ordained by Akiva. Simeon was among the small group of Akiva's closest pupils who survived the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt and "revived the Torah at that time" (Yev. 62b; cf. Gen. R. 61:3), establishing new centers of study in the Galilee. According to another tradition, Simeon was one of the five (or six) sages ordained later by *Judah b. Bava at the cost of the latter's life (Sanh. 14a). The historical authenticity of this tradition, however, has been seriously questioned, both because of the alternative tradition concerning the circumstances of Judah b. Bava's death (Tosef. bk 8:13), and also because of the alternative tradition concerning the ordination of Meir and Simeon by Akiva himself (cf. ty Sanh. 1:3, 19a; see Oppenheimer, 78–79).
In one tannaitic source, Simeon is quoted as saying, "Even the best of gentiles should be killed" (Mekh. Be-Shallaḥ 2), and it is reasonable to understand this statement against the background of the harsh decrees and religious persecutions of the Hadrianic era and the cruel martyrdom of Simeon's teachers. According to certain talmudic traditions preserved in Palestinian sources, Simeon spent an extended period of time in hiding, apparently in fear of the gentile authorities (Gen. R. 9:6, Eccles. R. 10:8, prk 11:16, ty Shev. 9:1, 38d). In the Babylonian Talmud, these traditions are combined with other earlier aggadic sources to form an extended and continuous legend concerning the causes and circumstances of Simeon's flight from the Roman authorities, as well as the events surrounding his eventual triumphant emergence from the cave. According to this legend, "Simeon b. Yoḥai said (during a discussion with his companions): 'All that (the Romans) have accomplished is in their own interests. They have built market places to set harlots in them; baths to rejuvenate themselves; bridges to levy tolls.' Judah b. Gerim went and repeated this conversation, which reached the ears of the government. They decreed … 'Simeon, who uttered censure, is to be executed'" (Shab. 33b). To save their lives, Simeon and his son Eleazar were compelled to flee. They concealed themselves in a cave for 12 years and were preserved by miracle (ibid.). This solitary life and concentration on the study of Torah led to an uncompromising devotion to the study of Torah, almost to the exclusion of any other value or concern. This attitude is reflected in a number of other aggadic dicta associated with the name of R. Simeon. "Simeon b. Yoḥai says: 'Is that possible? If a man plows in the plowing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season… what is to become of the Torah? But, when Israel performs the will of God, their work is performed by others'" (Ber. 35b); "He who is walking by the way and reviewing what he has learnt, and breaks off and says, 'How fine is that tree, how fine is that field,' Scripture regards him as if he had endangered his soul" (Avot 3:7). Other dicta ascribed to R. Simeon include: "If Israel were to keep two Sabbaths according to the laws they would be immediately redeemed" (Shab. 118b); "It is better for a man to cast himself into a fiery furnace than put his fellow to shame in public" (Ber. 43b). Among four categories of people whom Simeon disliked was "one who enters his own house suddenly – much more so, his neighbor's house" (Lev. R. 21:8). He is also quoted as expressing an ardent love for the land of Israel, as "one of the three precious gifts given by God to the people of Israel" (Ber. 5a), and only it was found fit to be given to them (Lev. R. 13:2). The land of Israel is unique in the world, wanting for nothing (Sif. Deut. 37), and Simeon regarded departure from the land of Israel as a serious offense (Ex. R. 52:3). According to one tradition Simeon did not participate in the activities of the Sanhedrin in *Usha (of. Ber. 63b), but according to another tradition, however, Simeon did participate in Usha (Song R. 2:5). He also participated in the intercalation of the month in the valley of Rimmon (tj, Ḥag. 3:1, 78c). In any case, he is portrayed as an active leader of the people, serving as an emissary of the Sanhedrin to Rome to plead for the abolition of the decrees against the observance of the commandments (Me'il. 17a–b).
He is mentioned as living in various places: in Sidon (Nid. 52b), in Bet Pagi (Tosef., Me'il. 1:5), and in Galilee (ibid.), but he established his yeshivah in the town of Tekoa, southeast of Jerusalem. The sages detected many typical principles in his methods, such as the establishing of general rules (Hor. 9a; Zev. 119b; et al.), the use of numbers (Kid. 16b; Ḥul. 127b), "definitions" (Tosef., Neg. 5:3), and interpreting the reason for the biblical law in order to establish thereby the halakhah (bm 115a). R. Simeon was chosen by the author of the *Zohar as the leading figure of this classic medieval kabbalistic work, and as a result this work was for centuries ascribed to the 2nd century tanna. For Simeon's death and place of burial, see *Meron, *Lag ba-Omer.
Hyman, Toledot, 1178–89; I. Konowitz, Rabbi Shimon b. Yoḥai (1966); Frankel, Mishnah (1923), 177–82; Bacher, Tann; J.N. Epstein (ed.), Mekhilta de-R. Shimon b. Yoḥai (1955), 13–58; idem, Tannaim, 148–58; Z. Vilnay, Maẓẓevot Kodesh be-Ereẓ Yisrael (19632), 324–43; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index. add. bibliography: A. Oppenheimer, in: Z. Baras, S. Safrai, M. Stern. Y. Tsafrir (eds.), Eretz Israel from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Moslem Conquest (Heb., 1982), 78–80.
[Israel Burgansky /
Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]