Simeon ben Gamaliel II

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SIMEON BEN GAMALIEL II (of Jabneh ), nasi (first half of second century c.e.), the son of Rabban *Gamaliel of Jabneh and the father of *Judah ha-Nasi. Simeon was one of the few survivors after the Romans destroyed the house of the *nasi in revenge for the Bar Kokhba revolt (Sot. 49b), and he was compelled to conceal himself during the whole period of the persecutions that followed the destruction of Bethar (Ta'an. 29a. on the assumption that the reference is to Simeon b. Gamaliel and not to his father). Even after the death of *Hadrian, Simeon could not appear in public, and for this reason apparently was absent from the meeting of the scholars that took place in order to renew the intercalation of the calendar in the valley of Rimmon, after the revolt (tj, Ḥag. 3:1, 78c.). Similarly, he is not mentioned as having been present at the first session of the scholars in *Usha. When the persecution abated and the danger to his life passed, he was appointed nasi of the Sanhedrin at the second meeting of the sages in Usha, as the son of the nasi Gamaliel and a link in the chain of the nesi'im descended from Hillel. It is probable that the lengthy period when the Sanhedrin functioned without a nasi rendered Simeon's task a difficult one and he had to win his place with flexibility and understanding. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Hor. 13bf.), Simeon shared authority with the av bet din, Nathan the Babylonian, and with a third figure, the ḥakham (apparently the head of and the deciding factor in the yeshivah), Meir. It has, however, been argued that this threefold division of authority is an invention of the later aggadic tradition and was not in effect during the rule of Simeon, if ever (Goodblatt).

The fact that the scholars of Usha – Meir, Judah, Simeon b. Yoḥai and others – were recognized as the tradents of the heritage of the Oral Law as it began to crystallize in the period of Jabneh (see Sanh. 86a) made it difficult for Simeon to command the authority and status enjoyed by his father. As a result there was greater cooperation between Simeon b. Gamaliel and the members of the Sanhedrin than in the previous generation. He himself transmitted halakhot in the names of many members of the Sanhedrin and even accepted their rulings in practical halakhah: "Simeon b. Gamaliel said: 'It happened that my eyes were paining me in Caesarea, and Yose bei Rabbi permitted me and my servant to sleep outside the sukkah'" (Tosef., Suk. 2:2); and on another occasion, it is stated: "Simeon b. Gamaliel sent to the sages, and they said: 'That is a blemish'" (Bek. 6:9). In addition he was known for his humility and his son Judah described his virtue in superlative terms (bm 84f.).

According to the aggadic tradition of the Babylonian Talmud, Simeon b. Gamaliel took concrete steps to strengthen the status of the office of the nasi within the Sanhedrin and made specific decrees with this end in view: "When the nasi enters, all the people shall rise… when the av bet din enters, one row rises on one side and one row on the other… when the ḥakham enters, everyone rises (as he passes) and (then) sits down, until he has sat down in his place." According to this tradition Meir and Nathan took this decree as a personal affront, and decided to attempt 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 of 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. tj mk 3:1, 81c), and has little or no historical value.

Another tradition which relates to the need to strengthen the status of his office concerns the restoration of the dependence of Babylon upon Ereẓ Israel, particularly in regard to intercalating the month. Here too he encountered opposition from the Babylonian scholars (cf. tj, Ned. 6:1; Ber. 63a). Readiness for, and predisposition toward cooperation with his colleagues, on the one hand, and a firm stand on the authority of the nasi, on the other, enabled Simeon to consolidate and further the status of the highest national institution.

There are some hundred halakhot in his name in the Mishnah and still more in the beraitot and the Tosefta. His authority is reflected in the well-known rule of R. Johanan: "Wherever Simeon b. Gamaliel taught in our Mishnah the halakhah follows him" (except in three cases, Ket. 77a). The Jerusalem Talmud (bb 10:14, 17d) gives the reason: "Because he gave fixed halakhot according to his bet din." Many aggadic statements are also ascribed to him on a variety of topics. Traces of the devastation and religious persecution of his time are easily discernible in them, such as: "Whoever eats and drinks on the Ninth of Av is as if eating and drinking on the Day of Atonement" (Ta'an. 30b); "Since the Temple was destroyed we ought not to eat meat or drink wine… he used to say, since they decree upon us not to study Torah, we ought to decree upon Israel not to marry… but do not interfere with Israel [by enacting such laws specifically] – better [if they transgress] that they act inadvertently rather than willfully" (Tosef., Sot. 15:10). In speaking of the value of remembering troubles and inscribing them in a book, in connection with the *Megillat Ta'anit, he said: "We too cherish the memory of troubles, but what are we to do, for they are so numerous that if we came to write them down we would not be able to do so." (Shab. 13b.). He gives a number of reminiscences of Jerusalem in previous ages and of the customs of its inhabitants (Ta'an. 4:8; bb 93b; Tosef., Ar. 1:13, and 2:6).

Some of his well known aggadic dicta are: "All my life I attended my father, yet I did not do for him a hundredth part of what Esau did for his father" (Gen. R. 65:16); "The ancients, because they could avail themselves of the Holy Spirit, ascribed their names to the event, but we… ascribe them to our ancestors" (ibid. 37:7); the reference is doubtless to the continuity of the dynasty of the nasi. He frequently preached in praise of peace: "By three things is the world preserved: by judgment, by truth, and by peace" (Avot 1:18); "Whoever makes peace in his own house is as if he makes peace in Israel" (arn1 28, 85); "Great is peace, for even the ancestors of the tribes resorted to a fabrication in order to make peace" (Gen. R. 100:8). He also spoke in praise of God's manner of conducting the world: "How different are God's ways from man's! Man heals the bitter with the sweet, but the Holy One heals the bitter with bitter. How so? He puts something harmful [bitter wood] into something that has been harmed [the bitter waters] in order to perform a miracle" (Mekh., Va-Yassa 1). Especially does he give expression to his love for the people of Israel: "Come and see how beloved Israel is before the Omnipresent… in the past bread sprang up from the ground and dew came down from heaven… but now the reverse occurred, bread began to come down from heaven and dew to ascend from the ground" (Mekh., Va-Yassa 3).


Hyman, Toledot, 1163–71; I. Konovitz, Ma'arekhet Tanna'im 4 (1969), 159–228; Frankel, Mishnah (1923), 188–95; Bacher, Tann; A. Buechler, Studies in Jewish History (1956), 160–78 (= rej, 28 (1894), 60–74); Epstein, Tannaim, 163–8; Alon, Toledot, 2 (19612), 69–78; Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), 73–80 and index s.v.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); D. Goodblatt, in: Zion, 49 (1984), 349–74 (Heb.).

[Israel Burgansky /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]