Simeon ben Ḥalafta

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SIMEON BEN ḤALAFTA (end of the second century c.e.), tanna in the transition period between the tannaim and the amoraim. Nothing is recorded concerning him in the Mishnah or the Tosefta, except for the one dictum: "The Holy One found no vessel that could contain Israel's blessing save that of peace" (Uk. 3:12), which was appended to the tractate Ukẓin and is thus the concluding statement of the whole Mishnah.

Simeon lived in Ein-Te'enah, between Sepphoris and Tiberias (tj, Ta'an. 4:2). He studied under Meir, and his colleagues Ḥiyya and Simeon b. Rabbi (Judah ha-Nasi) were the outstanding scholars of the transition period. He frequented the home of Judah ha-Nasi (mk 9b), who also supported him financially in such a way as to cause him no embarrassment (Ruth R. 5:7). Most of his statements belong to the sphere of aggadah and he is in fact called "a tanna of the aggadah." Many remarkable stories are related about him (Eccles. R. 3:4), and about his sustenance which came in a miraculous manner, such as (Ruth. R. 3:4) when "a hand came down to him from heaven," or when he was attacked by hungry lions and two pieces of flesh came down from heaven, one of which satisfied its hunger, and the other was declared apparently suitable for his own consumption (Sanh. 59b). He supported himself by means of a field that he leased from Ḥiyya (Ruth R. 5:12). He apparently was accustomed to examine independently the veracity of traditional statements regarding flora and fauna. Thus he investigated the truth of the verse in Proverbs (6:6–7) on the wisdom of the ant in order to arrive at its meaning (Ḥul. 57b). Similarly concerning the laws of *terefah in birds, he sought to prove that defects which according to other scholars rendered the bird terefah because their injuries were fatal could in fact be cured. He is also found exaggerating about unusual phenomena in the plant world: "I had a single pepper stalk in my property and climbed it as if climbing to the top of a fig tree" (tj, Pe'ah 7:3). His inclination toward independent "empirical" investigation is also reflected in the story that he went out to listen to the vernacular employed by the common people in order to learn from it the meaning of difficult biblical words (Gen. R. 79:7). His wife bore their poverty with courage and even prevented him from using the gift he received miraculously from heaven (v. supra) in order not to diminish the reward preserved in the hereafter (Ruth R. 3:4).

[Israel Burgansky]