Symmachus ben Joseph

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SYMMACHUS BEN JOSEPH (late second century c.e.), tanna. His patronymic is given only once in the aggadic statement, "Symmachus b. Joseph says: whoever prolongs the word eḥad ["one" in the Shema] has his days and years prolonged" (tj, Ber. 2:1; cf. also tb, Ber. 13b). He was a disciple of *Meir, in whose name he transmitted two halakhot (bm 6:5; Ḥul. 5:3), and it was stated that he could adduce 48 reasons to support every rule of ritual cleanliness or uncleanness. Such attention to detail and keen legal reasoning, characteristic of Meir's disciples, was apparently not fully appreciated by all his contemporaries. According to a talmudic aggadah, "after Meir died *Judah issued a decree to his disciples not to allow the disciples of R. Meir to enter, for they are disputatious and do not come to learn Torah, but come to embarrass me…." Symmachus nevertheless forced his way through and entered quoting a halakhic saying of R. Meir. R. Judah became angry, and *Yose commented: "People will say, 'Meir is dead, Judah is angry, Yose is silent; what is to become of the Torah?'" (Naz. 49b; Kid. 52b). That he was a recognized legal authority is evidenced by the fact that R. Nathan turned to him for a ruling (Ket. 52a). He is the author of the famous principle in monetary cases: "Money, the ownership of which cannot be decided, has to be equally divided" (bk 46a; et al.) which, however, is not accepted in practice. Although he apparently knew some Greek (Naz. 8b), he is not to be identified with the Symmachus who translated the Bible into Greek. Symmachus may have lived to old age, since the Talmud reports that *Rav, during a visit to Ereẓ Israel probably in the mid-third century, put a question to him (Ket. 81a).


Hyman, Toledot, 959–60.

[Michael Graetz]