views updated


ZE'EIRA (in tb Zeira; c. 300 c.e.), amora. Ze'eira was a Babylonian amora but later immigrated to Ereẓ Israel. His name is one of the most frequently mentioned in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. Hundreds of dicta in his name are transmitted by many different scholars. He studied in the academy of Sura under Huna and in Pumbedita under Judah b. Ezekiel (Ber. 39a). He transmitted many of the teachings of these rabbis, as well as those of their teachers Rav and Samuel and other great Babylonian amoraim. While still in Babylon he evinced a special interest in the teaching of the Palestinian amoraim and would request persons going on a visit there to clarify *Johanan's views on certain halakhic matters (Er. 80a; bm 43b). When he was preparing to go to Ereẓ Israel he avoided his teacher, R. Judah, who was opposed to this step (Shab. 41a; Ket. 110a–111a), and left without informing him. It is stated that in his great love for Ereẓ Israel and eagerness to be there, he crossed the Jordan fully clothed (tj, Shev. 4:9, 35c); another version is that he crossed on a narrow bridge holding onto a rope stretched across the river, maintaining: "How can I be sure that I am worthy to enter a place that Moses and Aaron were not vouchsafed to enter?" (Ket. 112a). In Ereẓ Israel he attended the school of Johanan in Tiberias (Kid. 52a; Nid. 25b). It is related that he underwent 100 (some say 40) fasts in order to forget the Babylonian method of study so that it should not interfere with his absorbing the system prevalent in Ereẓ Israel (bm 85a). He studied under the greatest amoraim of Ereẓ Israel in that generation, including Eleazar, Ammi, and Assi. He praised Ereẓ Israel and its teaching, saying: "The very atmosphere of the Land of Israel makes one wise" (bb 158b); "Even the ordinary conversation of the people of the Land of Israel requires study" (Lev. R. 34:7). In Ereẓ Israel Ze'eira obtained semikhah and received the title "rabbi." He was meticulous in the care he took both to receive and transmit halakhic traditions (Ber. 28a; Er. 46a; et al.). His chief pupil was *Jeremiah b. Abba.

Ze'eira was reckoned among "the pious ones of Babylon" (Ḥul. 122a) and there are several stories told testifying to his piety when in Ereẓ Israel. Thus it is related that he showed friendship to lawless men who lived in his neighborhood in order to lead them to repentance (Sanh. 37a). To the question of his pupils: "By what virtue have you reached a good old age?", he replied: "Never in my life have I been harsh with my household; nor have I stepped in front of one greater than myself; nor have I meditated on the Torah in filthy alleys; nor have I walked four cubits without tefillin; nor have I ever slept, or even dozed in the bet ha-midrash; nor have I ever rejoiced at the downfall of my fellow or called him by his derogatory nickname" (Meg. 28a). Another of his dicta was: "A man should not promise something to a child and not keep the promise because he will thereby teach him to lie" (Suk. 46b). Apparently Ze'eira returned to Babylon for some time (Shab. 14a–b), but returned to Ereẓ Israel where he died. The Talmud gives one of the eulogies delivered at his funeral: "The Land of Shinar [Babylon] was his home of birth; the Land of Glory [Israel] reared her darling to fame; woe is me, says Rakkat [Tiberias] for she has lost her choice ornament" (mk 25b). The Babylonian Talmud sometimes mentions in addition to R. Ze'eira an amora Rav Zeira. Some assert that he was another amora (living at the beginning of the fourth century c.e.). Others maintain that both refer to the same amora, who, like all Babylonian amoraim, had the title "Rav" before he went to Ereẓ Israel, whereas after he immigrated to Ereẓ Israel and was ordained there, he was referred to as Rabbi Ze'ira (Ket. 43b; Men. 40b; see Rashi Tos. ibid.).


Bacher, Pal Amor; Hyman, Toledot, s.v.; Ḥ. Albeck, Mavo la-Talmudim (1969), 233–6.

[Zvi Kaplan]