The term is ordinarily used in rabbinical lore in its original Biblical sense (Abot ii. 9, 10). A Talmudic proverb says, "Thy chaber has a chaber, and thy chaber's chaber has a chaber; thy words will thus circulate and become public" (Baba Batra 38b; 'Arakin 16a).
The Rabbis urgently recommend study in company, asserting that only in this way can knowledge be acquired (Berakot 63b; Nedarim 81a); therefore, if necessary, one should even expend money for the purpose of acquiring a companion (Abot de-Rabbi Natan viii. 3). A prominent teacher of the second century declared that, while he had learned much from his masters, he had learned more from his "chaberim" (Ta'anit 7a). Hence the term came to mean a "companion in study," a "colleague"; and when preceded or followed by the term "talmid" (pupil) it denotes one who is at once the pupil and colleague of a certain teacher, a scholar who from being a pupil has risen to be a colleague or fellow (compare Baba Batra 158b; Yerushalmi Shekalim iii. 47b). Eventually "chaber" assumed the general meaning of "scholar" (Baba Batra 75a), and appears as a title subordinate to Chakam (compare Kiddushin 33b). The title "chaber" was known in comparatively early times (eleventh century), when it probably referred to a member of a court of justice; but in Germany in later centuries it indicated that its possessor had devoted many years to the study of sacred literature.
"Chaber" also denotes a member of a society or order ("chaburah," "chaburta," "k'neset" = "aggregation," "company," "union"), or of a union of Pharisees for the purpose of carrying out the observance of the laws of "clean" and "unclean" to their fullest possible development. In their eyes, any person about whom there was a doubt as to whether he was particular in the observance of these laws or those concerning the tithes was an am ha'aretz, whose contact was defiling. But the term "chaber" is by no means synonymous with "Parush" (Pharisee), since not all Pharisees were chaberim, though sometimes the generic term "parush" is used in its stead (Tosefta, Shabbat i. 15). Occasionally the more specific term "ne'eman" (trusty) takes the place of "chaber" (Demai iv. 5, 6). On the Scriptural saying, "He shall . . . cleanse it and hallow it" (Lev. 16:19), rabbinical ethics bases the maxim, "Cleanliness leads to holiness" (Yerushalmi Shabbat i. 3c; compare Sotah ix. 15). But cleanliness was understood to be closely connected with Levitical purity; of this there were several degrees, there being sections in the community which observed its rules more strictly and extensively than did others. Some even extended all the precautions necessary for the priest in eating holy things to the layman who lived on secular food (Hagigah ii. 6, 7).
The Bible (Lev. 27:30-32; Num. 18:21-28; Deut. 14:22-29) lays on the products of an Israelite's farm and on his herds certain imposts to be paid respectively to the priest, the Levite, and the poor (compare Tobit 1:6-8), but which were not universally paid. The rules governing these imposts, as well as the rules of "clean" and "unclean," were doubtless familiar to the people at large; but not all people found it convenient or possible to comply with them. Particularly difficult must their observance have been in the unsettled state of affairs during the Maccabean wars. It is suggested by some that it was at this time that the so-called "am ha'aretz" (who included the great majority of the people), either driven by circumstances or seduced by temptation, neglected them; and that a certain more rigorous minority, not knowing whom to trust in such matters, formed among themselves associations ("chaburot"), the members ("chaberim") of which pledged themselves to keep faithfully the rules of Levitical purity and those regarding the tithes. Accordingly the chaber is one who strictly observes the laws of "ma'aserot" (tithes) and of Levitical cleanness (see Gittin. v. 9). To be admitted as a chaber the candidate must declare his determination never to present the "terumah" or the "ma'aser" to a priest or a Levite who is classed as an am ha'aretz; nor to allow his ordinary food to be prepared by an am ha'aretz; nor to eat his ordinary food ("chullin," grain and fruit from which terumah and ma'aser have been separated) except in a certain state of Levitical cleanness (Tosefta, Demai ii. 2). This declaration must be made before three members of the order, and if they are satisfied that the candidate has lived up to the rules in his private life, he is accepted at once; otherwise he is admitted as a "ben ha-k'neset" (son of the union, neophyte; compare Bekorot v. 5; Zabim iii. 2) for thirty days. According to Bet Shammai, this period suffices only when membership is sought for the lesser degrees of purity, while for the higher degrees the period of probation must be extended to a year. After this period, if the candidate has proved his constancy, he becomes a chaber or ne'eman. And in this respect no distinction is made between the learned and the ignorant; all must make this declaration. An exception is made only in favor of a scholar attached to a college, it being presumed that he took the pledge when he first joined the college (Bekorot 30b).
Degrees of chaburah
As there are several degrees of Levitical cleanness, so there are several classes of chaberim and ne'emanim, pledging themselves to corresponding observances. The lowest class is that which pledges itself to practise Levitical cleanness of "k'nafayim" (literally "wings"). This is a very obscure term, for which no satisfactory explanation has been found. It is generally assumed to mean "hands"; and inasmuch as the Pharisaic maxim is, "Hands are always busy," touching without intention on the part of their owner both clean and unclean things, they are regarded as being in a state of uncertain cleanness; hence one must cleanse them before eating anything Levitically clean (Tohorot vii. 8). This may be legally accomplished by pouring on them one-fourth of a log of water. But that process suffices only where a person wishes to eat chullin, ma'aser, or terumah. If he desires to eat the sacrificial portions, he must dip his hands into forty seahs of water; and if about to handle the water of lustration, he must first subject his whole body to immersion (Chagigah ii. 5; Gemara 18b et seq.). As the ordinary Israelite and the Levite are not permitted to handle the most sacred things, it naturally follows that not all men are eligible for the higher degrees; and even of those whose descent does not bar their admission, not all are willing to assume the correspondingly greater precautions incident to the privilege. Provision is therefore made for general admission to the lower degrees, of which most people availed themselves. It is ordained that if one desires to join the order of chaberim, but does not wish to subject himself to the duties devolving upon the members of the higher degrees—the precautions necessary to keep himself Levitically clean, as for the more sacred things—he may be accepted; but where, on the contrary, one seeks admission to the higher degrees while refusing to pledge himself to strict observance of the rules governing the lower degrees, he must be rejected (Bekorot l.c.).
Separation from the am ha'aretz
Having been admitted as reliable in matters of ma'aser, a chaber must tithe what he consumes, what he sells of his own producing, and what he buys for the purpose of selling, and must not eat at the board of an am ha'aretz, lest he be served with victuals that have not been properly tithed. If he would become a full chaber, he must not sell to an am ha'aretz anything that moisture would render subject to uncleanness (see Lev. 11:38; Makshirin i.), lest the am ha'aretz expose the goods to contamination; for rabbinical law forbids the causing of defilement even to things secular in the Land of Israel (Abodah Zarah 55b). Nor must he buy of an am ha'aretz anything so rendered subject to uncleanness, nor accept invitations to the board of an am ha'aretz, nor entertain one who is in his ordinary garments, which may have been exposed to defilement (Demai ii. 2, 3).
A chaber's wife, and his child or servant, are considered, in respect to religious observances, as the chaber himself (Abodah Zarah 39a); therefore the admission of a candidate into the order embraces all the members of his family. Even after the chaber's death his family enjoy the confidence previously reposed in them, unless there be reason for impugning their fidelity. The same is the case when one of them joins the family of an am ha'aretz; as long as there is no reasonable suspicion to the contrary, it is presumed that the habits acquired under the influence of the observant head of the family will not be discarded, even under different circumstances. Similarly, the presumption of habit governs the case of members of the family of an am ha'aretz joining that of a chaber; they are not considered trustworthy unless they pledge themselves to live up to the rules of the chaburah. However, the child or servant of an am ha'aretz entering the house of a chaber for the purpose of study is exempt from the operation of that presumption as long as he remains under the chaber's direction. On the other hand, when the pupil is the son or servant of a chaber and the teacher is an am ha'aretz, the presumption is extended in the pupil's favor. Again, where a man is recognized as reliable while his wife is not—as when a chaber marries the widow or daughter of an am ha'aretz—chaberim may unhesitatingly buy of him articles of food, but must not eat at his board if it is presided over by his wife. If, on the contrary, the wife is reliable, being the widow or daughter of a chaber, while the husband is an am ha'aretz, chaberim may eat at his table, but must not buy from him (Tosefta, Demai ii. 14-18).
Suspension from the order
As to the chaber himself, once he has been recognized as such, he continues so long as he is not found guilty of backsliding. If suspicion of backsliding is reasonably aroused against him, he is suspended from the chaburah until he reestablishes his trustworthiness. Similarly, where a chaber accepts an office that is considered suspicious—as that of tax-collector or publican—he is suspended from the chaburah, but is reinstated upon surrender of the office (Bekorot 31a).
The exact date when the chaberim first appeared can not be determined. That they existed, however, as a chaburah in ante-Maccabean days, and are identical with those cited in I Macc. xiv. 28 as the "great congregation of priests" (Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 124), is not very probable, since in the later period of the Medo-Persian rule over the Land of Israel no great formative events are on record which could account for so great a separation from the body of the people. The precise period of the chaburah's organization should be sought, therefore, in the last decades of the second century BCE.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: S. S. S. M. (1901–1906). "ḤABER". Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved May/30/13.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography:
- Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 121 et seq.;
- Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 74 et seq., and notes 9, 10, 13;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 126;
- Leopold Löw, Nachgelassene Schriften, ii. 140;
- Maimonides, Yad, Ma'aserot, ix.-xii.;
- Semag, precept 135;
- Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., ii. 387;
- Monteflore, Hibbert Lectures, p. 498;
- Bacher, in Monatsschrift, xliii. 345-360;
- idem, Aus dem Wörterbuch Tanchum Jeruschalmis, p. 20.
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