Johanan ben Nuri

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Rabbinical Eras

Yochanan ben Nuri (Hebrew: יוחנן בן נורי) was a tanna of the 1st and 2nd centuries, studied under the watch of Rabban Gamliel of Yavne and senior of Akiba (Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv. 9; Ar. 16b; comp. Sifre, Deut. 1). A great halakist, always provided with satisfactory answers to all questions, he was familiarly called "pedler's basket" or "bundle of halakot" (Ab. R. N. xviii.; Giṭ. 67a); the number and diversity of halakot cited under his name in the Mishnah alone, about 40, justify those appellations. Besides exhaustive rabbinical knowledge, he acquired familiarity with the general science of his time, especially geometry. It was said of him, as of his colleague Eleazar ben Ḥisma, that he could approximately state the number of drops contained in the sea; like Eleazar, also, he was very poor. Through the influence of Joshua ben Hananiah both were appointed by Gamaliel to remunerative offices (comp. Sifre, Deut. 16).

Johanan showed himself grateful to Gamaliel. When, after that patriarch's death, Joshua proposed a change in a rule established by Gamaliel, Johanan opposed him: "I have observed that the head is always followed by the trunk; as long as Gamaliel lived we observed the rule laid down by him, and now you propose to veto his directions. Joshua, we shall not harken to thee" (Er. 41a). Between him and Ḥalafta also intimate scholarly relations existed (comp. Tosef., B. B. ii. 10 with B. B. 56b and parallels).

In his discussions of halakot Johanan considered expediency and economy as well as law and authority. When Ṭarfon declared that only olive-oil was appropriate for the Sabbath-lamp, Johanan became impatient: "And what shall the Babylonians do where none but sesame-oil is to be had; and what shall the Medians do, who have nothing but nut-oil; and the Alexandrians, who have nothing but radish-oil; or the Cappadocians, who have only naphtha?" (Shab. 26a). On another occasion, when Akiba suggested that a married woman who has become the common talk of the "spinsters by the moon" ought to be divorced, Johanan remarked, "In that case there is no chance for a daughter of Judah to live with a husband! Only where infidelity is fully established by legal evidence may a divorce be imposed" (Giṭ. 89a; see Deut. xix. 15, xxiv. 1). In the Aggadah he is not often cited. He was very pious, and therefore later rabbis said that when one dreams of Johanan b. Nuri one may hope to develop a wholesome fear of sin (Ab. R. N. xl. [ed. S. Schechter, p. 64b]).

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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.