Baba ben Buta
Baba ben Buta was a teacher of the Law at the time of Herod the Great, and perhaps a member of the prominent family known as The Sons of Baba ("Bene Baba"), who, at the time of the siege of Jerusalem by Herod (37 BC), resisted its surrender, and whom Costobarus protected from the wrath of Herod for ten years, until they were discovered and put to death (Josephus, "Ant." xv. 7, § 10).
Baba ben Buta is also the subject of several traditions which are found in the Babylonian Talmud. While Baba ben Buta, if he existed, lived in the 1st century, the extensive traditions about him come from the 4th to the 8th centuries, when this Talmud was composed and redacted. Hence, it is worthwhile to realize that what is attested in the Bavli is not fact, but historical legend, attached to this particular character, who may be fictional. He is not at all attested to by contemporary writers.
But, according to a tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud (B. B. 3b et seq.), Baba ben Buta was the only teacher of the Law who was spared by Herod. According to this tradition it was Baba b. Buta, deprived of his eyesight by Herod, who advised the latter to rebuild the Temple in expiation of his great crimes. The following conversation between the king and the blind teacher, with its haggadic embellishments, forms the principal part of this tradition, and is considered likely to have some historical foundation:
"One day Herod came to visit the blind teacher and, sitting down before him, said, 'See how this wicked slave [Herod] acts.' Said he [Baba] to him, 'What can I do to him?' Said he, 'Curse him, sir.' Said he, 'It is written (Eccl. x. 20), "Curse not the king; no, not in thy thought."' 'But,' said Herod, 'he is no king.' Upon which Baba said, 'Let him be only a man of wealth, it is written (ib.), "And curse not the rich in thy bedchamber"; or let him be merely a chief, it is written (Ex. xxii. 27 [A.V. 28]), "Curse not a ruler of thy people."' 'But,' said Herod, 'this is interpreted to mean a ruler that acts according to the customs of thy people; but that man [Herod] does not act according to the customs of thy people.' Said he, 'I am afraid of him,' to which Herod replied, 'There is no man here to go and tell him; for I and thou sit here alone.' Said he, 'It is written (Eccl. l.c.), "For a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter."'
"Herod now disclosed himself, and said, 'Had I known that the rabbis were so discreet, I should not have put them to death. What, now, can a man like me do to repair this wrong?' 'He,' said Baba, 'has extinguished the light of the world [put to death the teachers], as it is written (Prov. vi. 23), "For the commandment is a lamp; and the Law is light"; let him busy himself with the light of the world [the Temple], of which it is written (Isa. ii. 2), "All nations shall flow unto it"' [a play on nahar, which also means "light"]. Said Herod, 'I am afraid of the [Roman] government.' To which Baba replied, 'Send a messenger; he will be one year in going to Rome, will be detained there one year, and make his home voyage in one year, and in the mean while thou shalt have torn down and built'; and Herod did accordingly."
In halakic tradition Baba b. Buta is recorded as a disciple of Shammai; and it is said that he prevented an opinion of Shammai concerning a question of sacrifices from becoming a rule, because he was convinced of the correctness of Hillel's opposing opinion (Betzah 20a et seq.). Baba is reported to have been so scrupulous in his religious observances that he brought a free-will offering every day, for fear that he might have committed a sin requiring atonement. These sacrifices were called "sin-offerings of the pious". Baba was a member of the bet din and some sources state that he always saw that justice was done, particularly to women (Git. 57a; Ned. 66b).
- Grätz, Geschichte der Juden, 2d ed., iii. 166, 208
- Weiss, Dor, i. 177 et seq.J. Sr. W. B.