Eleazar ben Shammua

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Eleazar ben Shammua or Eleazar I (Hebrew: אלעזר בן שמוע) was a Mishnaic teacher of the 4th generation, frequently cited in rabbinic writings without his patronymic (Ab. iv. 12; Giṭ. iii. 8, incorrectly "Eliezer"; compare Gemara Giṭ. 31b; Yer. Giṭ. iii. 45a, Mishnah and Gemara). He was of priestly descent (Meg. 27b; Soṭah 39a) and rich (Eccl. R. xi. 1), and acquired great fame as a teacher of traditional law.


Eleazar ben Shammua was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva (Zeb. 93a, 110b), but owing to the Hadrianic proscriptions of Jewish observances, was not ordained by him. After Akiva's death, however, R. Judah ben Baba ordained Eleazar, together with Rabbi Meïr, Jose ben Ḥalafta, Judah bar Illai, and Simon bar Yoḥai, at a secluded spot between Usha and Shefar'am. The ordainer was detected in the act and brutally slain, but the ordained escaped, and eventually became the custodians and disseminators of Jewish tradition (Sanh. 13b; Ab. Zarah 8b).

Mention is made of a controversy between Eleazar and Rabbi Meir at Ardiska (Tosef., Naz. vi. 1; see A. Neubauer, G. T. p. 106). He also maintained halakic discussions with R. Judah bar Illai and Rabbi Jose (Tosef., Zeb. v. 4, x. 10), and quite frequently with R. Simon bar Yoḥhai (Sheḳ. iii. 1; Yoma v. 7); but he never appeared with them at the sessions of the Sanhedrin at Usha. Hence it may be assumed that he did not return to the scene of his ordination. Wherever he settled, he presided over a college to which large numbers of students were attracted (Er. 53a; Yer. Yeb. viii. 9d; compare Mek.[disambiguation needed], Beshallaḥ, Amalek, i.), among whom are named Joseph or Issi ha-Babli (Tosef., Zeb. ii. 17; Men. 18a), and the compiler of the Mishnah, R. Judah I ('Er. 53a); thus, while his name does not appear in rabbinic lore as often as the names of his colleagues at the ordination, Eleazar had an ineradicable influence on the development of the Talmud. Abba Arika styles him "the most excellent among the sages" (טובינא דחכימי, Ket. 40a; Giṭ. 26b), and R. Johanan expresses unbounded admiration for his large-heartedness (Er. 53a).

His motto[edit]

Let the honor of thy pupil be as dear to thee as that of thy colleague; that of thy colleague, as the reverence of thy master; and the reverence of thy master, as that of the Most High

— Eleazer ben Shammua, Ab. iv. 12; Ab. R. N. xxvii. 4


His disciples once requested him to tell them whereby he merited unusual longevity, when he replied, "I have never converted the Synagogue into a passageway [for the sake of convenience]; have never trodden over the heads of the holy people [i.e., come late to college and stepped between the rows of attentive students; compare Abdan], and have never pronounced the priestly blessing before offering the benediction preceding it" (Meg. 27b; Soṭah 39a). When asked what merits will save man from the tribulations which are to precede the Messianic epoch, he replied, "Let him engage in the study of the Law and in deeds of benevolence" (Sanh. 98b). According to Eleazar, children as well as pious adults share in the glory of God (Midr. Teh. xxii. 31). He also taught that the world rests on a single pillar, the name of which is Righteousness, as the Bible says (Prov. x. 25, Hebr.), "The righteous is the foundation of the world" (Ḥag. 12b).

The following anecdote concerning Eleazar is twice told in the Midrashim (Lev. R. xxiii. 4; Cant. R. ii. 2): R. Eleazar visited a certain place where he was invited to lead the people in prayer, but he avowed inability to do so. "What!" cried the astonished people; "is this the celebrated R. Eleazar? Surely he deserves not to be called 'Rabbi'!" Eleazar's face colored with shame, and he repaired to his teacher Rabbi Akiva. "Why art thou so crestfallen?" inquired Akiva; whereupon Eleazar related his unpleasant experience. "Does my master wish to learn?" asked Akiva; and, on receiving Eleazar's affirmative answer, Akiva instructed him. Later, Eleazar again visited the scene of his mortification, and the people again requested him to lead them in prayer. This time he readily complied with their request, whereupon the people remarked, "R. Eleazar has become unmuzzled" (איטחסם, from חסם = "to muzzle"), and they called him "Eleazar Hasma" (compare A. Geiger, Schriften, iv. 343). The hero of this anecdote is doubtless the subject of the present article, and not, as is generally assumed, Eleazar Ḥisma. The latter was never Akiva's pupil. Indeed, he was Akiva's senior, and in the account of a halakhic discussion between him and Eleazar ben Azariah and Akiva, his name precedes that of Akiva (Ned. vii. 2; Sifre, Deut. 16). Eleazar I was an acknowledged disciple of Akiva, and the Midrashim explicitly state that he "went to Akiva, his teacher."

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.