Symmachus ben Joseph

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For the author of one of the Greek versions of the Old Testament, see: Symmachus (translator).

Symmachus ben Joseph (Hebrew: סוּמָכוֹס בן יוסף‎),[1] often referred to in writing as סומכוס[2] (commonly pronounced Sumchus[3]), was a Jewish Tanna sage of the fifth generation.


Rabbi Meir is considered his main teacher.[4] After R. Meir died, and despite R. Judah ben Ilai's reluctance to teach R. Meir's students (who were considered "vexatious" students), Symmachus joined R. Judah ben Ilai's class and debated halakhic matters with him.[4]

Symmachus' brilliance was described as follows:

"R. Abbahu stated in the name of R. Johanan: R. Meir had a disciple of the name of Symmachus who said, on every rule concerning a ritual uncleanness, there are forty-eight reasons in support of its uncleanness, and on every rule concerning a ritual cleanness, forty-eight reasons in support of its cleanness."[5]


He is quoted five times in the Mishna: three times his teachings appear, and twice he quotes an opinion of Rabbi Meir.

He is best known for the following disagreement about judgment in a case of monetary dispute:

These are the words of Symmachus who said that "money which is in dispute - is to be split [equally between the parties]" (ממון המוטל בספק חולקין). The Sages, however, disagreed with him: "It is a fundamental principle in law: One who wishes to extract money from another person, the burden of proof falls on him [the claimant]" (המוציא מחברו עליו הראיה).[6]

Later opinions differ on which situations Symmachus intended for his rule to apply in.[3]

Relation to other individuals name Symmachus[edit]

Some have tried to identify him with Symmachus the translator, but this view has been generally rejected.[7] In Epiphanius' treatise On Weights and Measures, a certain Symmachus is said to have converted to Judaism from the Samaritan religion at the time of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who is also called Verus.[8] Rabbi Meir would have been his contemporary.


  1. ^ Yerushalmi Berachot 12b; Rif Berachot 7a
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Da'at, article: סומכוס
  3. ^ a b The Position of Sumchus: Mammon Ha-Mutal Be-Safek Cholkim
  4. ^ a b Talmud, Kiddushin 33a
  5. ^ Talmud, Erubin 13b
  6. ^ Talmud, Bava Kamma 46a
  7. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, SYMMACHUS, By: Crawford Howell Toy & Felix Perles
  8. ^ Epiphanius' Treatise on Weights and Measures - The Syriac Version (ed. James Elmer Dean), University of Chicago Press 1935, p. 32