Holy Men And Rabbis In Talmudic Antiquity

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David Levine (Hebrew University, Israel)

How does a community define its religious focus? What place in society occupies the center of spiritual attention? Phrased in the idiom of historians of religion: What is the primary locus of the supernatural within a culturally defined group? Classical antiquity locates its divinities in temples, with priests or other officials administering the usually sacrificial ritual. This cultural map underwent a fundamental change. Jonathan Z. Smith speaks of late Hellenism as the context in which individual theurgoi begin to assume the role of chief mediators of the Divine. Smith uses the autobiography of Thessalos, a second century bce magician, to illustrate this development. Perhaps the most representative and telling description in that text is that of the protagonist's arrival at Diospolis Megale (Thebes of Egypt) "a [mere] shadow of its former glory, with a handful of priests inhabiting a few ruined temples".1 The temple wanes as the magus waxes: "[T]he authority—indeed the divinity—of the priest-king, the faith of the clergy in the efficacy of their rituals, the temple as the chief locus of revelation—all these have been relativized in favor of a direct experience of a mobile magician with his equally mobile divinity".2 Peter Brown—in his portrait of the Byzantine holy man—identifies this cultural-religious shift, four centuries later. The much celebrated

1 J.Z. Smith, 'The Temple and the Magician', in: idem, Map is not Territory, Leiden 1978, 178. See also: M. Smith, 'Prolegomena to a Discussion of Aretologies, Divine Men, the Gospels and Jesus', JBL 90 (1971) 174-199; idem, 'On the History of the Divine Man', in: A. Benoit (ed.), Paganism, Judaisme, Christianisme—Marcel Simon Festschrift, Paris 1978, 335-345; R. Phillips, 'The Sociology of Religious Knowledge in the Roman Empire to ad 284', ANRW II, 16.3 (1986) 2752-2764.

2 J.Z. Smith (ibid.) 189. Alternately: 'Rather than a sacred place, the new center and chief means of access to divinity will be a divine man, a magician, who will function, by and large, as an entrepreneur without fixed office . . . Rather than celebration, purification and pilgrimage, the new rituals will be those of conversion, initiation into the secret society or identification with the divine man' (idem, 187).

rise and function of the late antique holy man encapsulates this development: "In the period between 200 and 400, Mediterranean men came to accept, in increasing numbers and with increasing enthusiasm, the idea that divine power was represented on earth by a limited number of exceptional human agents, who had been empowered to bring it to bear among their fellows by reason of a relationship with the supernatural that was personal to them, stable and clearly perceptible to fellow believers".3

This depiction of the holy man as a key to understanding pivotal aspects of Late Roman culture and society, has been one of the most suggestive accomplishments of Late Antique studies. This figure both participates in and influences central spiritual developments such as: the expansion of the early Byzantine church; the encounter of the pagan countryside with this new religious force. He personifies the holy, and is presented as aspiring to Imitatio Christi.4 The holy man was not only a spiritual or religious phenomenon, but also a social figure that exerted communal and political influence within the geographical area in which he functioned. Town-village relations, the evolving nature of rural patronage, the necessity of arbitration, both personal and communal; are all connected to the career of the holy man.5 "[H]ealing, good advice . . . arbitration, plainspeaking, cursing and intercession, on behalf of individuals or whole communities";6 were all part of the holy man's activities.

These two interconnected developments—the shift from institution to acclaimed individual, and the social as well as spiritual aspects of

3 P. Brown, The Making of Late Antiquity, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1978, 12. "A society prepared to vest fellow humans with such powers was ever vigilant. Men watched each other closely for those signs of intimacy with the supernatural that would validate their claim. Holiness itself might be quantifiable. Symeon Stylites, we are told, touched his toes 1244 times in bowing before God from the top of his column. The true horror of this story lies not in the exertions of the saint, but in the layman who stood there counting" (ibid., 13-14).

4 P. Brown, 'The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity', Representations 1/2 (1983) 1-25; idem, Authority and the Sacred, Cambridge 1995, 57-78; R. Browning, 'The "Low Level" Saint's Life in the Early Byzantine World', in: S. Hackel (ed.), The Byzantine Saint (Studies Supplementary to Sobornost 5), San Bernadino, California 1981, 117-127; G. Fowden, 'The Pagan Holy Man in Late Antique Society', JHS 102 (1982) 35-59.

5 P. Brown, 'The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity', 'Town, Village and Holy Man', in: idem, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, Berkeley & Los Angeles 1982, 103-152, 153-165; Fowden (ibid.).

6 Brown, Authority and the Sacred (ibid.), pp. 59, 64.

this endowed person's tenure—are well correlated in contemporary Jewish culture.

The two centuries leading to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 ce herald a shift in the religious history of Judaism. From a religion preoccupied with a sacrificial cult at Jerusalem, administered by the Aaronide priests; there is a turn towards exploring and introducing alternate modes of piety and spirituality. This development is complex and should not be ascribed only as a result of the destruction itself. Its roots and beginnings are to be identified in the crises and developments from the second century bce onward.7 Even after 70 ce, this process continues to be a gradual one. The centrality of temple and cult does not disappear, neither in theory nor even in practice, as evident in the aspirations of the Bar-Kokhba rebels, and the persistence of the priestly status.8

The gradual nature of this process is also perceptible in the literary output of the rabbis. Practically half of the Mishnah-Tosefta corpus deals with temple-oriented material. Even without adding the relevant parts of the tannaitic midrashim, one is impressed by the attention afforded the temple, its ritual and the priestly routine. Even if the literature of the Tannaim indicates a new type of literary endeavor; the fact remains that the first two centuries of rabbinic activity continue dealing with issues and subjects of a past era, albeit in new modes. As the centuries progress, the amoraic material deals less and less with these domains of halakhah. The editing of the Talmudim affords a literary perspective of this re-orientation, with the PT leaving out the final two mishnaic orders dealing with sacrifices and purities, and the BT not including the final order of purities.9

7 M. Stone, Scriptures, Sects and Visions, Philadelphia 1980, esp. 57-86; SJ.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Philadelphia 1987, esp. 34-45, 62-103, 143-173, 214-231.

8 See: D. Goodblatt, 'The Title Nasi and the Ideological Background of the Second Revolt', in: A. Oppenheimer & U. Rappaport (eds), The Bar-Kokhva Revolt; A New Approach, Jerusalem 1984, 113-132 (Hebrew); D. Trifon, The Jewish Priests from the Destruction of the Second Temple to the Rise of Christianity, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Haifa 1985 (Hebrew); R. Kimelman, 'The Conflict between the Priestly Oligarchy and the Sages in the Talmudic Period', Zion 48 (1983) 135-147 (Hebrew). For intimations of sacrifices after the destruction, see: K.W. Clark, 'Worship in the Jerusalem Temple after AD 70', NTS 6 (1960) 267-280; A. Guttmann, 'The End of the Jewish Sacrificial Cult', HUCA 38 (1967) 137-148; A. Aderet, From Destruction to Restoration; The Mode of Yavneh in the Re-Establishment of the Jewish People, Jerusalem 1990, 66-68 (Hebrew).

9 The Babylonian inclusion of the fifth order, Kodashim, is curious and has not

In the development of talmudic religion, temple and cult recede while individual piety comes to the fore. Whether the de jure responsibility of each person to fulfill his or her own obligations—or the rabbis as role models of piety—the focal point of religious experience resides in the person, not in the institution.10

A changing element of rabbinic self-depiction conforms to the chronological framework under discussion. The almost total absence of rabbis as miracle-workers in tannaitic tradition has been noted and variously interpreted in modern scholarship.11 The ability to influence the supernatural is not a skill that this early literature cares to associate with its protagonists, and in general, the individual as a conduit to the Divine is lacking in this stratum of rabbinic literature.12 This absence is strikingly contrasted with the abundance of such portrayals in amoraic traditions from the third century and afterwards. These later traditions do not hesitate to portray rabbis possessing unique capabilities, able to render assistance to the community because of their special ties with the supernatural. Third and fourth century talmudic tradition added the manipulation of the supernatural to the leadership qualities and spiritual assets of its heroes.

been satisfactorily explained, neither in traditional literature nor in scholarly writings. The prevalent explanation (following BT Men 110a) is that the study of the subject is to be construed as a substitute for actual participation in the cult. This does not account for other parts of mishnaic law, equally theoretical and irrelevant to contemporary practice, which are not addressed by the Babylonian Talmud. See: D. Goodblatt, 'The Babylonian Talmud', ANRWII, vol. 19.2 (1979) 259-261; H.L. Strack & G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash, Minneapolis 19962, 191. For the missing orders in the Palestinian Talmud see: B. Bokser, 'An Annotated Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Palestinian Talmud', ANRW (ibid.) 165-167; Y. Sussman, 'Chapters of Yerushalmi', Mehqerei Talmud 2 (1993) 220 note 4 (Hebrew); Strack & Stemberger (ibid.) 166-168.

10 R. Goldenberg, 'The Broken Axis: Rabbinic Judaism and the Fall ofJerusalem', JAAR Supplement 45 (1977) 869-882; J. Neusner, 'Map without Territory; Mishnah's System of Sacrifice and Sanctuary', in: idem (ed.), Method and Meaning in Ancient Judaism, 1, Missoula, Montana 1979, 133-153; B.M. Bokser, 'Rabbinic Responses to Catastrophe; From Continuity to Discontinuity', PAAJR 50 (1983) 37-61; Aderet (supra, note 8), esp. 7-33, 86-111, 119-148; E. Fleischer, 'On The Beginnings of Obligatory Jewish Prayer', Tarbiz 59 (1990) 397-441 (Hebrew).

11 M. Smith, Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels, Philadelphia 1951, 51; W.S. Green, 'Palestinian Holy Men; Charismatic Leadership and Rabbinic Tradition', ANRW II, 19.2 (1979) 624-625; B.M. Bokser, 'Wonder-Working and the Rabbinic Tradition', JSJ 16 (1985) 78-86.

12 The reservations early rabbinic tradition had regarding the centrality of an endowed individual can also be interpreted as a desire to accentuate the availability and accessibility of basic religious experiences (such as prayer and study) to all. Green (ibid.); Bokser (ibid.)

The enticing portrayal of the Byzantine holy man of late antiquity has stimulated historians of Judaism in late antiquity to explore its implications for their field of studies. Two main approaches have been utilized. One approach describes certain characteristics of the Talmudic rabbi as a Jewish parallel to the Christian holy man. Rabbis were spiritual virtuosi, miracle workers, social arbiters, authorities on law and ritual, and exemplars of their religious tradition.13 A prime example—used repeatedly in this context—is the story of the drought set in early third century Sepphoris, and the ensuing interaction between R. Hanina b. Hama and the Zippora'ei, the Sepphoreans.14 The Sepphoreans regard R. Hanina as a holy-man who is approached in times of need because of his powers of intercession and solution; the relations between sage and town folk, however, were not always good. This tenuous situation was exacerbated by Hanina's apparent unwillingness to intercede in times of plague and drought. The townspeople blamed his aloofness for the ongoing public calamity. The crowd's demanding behavior is crucial to the picture. The expectation of the Sepphoreans is simple and straightforward: the rabbi has the power and ability, and can manipulate it at will. The rabbi, for his part, sees 'a word of Torah' and its influence over the people as a key to resolving the communal crisis. Only if the members of the community assume responsibility for their actions, will a solution be forthcoming.15

A second approach endeavors to locate holy man figures in Jewish society outside rabbinic circles. Whether in a diaspora context16 or

13 J. Neusner, Talmudic Judaism in Sassanian Babylonia, Leiden 1976, 46-60; R. Kirschner, 'The Vocation of Hoüness in Late Antiquity', Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984) 105-124.

14 PT Taan 3:4 66c (see: L. Ginzberg, Gemza Studies, 1, New York 1928, 420); L. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine, Jerusalem & New York 1989, 107, 121; S. Miller, 'R. Hanina bar Hama at Sepphoris', in: L. Levine (ed.), The Galilee in Late Antiquity, New York & Jerusalem 1992, 192-193; idem, 'Those Cantankerous Sepphoreans Revisited', in: R. Chazan et al. (eds), Ki Baruch Hu; Studies in Honor of B.A. Levine, Winona Lake, Indiana 1999, 561-562.

15 I might add that the talmudic storyteller cannot resist the urge to illustrate the manipulative ability of his protagonist. After the (public) assertion by R. Hanina that he is not involved, the story ends with a demonstration of his rainmaking prowess.

16 J.N. Lightstone, The Commerce of the Sacred; Mediation of the Divine among Jews in the Graeco-Roman Diaspora, Chico, California 1984, esp. 40-49, 148-152.

in a non-rabbinic Palestinian context, different figures and portraits have been suggested as exemplifying certain holy man qualities. Recent discussions have focused attention on the figure of a countryside pious man—the hasid of Kefar Imi (or: Emi)17—whose help the rabbis seek to enlist in order to end a severe drought. They go searching for him on the mountainside, and there they encounter him and his spiritually and ethically rigorous lifestyle. At the end of the story, the hasid's prayer for rain is answered, but even now he is careful at directing attention and success away from himself, thereby maintaining the aura of modesty.

I should like to offer several comments on what I see as common to both these approaches. There are two ways of utilizing results from one context in order to fructify a parallel setting. [1] One is to highlight comparable characteristics and manifestations. In our case, this would yield a listing of pagan and Christian holy-man qualities, and then require looking for these same items in a Jewish setting. How does the rabbi conform to the existing holy man pattern culled from a pagan and Christian context? Do others in Jewish society exhibit similar qualities? The issue then is defined on a grid stemming from a different culture with its own literature and agendum. We then annotate this picture with sources and data from tal-mudic tradition. The two ways of comparison mentioned above assume this methodical approach. This is a more mechanical usage of scholarly results from a cognate field of studies.

[2] Another approach requires defining the agenda differently: What were the circumstances that stimulated the unique responses of the pagan and Christian holy-man? Are those stimuli paralleled in a Jewish context? Are the responses parallel? Given the prima facie correlation in rabbinic culture with the new styled religious leadership

17 D. Levine, 'Who Participated in the Fast-day Ritual in the City Square? Communal Fasts in Third- and Fourth-century Palestine', Cathedra 94 (1999) 50-51 (Hebrew); R. Kalmin, 'Holy Men, Rabbis and Demonic Sages in the Judaism of Late Antiquity' (forthcoming). I should like to thank Dr. Kalmin for sharing this thought-provoking paper with me before publication. The suggested location of Kefar Emi (Kefar Tama??) is somewhere in the Yavnean valley, southwest of Tiberias. Cf. S. Klein, Sefer HaYishuv, Tel Aviv 1939, 91, 93 (Hebrew); M. Avi-Yonah, Historical Geography of Palestine, Jerusalem 19844, 139 (Hebrew). For a more general description of the relationship of "mainstream" rabbis with individual pietists, hasidim, see: S. Safrai, 'The Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature', JJS 16 (1965) 15-33; idem, 'The Pious and the Men of Deeds', Zwn 50 (1985), 133-154 (Hebrew). Contrast the general comments of Green, Bokser (supra, note 11). See Chana and Zeev Safraion holy men and rabbis in the next contribution to this volume.

centered on spiritual virtuosity, the following issues should be pursued: what are the differences, what do they reflect, and how do they effect the historical reconstruction? What—in the eyes of the rabbis—constitutes the type of spiritual endeavor that yields a following within the community at large? How does talmudic tradition regard the status of its own rabbinic scholarship: How is it achieved and maintained? What type of status and authority—within rabbinic circles or in broader society—is thereby gained?

Let us address briefly some differences and then turn to a pivotal talmudic source that can be utilized to shed light on our query.

The most apparent difference between the holy man of pagan and Christian sources and his rabbinic counterpart, is that of sustained individual portraits versus collective depiction.18 To be sure, rabbinic literature abounds with stories about its protagonists, but these tales are almost always brief and anecdotal. There is no comprehensive treatment of specific rabbinic masters. Therefore the collectivity is in the total picture gleaned from the sources. However, what is at stake ventures much deeper than a difference in literary genre. This collective portrait betrays a disinterest in preserving the figure of the individual rabbi for posterity. These texts represent the ideals of the storytellers and tradents more than those of the protagonists. These ideals resonate in the stories told of talmudic figures. The figure of Hanina bar Hama as such, or an actual rural hasid whose help the rabbis enlisted, are not the concern of talmudic tradition. But the literary traditions regarding Hanina are evidence for rabbinic self-perception and self-portrayal at some point during the third and fourth centuries. I am not claiming that the hagiographies of Symeon Stylites—for instance—conform to standards of historiography, ancient or modern. But the literary genre of holy biography, in-and-of-itself, is evidence of the centrality of specific, named, individuals for the authors and for their public. In contrast, the literature of the rabbis, when presenting its heroes in narrative, is not concerned with

18 Kirschner (supra, note 13), 114-115; D. Boyarin, Carnal Israel, Berkeley 1993, 27: "[F]or authority resides not in the individual Rabbi but in the entire community of the Rabbis".

the individual sage per se, but rather with his role as exemplar. It presents a standard of intellectual achievement and religious behavior, which can be attained—at least in principle—by all who aspire. It is presented as a realistic goal within the social circles of the rabbinic academy.19 Thus, while talmudic culture partakes in the general shift towards the individual, its approach is unique. While the figure of the rabbi represents the ultimate manifestation, in principle any individual can attain this standard. Each individual is responsible for cultivating his or her own relationship with God.20 Guidance is necessary, success not guaranteed, but the ideal as such is both explicitly stated and implicitly conveyed in the tradition. Success in this endeavor, according to our sources, is heavily dependent on the nature of rabbinic piety in late antiquity. Asceticism generally is not championed, nor is removal from society, either physical or psychological, valued.

Granted this was the rabbinic ideal of the pious life, was this value shared by the wider Jewish society in which the sages functioned? Did the public desire guides and instructors for a self-responsible, do-it-yourself type of religion, or was there a demand for more active and fundamental intercession with the Divine? This touches on the thorny and much-contested issue of rabbinic influence and authority

19 W.S. Green, 'Storytelling and Holy Man; The Case of Ancient Judaism', in: J. Neusner (ed.), Take Judaism for Example: Studies toward the Comparison of Religions, Chicago & London 1983, 41: "Whatever personal traits, whatever magnetism or charisma, a rabbi possessed, his standing and credibility within the rabbinic movement initially depended on his learning. Rabbinical status derived not from the exercise of mysterious and arbitrary divine favor but from the result of intellectual labor".

20 Indeed the description of rabbinic circles as a distinct class in society, is an important contribution of recent scholarship (cf. L. Levine [supra, note 14]; C. Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement, Tübingen 1997). However, the heterogeneous nature of this class, together with the ongoing adherence to an ideal of personal responsibility for fulfillment of religious obligations, served to forestall a monastic type of differentiation and removal from society. This does not mean that a separatist-ascetic tendency was totally absent in talmudic thought (we will be examining one such source presently), but the aforementioned ideal usually served as moderating force. Even an aggadah portraying one of the harshest confrontations between rabbi and non-rabbi, states the expectation that laymen have command of basic ritual skills and rudimentary religious knowledge (Leviticus Rabbah 9:3 [ed. Margulies, 176-178]). Interestingly, this source contrasts the rabbinic value of personal obligation and responsibility with an expectation of wider circles of to function as a custodian of religious tradition and as a proxy for its fulfillment (see also the exchange between rabbi and community in the R. Hanina story, supra, note 14).

in late antiquity.21 Suffice it to say that talmudic texts suggest a complex interplay of theory and practice, between the ideal of a religion fulfilled personally and the need for mediation by known authorities. Again, as illustrated by the Sepphoris story, cited above, the community wanted the rabbi to intercede and solve its problem; the rabbi saw himself as a facilitator for the community executing its own responsibility.

Many different types of rabbinic texts have been brought to bear on the relationship of rabbis and holy men. These would include: theoretical dicta on the behavior of a talmid hakham and on the relationship of a sage or disciple with the community; anecdotes describing how rabbis were regarded by different elements of society; stories dealing with the interaction between rabbis and non-rabbis; and more. One group of texts compares the rabbinic 'career' with other vocations. I place the quotation marks because I do not wish to imply that there was a formal structure and organizational definition to embarking on a rabbinic 'career'. But defined loosely as a lifestyle of intellectual pursuit and associated behavior patterns, can being a talmudic sage include other occupations as well? This comparison appears in a number of sources that exhibit some common characteristics, which will be dealt with elsewhere. One particular text presents a one-sided vantage point, wherein the exclusivity of the rabbinic endeavor is emphasized. This is an extreme example of the nexus of rabbis and holy men figures. Unequivocal and absolute dedication to spirituality and religiosity—at the expense of integration in everyday life—is a distinguishing attribute of late antique virtuosi.22 More prevalent attitudes in talmudic tradition attempt a more conciliatory approach in integrating rabbinic activity with worldly pur-suits.23 However, an examination of the exclusivist position serve us

21 Of the vast Literature on this issue see the contribution of Hezser (ibid.), pp. 353 ff., and the extensive reference to earlier scholarship.

22 Brown, 'The Rise and Function of the Holy Man' (supra, note 5), 130-131: "In late Roman society, the holy man was deliberately not human. He was the 'stranger' par excellance . . . the deep social significance of asceticism as a long drawn-out, solemn ritual of disassociation—of becoming the total stranger".

23 On these contrasting approaches, attempting to integrate study with communal in defining the common ground of the parallel figures. We will focus on this account, the story of 'Ilfa and R. Yohanan in the Bavli (BT Taan 21a):24

'Ilfa and R. Yohanan had been studying Torah, and were in great (financial) distress. They said: 'Let us go and do business and apply the verse "There shall be no needy among you" (Deut 15:4) to ourselves.' They went and sat under a shaky wall, and were eating bread. Two angels came, and R. Yohanan overheard one say to the other: 'Let us collapse the wall on them and kill them, for they abandon a life of eternity and hold on to a life of an hour'. The other responded: 'Let them be, for one of them the hour is fortuitous'. R. Yohanan heard, 'Ilfa did not. R. Yohanan said to 'Ilfa, 'Have you just heard anything'. 'Ilfa said, 'No'. He (Yohanan) said to himself, 'From the fact that I heard and 'Ilfa did not, I derive that I am the one whose hour is fortuitous'. R. Yohanan said to him ('Ilfa), 'I will go back and apply to myself the verse "For there will never cease to be needy ones in your land" (ibid. 11)'. R. Yohanan returned, 'Ilfa did not.

By the time 'Ilfa returned, R. Yohanan reigned. They said to him ('Ilfa), 'If you, sir, had remained and studied, would you not have reigned?' He went and suspended himself from the mast (var.lec.: hook) of a ship25 and said, 'If anyone asks me about the mishnayot of R. Hiyya and R. Oshaya, and I cannot explain them on the basis of our Mishnah, I will fall from the ship's mast and drown'. An old man came and recited to him, 'If one says "Give my sons a shekel a week" and they service and other worldly occupations, see: M. Beer, 'Talmud Torah and Derekh Eretz', Bar Ilan 2 (1964) 134-162 (Hebrew); L. Levine (supra, note 14), 43-47, 162-167, 181-185.

24 It is clear that this story was placed in this context as a whole because of one detail in the narrative—the shaky wall, see: D. Rosenthal, 'Early Redactions in the Babylonian Talmud', Mehqerei Talmud 1 (1990) 172 note 30 (Hebrew); C. Licht, Ten Legends of the Sages, Hoboken, New Jersey 1991, 181-183. A partial parallel in the Bavli (BT Ket 69b) is clearly dependent on this context. A Yerushalmi parallel (PT Ket 6:7 30d-31a) situates 'Ilfa (Hilfi) on a river bank inviting the assembled crowd to throw him in the river if he cannot find a parallel source. However, the Palestinian Talmud lacks any additional narrative (or anecdotal) framework. No mention is made of leaving the academy or the comparison with R. Yohanan. Furthermore, PT Qid 1:5 58d has the same scene and protagonist depicted, but an alternate set of sources is addressed. 'Ilfa's challenge seems to have circulated as a context-less anecdote with different examples grafted on to it. I have translated the text from the printed edition of the Bavli, citing variants where necessary (see: H. Malter, The Treatise Ta'anit of the Babylonian Talmud, New York 1930, 83-84).

25 On the nautical realia here, see the data and analysis in D. Sperber, Nautica Talmudica, Ramat Gan & Leiden 1986, 29-32, 132-133, 150-151; idem, Material Culture in Eretz-Israel during the Talmudic Period, Jerusalem 1993, 173-176 (Hebrew); and recently idem, 'Nautica in Talmudic Palestine', Mediterranean Historical Review 15/1 (2000) 31 note 14.

need a sela, they are given a sela. But if he said "Give them only a shekel", they are given only a shekel. If he then stipulated: "If they die, let others inherit in their place," whether he had said (beforehand) "Give" or "Give only", they (the sons) are given only a shekel.'26 He ('Ilfa) responded, 'This is (the teaching) of R. Meir who said "It is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the deceased"'.

The different career choices of 'Ilfa and R. Yohanan propel the plot. The narrative explores the distinction between these choices and their consequences.27 The story divides neatly into two main scenes, with the parting of the two sages being the literary point of division. The following points may help elucidate the issue under discussion:

[1] The first half of the story is devoted to the drifting apart of the two scholars. Both were faced with economic difficulties and decide to leave the academy. They are treated as one at this point: they study together, experience common hardship, make their decision as one, and embark as partners on a journey. Then something happens and a separation develops. A key to deciphering this development is to compare the pair of scholars with the corresponding pair of angels. The two angels act as one. There is an exchange of views between the angels, but common action is taken for granted. R. Yohanan does not share his experience and a parting of the ways ensues; the study partners split up. A lack of proper means will prevent the attainment of the end.

[2] The quotation of texts in the story serves different purposes. Most obviously, this indicates the protagonists', and storyteller's, appeal to tradition as a guide to decision making and as a technique of resolving doubts. This, of course, is widespread in aggadic narrative, but here it is intrinsic to the moral of the tale. It is not only a formalized literary ploy, but also represents the ideals and world to which the protagonists claim allegiance. Different types of texts are cited. The first part cited verses from Scripture, while the second notes oral tradition. Here we have a symbolic representation of the intellectual world of these two rabbinic figures. The texts selected are telling. Deuteronomy 15 includes the two verses which

26 T Ket 6:10 (ed. Lieberman, 78), the text is also quoted in the aforementioned PT Ket 6:7 30d, BT Ket 69b.

27 Previous analyses of this narrative are J. Frankel, Studies of the Spiritual World of the Aggadic Story, Tel Aviv 1981, 87-91 (Hebrew); Licht (supra, note 21), 181-206.

indeed conflict, dealing with the ongoing presence of poverty in society. While verses 4-6 seem to be referring to a utopia where "there shall be no needy among you", verses 1-3, 7-11 legislate the sabbatical year loan moratorium "for there will never cease to be needy ones in your land". The loan moratorium itself is rather optimistic in its expectation, as indicated by the warning issued in verses 9-10, and its de facto abandonment in subsequent Jewish tradition.28 This biblical grappling with the ever-present reality of the under-privileged and the ways in which their plight might be alleviated, form a textual precedent for the characters in the story. Similarly, the baraitot quoted are intricately tied to the issues dealt with.29 The legal situation addressed is the leeway afforded an executor of an estate in enlarging the allowance intended for the inheritors. If the deceased person's instructions where specific and unequivocal, then the allotted sum may not be supplemented, but if the testament was worded more loosely, then adjustments are permissible. The reality of having to cope with a limited budget even though more funds are theoretically available is reflected in the situation of the two scholars.

[3] The latter part of the story involves 'Ilfa alone. The tragic consequences of his decision are vividly depicted in the final scene. The scene portrayed is as follows: 'Ilfa is dangling from the top of a ship mast,30 issuing a challenge to the crowd to stump him. An elderly man (possibly a veteran scholar, maybe just a "John Doe") steps forward, throws out a baraita for 'Ilfa to identify and extrapolate from the Mishnah. As mentioned, the baraita—intentionally— deals with inheritors living off a limited budget. 'Ilfa then responds, shouting from the top of the mast: "it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the deceased",31 or translated more dramatically: "remember the

28 Y.D. Gilat, 'The Development of the Prosbol Enactment', in: idem, Studies in the Development of the Halakha, Ramat Gan 1992, 217-235 (Hebrew).

29 Cf. D. Steinmetz, 'Must the Patriarch Know 'Uqtzin? The Nasi as Scholar', AJS Review 23 (1998) 176-177.

30 The Aramaic for ship or raft is 'ilfa. See supra, note 22.

31 This dictum ascribed to R. Meir does not appear in the Mishnah. In the Yerushalmi parallel (PT Ket 6:7 31a) the passage that is quoted as 'Ilfa's answer— "the shalish (= third party, executor) shall execute his instructions"—does indeed appear in the Mishnah (M Ket 6:7). 'Ilfa's application of R. Meir's legal dictum— "it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the deceased"—to these specific tannaitic traditions, is found only in this Bavli story of R. Yohanan and 'Ilfa and not in any tradition ascribed to tannaitic authority.

words of the dead". The story breaks off ominously. A tragedy is not necessarily implied, but an upbeat resolution of 'Ilfa's distress is not conveyed.32 Even though 'Ilfa has succeeded in demonstrating his scholarly prowess, matters are no rectified. The issue is not the final intellectual achievement, but the daily routine and process that leads to this end. Total commitment to a life of study, even at the expense of financial comfort and security, is a necessary prerequisite of the scholarly endeavor. One is judged not only by what he knows, but how one comes to know it, and the devotion reflected in that knowledge. This is the upshot of the story. Commitment must be exclusive.33 Any attempt to compromise is inadequate. A desire to straddle two vocations, to benefit from the better of two worlds, is doomed to failure.

Here we have an instance of one type of talmudic piety. According to this approach, there is no room to share one's commitment and allegiance with any sort of outside investment of time and energy. This exclusivity contributes to our understanding of rabbinic self-perception in an age where religious leaders were grappling with the inherent tension between their self-perceived uniqueness and the demands of their co-religionists to relate to their needs. The talmu-dic sage did not come into being, nor develop in a vacuum. It is necessary to understand rabbinic piety as part of the wider phenomenon of spirituality and religious leadership in late antiquity. Necessary, but not sufficient. The adaptation of prevalent patterns and concepts to its own context, and imbuing these concepts with its own sensibilities, is no less a part of the achievement of talmu-dic religion.

32 The interpretation offered here is different from those of Frankel (ibid.) and Licht (ibid.). They see the end as redeeming 'Ilfa's plight.

33 A parallel deliberation, both contrasting and complimenting, seeks the appropriate balance between time devoted to study and time spent at home. See inter alia the sequence of texts—both legal and narrative—in BT Ket 61b-63a, and the analyses of Frankel (ibid.), 99-115; Boyarin (supra, note 18), 134-166; S. Valler, Women and Womanhood in the Talmud, Atlanta, Georgia 1999, 51-76. See also:

J. Rubenstein, Talmudic Stories, Baltimore & London 1999, 136-137.

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