Rabbi Abbahu Miracles Of Healing

Likeability Blueprint

Develop Charisma and Become More Likable

Get Instant Access

only for the sin of neglect of Torah study";50 "No monuments need be erected for the righteous; their words are their memorial";51 Consequently, Torah scholars are righteous. Notwithstanding this, the use of the terminology of "tzaddikim", instead of the accepted terms hakham (sage), Talmid hakham (Torah scholar), or rav (rabbi), is not incidental. This term usually alludes to a slightly different facet of the world and activity of the Rabbis.

The Tannaitic sources, and a bit later, the Amoraic sources, contain a number of dicta regarding the power of the righteous to influence the course of the world, to change the decisions of the Creator. These sources also indicate that these righteous might have had a certain degree of prophetic ability. Nonetheless, both the Tannaitic and Amoraic sources contain only few teachings concerning their activity as righteous. The almost total silence concerning the power of the righteous in this realm seems to outweigh these isolated sources, thus allowing for the conclusion that the Rabbis did not emphasize the supernatural or prophetic element, nor regarded it as the primary source of their power. Even teachings that stress the power of the individual righteous person, or his great abilities, do not consider the righteous to be a holy man in the socio-reli-gious sense of this term as is found in the ancient world. The tzad-dik does not heal the sick with the touch of his hand, does not cause the rain to fall with his hands, does not engage in magic, whether black, gray, or white, and makes no use of charms or adjurations, but rather prays. In practice, the righteous individual has no supernatural power, and his strength lies in addressing God, and he, thereby, constitutes a social type different from the "holy" man. Furthermore, the righteous individual is not a professional, he is not available all the time, he only acts in time of distress, in response to the requests from the community or from particular individuals.

Though we traced the equation between particular Rabbis and the "tzaddk, not all Rabbis are tzaddikim and not all the tzaddikim are Rabbis. Many individuals are called "righteous," even though they did not live during the time of the Rabbis, such as the Patriarchs, Sarah and Hagar, Moses, David, and others. In a number of places, the speakers assume that the tzaddik is a Rabbi, or perhaps that every

50 Kallah Rabbati 6.4.

righteous individual is a Rabbi, but not that every Rabbi is a tzad-dik. The Rabbis and elders filled an important role among the people, but not as a result of their mystical power; rather great wisdom, intelligence, knowledge, and morality are the usual requisites.

Rabbis as Holy Men

Since this article is primarily concerned with the social, rather than the ideological-religious aspect of the phenomenon of holy men, the relevant questions would be: did the Rabbis fulfill the social role of holy men? Did they recognize the importance of this role? Did they, and the public, believe that they had the power to effect miracles and wondrous acts? Did the Rabbis want to, or could they rely on this capacity, and turn it into a basis of their power? We will proceed to discuss these issues chronologically.

Second Temple period: the Rabbis (Hillel, Shammai), with the exception of the pietists mentioned above, are depicted as wise teachers with social concerns, and not as holy men.

Tannaim: it is related of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai that he possessed great powers in Merkabah (the Divine chariot) mysticism, and his greatness was even confirmed by a Heavenly voice.52 Nonetheless, Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai is not a miracle-worker. He responds in a frustrated manner to the miraculous power of Hanina b. Dosa (see above).

The tradition relates some narratives on famous Tannaim and their super-natural prowess. For the present analysis it will suffice to mention here two cases:53 (a) Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai delivered a prophecy of healing to the emperor, but the healing of the latter, is not connected with the prophecy as such, but rather with Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai's words of wisdom.54 This narrative is solely

52 In THag 2.1 the narrative does not describe any miraculous power while Mek deRabbi Shimon ben Yohai, beginning of Mishpatim, 158 already mentions the fire that blazed around him. PT Hag 2, 77(a) and BT 14a add that "an angel spoke from within the fire."

53 M. Beer, 'Shim'on Bar Yohai and Jerusalem', in: A. Oppenheimer et al. (eds), Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period: Abraham Schalit Memorial Volume, Jerusalem 1980, 361-76 (Heb.).

Amoraic, and was probably first related by Josephus with perhaps some Roman pagan influence.55 (b) Concerning R. Akiva:

Our masters taught [. . .] It is further related of R. Eliezer that once he stepped down before the Ark and recited the twenty-four blessings [for rain], and his prayer was not answered. R. Akiva stepped down after him and said: "Our father, our King [. . .] for Your sake have mercy upon us," and rain fell. Our masters complained [against R. Eliezer], whereupon a Heavenly voice went forth and proclaimed: "[The prayer of] this one [R. Akiva] was answered, not because he is greater than the other, but because he is always forbearing, while the other is not."56

This tale appears only in the Babylonian Talmud. An examination of all the narratives of miracles attributed to Tannaim would exceed the scope of the present work; almost all appear exclusively in Amoraic sources, and as miracles are not very impressive. Obviously miracles are not the major power source of the Tannaim. Asceticism is another patently "holy" characteristic. Urbach has already indicated57 that the Rabbis were generally opposed to asceticism, although there are traditions that contain allusions to circles and individuals of an ascetic bent. These tendencies became stronger in the Amoraic period. Only Amoraic traditions depict R. Simeon b. Johai and his son, or R. Judah of Hutzi, as ascetics. Characteristic of this phenomenon is the narrative regarding R. Joshua b. Hananiah. The Tosefta states only: "R. Joshua said: 'I defer to you bones of the School of Shammai,'"58 while the Babylonian Talmud has R. Joshua prostrating himself at the tombs of the School of Shammai and fasting his entire life.59

Concerning charms and amulets, the Rabbis both acknowledged the efficacy of charms, while expressing reservation of using them. Of relevance to our discussion is the fact that in Rabbinic literature,

55 G. Alon, 'Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai's Removal to Jabneh', Jews, Judaism and the Classical World, trans. I. Abrahams, Jerusalem 1977, 276.

56 BT Taanit 25b.

57 E.E. Urbach, 'Ascesis and Suffering in Talmudic and Midrashic Sources', Yitzhak F. Baer Jubilee Volume, Jerusalem 1960, 62-66 (Heb.) (= idem, The World of the Sages: Collected Studies [Jerusalem, 1988], 445 ff. [Heb.]).

58 TAhilot 5.12.

59 BT Hag 22b; cf.: BT Nazir 52b. For a complete discussion, see: Urbach, 'Ascesis', 63.

the writer of amulets is always a physician, and not a Rabbi or tzad-dik. This reflects the fact that such writing was considered work and entailed possessing skills, but had no relevance to mystic ability or righteousness.

The sole Tannaitic testimony of the special role played by a Rabbi in prayer and in the beseeching of Divine mercy is the obligation or practice of "yehidim [individuals]" to engage in additional fasts during time of drought, after the public had concluded the series of fasts enumerated in the Mishnah: "Individuals continue to fast until the end of Nissan."60 The term "yehidim" is not unambiguous, and already the Tosefta wonders as to its meaning. A Rabbi could, and was entitled to proclaim himself to be a yahid, but he did not have such status automatically.61 One gains the impression that "yehidut" is not merely Torah study, but rather a higher level that Rabbis, communal leaders and officials were entitled to proclaim for them-selves.62 Such a rule would seem to lack any mystical tinge. In later sources this law may possibly have become the basis for a special social role of the Rabbis, like leading the congregation in prayer on special ceremonies in fasts days.

The Amoraic period: in this period one reads of more activities of Rabbis as "holy men." As was shown above, Amoraim tend to ascribe such qualities to Tannaim, and to narratives about them are added those about the Amoraim themselves. L. Levine collected a number of such testimonies63 to which one might add a few more, but the total number is not large. The following examples were chosen to illustrate the dubious role that supernatural, or charismatic activities play in establishing rabbinic status.

Rabbi Johanan was once asked to pray for a merchant's success, but he refused and merely provided advice.64 The same Talmudic discussion continues with some additional episodes deprecating divination, and postulating the efficacy of charity and good deeds. These episodes indicate that divination existed in the rabbinic horizon, but

60 MTaanit 1.7 and parallels.

61 TTaanit 1.7.

62 See the comments by S. Lieberman, Tosefta ki-Fshuta V, (NY 1962), 1070-71. The identical term "yehida'ah" was commonly used in Syriac to describe the Christian monk, who acted as a holy man in the Byzantine period. See: Safik AbuZayd, Ihidayutha.

63 L.I. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity, Jerusalem and New York 1989, 105-9.

the Rabbis did not engage in this practice. Thus, the daughter of Rabbi Akiva was saved from an imminent death by merit of charity and not by the blessings of her prominent father.65 Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, one of the last pietists,66 preached in Sepphoris that rainfall is not dependent upon the sage and his prayer but rather on the heart of the community and "the people of Sepphoris are hardhearted, and hear words of Torah but are not submissive."67 This narrative attests to the faith of the community in the magical power of the sage. But the Rabbi presents himself as a preacher and advocates rabbinic values—repentance. Further in the narrative, rain eventually fell and although Rabbi Joshua ben Levi took the credit for it, he vowed not to repeat such an act.

In another series of tales, one reads about Rabbis leading the community in time of drought. One of their tasks is to find a person of outstanding qualities to represent the community. The leader of prayer is not necessarily a sage, but one possessing good deeds. Although this reflects a semi-mystical belief in the effectiveness of prayer by the righteous individual, the Rabbi did not necessarily fill this role,68 although they did make the decision whether to fast or not, establishing their leadership and not their "holiness".

In addition to the power of prayer, other attributes of the charismatic include raising from the death, healing the sick and asceticism.69 We will discuss just two: (a) A person asks Rabbi Johanan to heal him. The sage sends him to Rabbi Haninah, who advises him to study. Thus Torah study is put in place of "medical treatment."70 The

65 BT Shab 156b; similarly PT Taanit 3, 66(c). GenR 6.5, 45.

67 PT Taanit loc. cit.

69 Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and his son went into seclusion in a cave for ascetic reasons, as was already shown by M.D. Herr, 'Roman Rule in Tannaitic Literature,' Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 1970, 104-6 (Heb.). See also I.L. Levine, 'Rabi [sic] Simeon bar Yohai, Bones of the Dead and the Purification of Tiberias', Cathedra 22 (1982), 9-42 (Heb.). Judah of Hozi went into seclusion in a cave; see: PT Shebi 8, 38(d); PT Ned 1, 42(c). His teacher, Rabbi Yose bar Halafta, and the entire Talmudic discussion, loc. cit., oppose this path. The few Rabbis who engaged in excessive fasting were listed by Urbach in his discussion of the phenomenon of asceticism in the Rabbinic literature. E.E. Urbach, 'Ascesis', 62-66. Urbach played down its importance, while Fraade, in contrast, expands upon this point: S.D. Fraade, 'Ascetical Aspects of Ancient Judaism', in: A. Green (ed.), Jewish Spirituality from the Bible through the Middle Ages, New York 1989, 253-88.

request represents a popular sentiment, while the rabbinic response reflects their reservations. (b) Although according to the Talmud, one who is responsible for a sick person must go to a sage and ask him to help with prayer,71 this requirement was not accepted as the normative halakhah.72 From a social standpoint, then, just how important were such miraculous activities in relation to the sum total of rabbinic activities. The issue should be examined from the following perspectives:

(a) The number of texts and stories is exceedingly small.

(b) The small number of testimonies is submerged in a sea of narratives concerning the deeds, acts, and annals of the Rabbis. It is in the nature of miraculous and sacred narratives to be well known and widely disseminated. The redaction of the Talmudic literature was entrusted to the Rabbis, and in stark contrast with the Christian hagiographic literature, or with stories of the righteous in present-day religious literature, the Rabbis do not express an interest in a "holy" power base. It would seem that the redactors of the Talmudic literature attempted to conceal these narratives.

(c) Rabbinic literature contains dozens of narratives of miracles performed for the forefathers of Israel in Biblical times, including miracles that are not mentioned in the Bible, while only an extremely small number of miracles are attributed to the Rabbis.

(d) Numbers of traditions in these cases could be a deceptive, since the preservation of the traditions is fragmentary, partial, and random. However, if the miraculous stories had been considered as advancing the status of Rabbis, the redactors would have embellished them and cited them often. The fact that almost all the traditions have few parallels, and that the traditions concerning miracles of Amoraim from the Land of Israel appearing in the Babylonian Talmud have no parallels in Palestinian Talmud reflects the limited interest in these miraculous acts.

(e) Rabbis who were asked to act as holy men often refused to do so and suggested an alternative rabbinic solution such as study, charity and good deeds.

71 BT BB 116a.

72 For example one is not permitted to desecrate the Sabbath for this visit though a physician or a midwife are legally permitted.

(f) In a society in which the "holy" tradition is a central component in the activity and nature of sages, one could expect to find a correlation between the importance of the sage and the miraculous acts attributed to him. It could reasonably be assumed that more miraculous narratives would be related about the leading Rabbis than about lesser sages. However, this is not the case. Rabbi Johanan and Rabbi Haninah are indeed among the leading Amoraim, but there were many leading Tannaim and Amoraim about whom no miraculous narratives are related, such as Hillel, Shammai, Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, Resh Lakish, Rav Ammi, Rav Assi, Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba, Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat, Rabbi Abbahu and many other. It may therefore be presumed that the role of the Rabbis as "holy men" was not emphasized, and did not constitute a viable source of social power.

(g) A comparison with the Christian world, such as with Christians in the Egyptian desert or in the villages of eastern Syria, provides additional information. In the Christian world, the main sources of power of the monks were asceticism, holy acts, and the providing of services connected with them. As we saw, the Rabbinic model was different.

(h) Both Jewish and Christian literature, contain many narratives of an encounter between the sage73/holy man ("saba" in Syriac)74 and a "matrona [matron]." But the nature of the encounter is very different. The Christian narratives evolve around a miracle, while the Jewish encounters are intellectual—a study session, be it polemic or philosophical. The Christian model end usually with a conversion, while the Jewish debate usually does not lead to a conversion. The difference in power base is obvious.

(i) In religions there is an intellectual-philosophical stratum and a popular one more at home with miraculous deeds, wondrous stories, and "holy" acts and there might be a confrontation between the two. The question, therefore, is not whether there is a popular stratum in which holy men fulfilled a central role, but whether the intellectual leadership played a role there.

73 For matron narratives, see, for example, GenRab 4.6, 30; 6.5, 45; 17.7, 158; 25.1, 239; 63.8, 688; 68.3, 771; 84.21, 1027; 87.6, 1070; PT Pes 10, 37(c); Pesikta Rabbati 18, p. 93. See also: T. Ilan, 'Matrona and Rabbi Jose: An Alternative Interpretation', JSJ 25,1 (1994), 11-51.

74 Safik AbuZayd, Ihidayutha.

(j) There were many marked elements of popular religion in the Second Temple period, as is evident from epigraphic finds, charms and amulets pilgrimage and many other issues.75 This popular religion is attested by books such as Sefer Ha Razim, and by the developments of traditions regarding sacred sites, and practices of pilgrimage and popular celebrations at the holy tombs.76 Apparently there was great popular demand for holy men, but the Rabbis, as a typical intellectual elite, did not fill this role, and tended to play down its value, stressing other values discussed above.

(k) The Rabbis thereby willingly waived a source of power and of authority. The way of the holy man or charismatic contradicts that of the Rabbis. The Rabbis taught that the way to the kingdom of Heaven consisted of faith, observance of the commandments and Torah study, while the holy men presented a different and enticing, emotional path. If the Rabbis had acted as holy men, they would have attained prestige and amassed personal power, but in the long run they would have undermined their own way and religious leadership.

75 See, for example, J. Naveh and S. Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity, Jerusalem 1985, and much additional Literature.

76 See: Z. Safrai, 'Sacred Tombs and Holy Sites in the Jewish Tradition', in: E. Schiller (ed.), Zßv Vilnay's Jubilee Volume, Jerusalem 1987, 303-13 (Hebr.).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Power Of Charisma

The Power Of Charisma

You knowthere's something about you I like. I can't put my finger on it and it's not just the fact that you will download this ebook but there's something about you that makes you attractive.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment