Chana Safrai and Zeev Safrai (Bar-Ilan University, Israel)
One of the most important socio-religious functions of religious leaders has always been to mediate between God (or the gods) and His flesh-and-blood creations. The religious functionary is an exalted individual, possessing supernatural qualities of one type or another. This capability is acquired, but at times is a natural quality imparted by the grace of God. By force of this attribute, the religious leader is capable of providing society and the individual with aid and succor in times of distress. The range of aid varies from one religion to another, and from one society to another.1
In many religions, prophecy is provided in the temple. Healing, both of illnesses of the body and the spirit, was entrusted to the priest. In the Roman period, medical services, combining contemporary medicine with divine aid, were given in temples. The priests engaged in white magic, the atonement of sins, the conducting of miracles, and similar activities.
In early Christianity, the holy man played a central role in dissemination of the new religion. These holy men spread Christian theology, but their primary influence was due to the combination of a charismatic personality, and healing powers. They expressed an exceptional moral and ascetic manner, and performed miracles. They conducted themselves modestly and humbly, but their power, influence, and fame were sustained by healing of the sick, through the undertaking of miraculous triumphs over wild animals, and by saving the wretched. A common model is the matron who comes to the holy man seeking a cure. The narrative usually ends, not only with a miracle of healing, but also with the conversion to Christianity of the matron, her servants, and at times also of her husband. By the mid-third century, such holy men or by then already active as monks,
1 For the holy man, see: P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, London 1971; idem, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, London 1982, 103-65.
in the wildernesses of Syria,2 were found mainly among the Aramaic-speaking population. It may reasonably be assumed that the populace in the Land of Israel also was exposed to the phenomenon of holy men that was well-known in the deserts of Syria. One might assume that Rabbis and the Jewish public were aware of the existence of this type of holy man nearby.3 In the fourth century, the monks constituted the vanguard for the dissemination of Christianity.4 The above-mentioned social functions; healing and charismatic moral guidance, were apparently in great demand in ancient society, as is attested by the outstanding success of the pagan temples on the one hand, and of the propagators of Christianity and its early monks, on the other. Accordingly, it is of special interest whether society in the Rabbinic world was in need of such, real or virtual, services and functions, whether the Rabbis filled this social function, or whether other holy man concurrently fulfilled such a function.
Hasidim: The Holy Men of the Late Second Temple Period
The collection of the majority of the material concerning pietists (hasidim) and men of good deeds (anshei ma"aseh)) in Jerusalem in the last generations before the destruction of the Temple, and afterwards, together with a socio-religious analysis of this material, has already been undertaken by Shmuel Safrai in a series of essays. In it he stressed the unique nature of the group as being a social entity on the fringes of the world of the bet midrash.5 Based on these previous studies this work is a further study of the pietists as a distinctive group, as well as an attempt to evaluate the place of this group within the power structure of the society of the late Second Temple and Tannaic periods.
2 Safik AbuZayd, Ihidayutha. A Study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient from Ignatius of Antioch to Chalcedon 451 AD, Oxford 1993.
3 G. Anderson, Sage, Saint, and Sophist: Holy Men and Their Associates in the Early Roman Empire. London 1994.
4 R. MacMullen, Changes in the Roman Empire, Essays in the Ordinary, Princeton 1990, 10-11.
5 S. Safrai, 'Mishnat Hasidim in the Tannaitic Literature', in: Ve-Hinei Ein Yosef, A Collection in Memory of Yosef Amorai, Tel Aviv, 1973, 136-52 (Heb.) idem, 'Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature' JJS XVI (1965) 15-33; idem, 'The Pious (Hassidim) and the Men of Deeds', Zion 50 (1985), 133-54 (Heb.); idem, 'Jesus as a Hasid', Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem 1990, 1-7 (Heb.); idem, 'The Term Derekh EreZ, Tarbiz 60 (1991), 147-62 (Heb.).
Such an attempt must contend with two fundamental methodological problems. All of the information concerning these pietists, their deeds and halakhot, is contained in Rabbinic literature. Although it is possible to identify elements of their teachings that were absorbed verbatim in this literature,6 these elements are not the independent voice of the pietists themselves, as in the case of classical prophecy representing the words of the prophets or esoteric literature representing the ipsissima verba of mystics. It is difficult to discern supposed social tensions, or to evaluate their full social significance, when we possess only their Rabbinic reflection. From extant material, however, we may ascribe to this group a number of key words and appellations characteristic of its members. Two such terms, "hasidim" and "anshei ma'aseh," have been mentioned above. To these may be added other clearly pietist expressions such as "yirei het [those who fear sin]" and "derekh eretz [proper behavior]." These expressions are used both in a more general way and in a specific way to signify important qualities of the pietists. At times, distinguishing between these two, between pietist's expressions and regular Rabbinic words is difficult or even impossible.
The following dicta are illustrative:
(a) The first appears in the Babylonian Talmud in the name of a sage from the land of Israel R. Samuel b. Nahmani: "Woe to the enemies of the scholars, who occupy themselves with the Torah, but have no fear of Heaven [yirat shamayim]."7 (b) The second is that of R. Hoshaiah, a sage of the Land of Israel: "Anyone who has knowledge but lacks the fear of sin [yirat het] has nothing, just as a carpenter who does not possess the tools of his trade is not a real carpenter, for the treasure-chest of the Torah lies in the fear of sin, as it is said: 'Reverence for the Lord—that was his treasure' (Isaiah 33:6)".8 Were these originally part of a pietist teaching that attacked the Rabbinic world, a world of Torah study lacking in fear of Heaven and fear of sin? Or were they a Rabbinic call to act in a manner guided by the fear of Heaven? Finally perhaps all this just represents the influence of pietist literature upon that of the Rabbis? A sociological discussion cannot be restricted to the influence of the
6 S. Safrai, 'Mishnat Hasidim'.
7 BT Yoma 72b.
pietists, but must also be concerned with the tension, or even competition, between the Rabbis and the pietists as two distinctive groups, and will frequently have difficulty in arriving at clear-cut conclusions.
Finally, the degree to which the pietists as a group constituted a social elite within Jewish society is in doubt, even though the sources present them as an established group: "The Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw and showed him [Moses] each generation and its sages, each generation and its prophets, each generation and its leaders, each generation and [its] anshei ma'aseh."9 The list comprises a portion of the Jewish leadership groups, as will be discussed below. The pietists unquestionably exerted considerable influence as individuals, both within the public and among the Rabbis, and this list could be understood within the framework of the struggle of the Rabbis to attain hegemony and elite standing. Moreover, even if the pietists did not develop into an elite group, they posed a threat and potential danger to the elite standing of the Rabbis, since they seemingly offered an alternative religious leadership.
Since the pietists have already been identified as an established group that was influential within the Jewish public of the late Second Temple period, we need not describe all of the characteristics attributed to them, and will restrict ourselves to a summary of those features that constituted the subject of disagreement and a source of tension with the Rabbinic world. Thus, the pietists emphasize derekh eretz, that is, concern for societal needs and care of the needy. Their social credo stands in patent contrast to that of the Rabbis, who were the main proponents of the promotion of the Torah and its study. We possess no Talmudic or halakhic statements by the pietists, but rather traditions describing pious practices and a moral philosophy in which Torah study has a secondary role. Consequently, their existence was likely to pose a challenge to the Rabbis. Torah study was the primary source of power of the Rabbis, and whoever did not regard Torah study as the centre of his or her religious experience obviously undermined the power base of the Rabbis.10
One of the outstanding characteristics of the Rabbinic world in the first centuries ce is the development of purity laws. Pietist nar
9 Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu Zuta 6, 183.
10 C. Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine, Tubingen 1987. L.I. Levine, The Rabbinic Class of Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity, Jerusalem and New York 1989, 43-53. Cp. Birke Rapp's contribution to this volume.
ratives demonstrate that the pietists, among others, did not participate in this pursuit of the Rabbis. In addition, their reservations regarding the renewed purity laws expedited their involvement with the poor and wretched. This was so because anyone strictly observing these laws had to take care in his or her contacts with the lower socio-economic echelons of society, while the pietists felt obligated to care for anyone who was in need. Their abstention from the purity laws was a factor in their acknowledged standing among the popular classes as healers of the sick and the impure. They were known as wonder workers capable of spiritually uplifting prayers. Their halakhic behavior was not only a reservation of the Rabbis' power and prestige, but became a possible power source for themselves, as individuals enjoying prestige and power among the public.
The last issue that is necessary to mention here, is the special nature of pietist prayer. Rabbinic literature contains numerous testimonies concerning the involvement of the pietists in prayer as well as their exceptional prayers. Of course, the synagogue and the order of prayers are a subject of importance in the world of the Rabbis. Nonetheless, prayer and its practices are not confined to the Rabbinic world, and other groups share the Rabbinic concern for prayer and are party to it. The prayer of pietists, although obviously non-Rabbinic, maintained a position of popularity among the public, who was well aware of its existence, and it might have served as a source of inspiration for the entire community.11 The outstanding characteristic of the pietists at prayer is its wonderful spiritual elevation which provides the feeling that this prayer breaches the gates of Heaven and attains its goals in a direct manner. While the pietist worshiper has such a sensation,12 it is of greater importance in social terms that the public acknowledges it as wondrous ability to receive an almost immediate response to their prayer. Spiritually uplifting prayer places the pietist in a position superior to the Rabbi, at least in times of crisis and distress. Thus, when all else fails, when all the fasting promulgated and practised by the Rabbis and the public are of no avail, the community turns to Honi the Circle Maker that he
11 MBer 5.1; 5.5. See further developed formulations in: TBer 3.20-22; PT Ber 5, 8(d)-9(a); BT Ber 31a; 32b; Tan Va-Yera 9, 90-91; Midrash Psalms 108.1, 463; Yalkut Makhiri, Psalms 108.1, 176.
should pray for an end to the drought.13 The intensity of the prayer is thereby transformed into an accepted and recognized source of power and prestige.
How do the Rabbis contend with competition, whether concealed or open? In spite of what we have written above, is it still possible to consider the pietists as part of the Rabbinic class and if not, were they shunted aside or rejected from the Rabbinic world?
Rabbinic literature is cognizant of, and even quotes from, "a teaching of the pious [mishnat hasidim]"14 or "the Scroll of the Pious [Megillat Hasidim]."15 The dicta, laws, or practices of the pietists are on occasion incorporated into Rabbinic tradition, even without explicit mention of the fact that the source may have been pietistic. Quotations and references appear in the entire Talmudic literature. In most instances, the pietist literature is mentioned in an appreciative and admiring fashion, and many times became an integral part of the Rabbinic message. An outstanding example are the dicta of undisputed pietists such as Hanina b. Dosa in Pirkei Avot,16 R. Phinehas b. Jair in the Tractate Sotah,17 and special prayer practices of the pietists as mentioned Mishnah Berakhot.18 There, we find, for instance, that one may not interrupt one's prayer, "even if a serpent is wound around his heel." This is a pietist halakhah that contradicts the well-known Tannaitic halakhot regarding life-threatening situations which would certainly allow one to stop in such an instance. Nevertheless, this halakhah is incorporated into the Mishnah as an anonymous halakhah. Similarly, passages from pietist teachings were absorbed into Pirkei Derekh Eretz.19 Furthermore, the actions and practices of pietists are mentioned as being held in high esteem, and their spe
13 MTaanit 3.8 and parallels. Note the various reactions mentioned in the parallels.
15 ARN B 26, 52; PT Ber 9, 68(a); Midrash Shmuel 1.1, and in several mss. of Sifre Deut 48, 112; see the comment by Finkelstein on the textual variants.
16 MAvot 3.8-9, and parallels.
17 MSot 9.15, and parallels.
19 S. Safrai, 'Mishnat Hasidim'.
cial capabilities were acknowledged and accepted by the public. Thus, they turned to Honi the Circle Maker and asked him to pray for rain,20 as mentioned above, and asked the same of his grandson.21 There are also narratives regarding Rabbis who ask pietists to pray for them on behalf of the sick.22 In spite of the above mentioned potential for strife and conflict, Rabbinic tradition acknowledges the pietists and holds them in high regard. A unique instance of a combination between normative Rabbinic teaching and and pietist literature is Tanna de-Ve Eliyahu, with its preoccupation regarding the relationship of "Torah" and "Ma"aseh".23
However paradoxically, Rabbinic literature contains a degree of reservation and apprehension concerning the pietists and their actions. This paradox of appreciation and apprehension attests to the tension between the Rabbis and the pietists, between Torah study and charismatic religious power. Thus, the bringing of rain by Honi the Circle Maker on Passover eve ends with the cold response of Simeon b. Shetah: "If you were not Honi, I would impose a ban on you, but what shall I do to you? You importune the Omnipresent and He performs your will, like a son who importunes his father, who does his will. Of you Scripture says: 'Your father and mother will rejoice; she who bore you will exult' (Proverbs 23:23)."24 However, it should be noted that Simeon b. Shetah acknowledged Honi's power and his special standing, as "a son before the Omnipresent," although his statement contains an unmistaken element of misgiving or warning not to adopt Honi's ways of prayer. In any event, Simeon's esteem for the rainmaker is hedged by apprehension, this in marked contrast with Amoraic traditions, where one finds a positive reflection on the prayer of Honi. In a Midrash on Job 22:28 ff., Honi is even compared to God himself.25 The Honi ha-Me"aggel narrative also
20 MTaanit 3.8.
21 BT Taanit 23a; and its parallel in PT Taanit 1, 64(b). See: M. Hirschman, 'Changing Focal Points of Sanctity', Tura 1 (1989), 109-18 (Heb.).
23 See: Tanna de-Vei Eliyahu Rabbah 2, 13; 3, 16; 7, 36-37; 11(12), 56; 13, 67; 19, 112; 24(22), 112; 25(23), 129.
24 MTaanit 3.8 and parallels. Most of the manuscripts state explicitly: "A ban should be imposed on you."
25 PT Taanit 3, 67(c); BT Taanit 23a. It may be assumed that in the tradition of the BT narrative the exegesis became a letter, and that it reflects the worldview of the Babylonian sages.
appears in a concise form in the midrashic tradition. Of interest for the current discussion is the adaptation of the narrative in Tanhuma,26 especially the moral with which the exegete concludes the wondrous narrative: "What was the purpose of his praying and the Holy One, blessed be He, heeding his prayer? Because he listened to words of Torah." Honi's power in prayer is explained by Torah study, and he is depicted as a Torah scholar whose prayers are answered, not due to his praying, but by force of his scholarship.27
An additional instance of unmistakable reservation regarding the practices of pietists is found in certain traditions of Amoraic literature concerning the prayer practices of the pietists. We will start with the positive acceptance, so as to appreciate better the apprehension and reservations. The Mishnah notes that the pietists were known to pause for an hour prior to their recitation of the Amidah, thus building up proper stance in prayer. Tannaitic literature teaches that every person should adopt this pietist practice. In this spirit, we find in the PT, in the name of R. Isaac b. R. Eleazar: "Because the pietists [were engaged at length in prayer], their Torah study was infused with blessing, and their labor was infused with bless-ing."28 A dictum by R. Joshua b. Levi on this is accepted as definitive law: "R. Joshua b. Levi said, One who prays should wait an hour before his prayer, and an hour after his prayer."29 Thus, on the one hand, the pietists are considered as sort of Rabbis, while on the other hand, another discussion on this matter expresses criticism.
The early pietists used to wait for an hour, pray for an hour, and once again waited for an hour. Since, however, they spend nine hours each day in prayer, how is their knowledge of Torah preserved, and how is their work performed? Another pietist characteristic, the demand for total absorption in prayer, while disregarding any danger, engendered in the Amoraic literature two opposing approaches: esteem and amazement as well as socio-halakhic reservations. On one hand, there is continued admiration for the conduct of the pietist Hanina b. Dosa, who acted in accordance with the teaching of the Mishnah and did not move, even though this
26 Tan Ki Tavo 4.
27 Note that the miracle no longer revolves around the Temple. See: M. Hirschman, 'Changing Focal Points'.
29 BT Ber 32b.
entailed danger. On the other hand, the halakhic discussions seek to define "what is a time of danger in which one must stop one's prayer."30
The narrative of R. Joshua, disciple of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai and the pietist, reflects the complex attitude concerning the pietist's purity conduct. The late Tannaitic tradition relates several versions of the narrative, in which R. Joshua was sent to "check" on this pietist. He was not happy with what he found: "If you indeed acted in such a manner, you would never in your life have eaten pure terumah."31 Of especial interest is the version of the narrative in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version B, according to which: "R. Joshua went to speak with him, and they were engaged in the halakhot of pietists." The tradition considers the pietist to be an educated individual, with whom one could conduct a halakhic discussion, but criticizes his customary halakhic practices, establishing that whoever does not heed the teachings of the Rabbis, is neither a Torah scholar, nor a true pietist. The inference is that Torah study is a necessary condition for piety, in accordance with the dictum: "An ignoramus cannot fear sin, nor can an unlearned man be pious."32
It is not possible to draw a sharp distinction between the period of the Tannaim and that of the Amoraim, nor between the Land of Israel and Babylonia in relation to the Rabbinic attitude to the pietists. As seen above, already the Tannaitic traditions reflect esteem and recognition, along with occasional negative reports. These same mixed tendencies recur in the Amoraic tradition. During the course of the Amoraic period, the phenomenon of pietism waned, at least as it pertained to a large social group.
There were, however, Rabbis who were also pietists, such as R. Joshua b. Levi, and possibly R. Phinehas b. Jair. These individuals, however, were part of the bet midrash society. There are literary developments that portray the pietist as a Torah scholar: "It happened that R. Hanina b. Dosa went to study Torah with Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, and the son of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai fell ill. . . ."33
31 ARN A, 12, 56; and in a different version in ver. B, 27, 56-57; see the comment by Schechter on version A, n. 77. See also S. Safrai, 'Bet Anat', Sinai 78 (1976), 18-34.
A tradition, that appears only in the BT, in the name of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, compares the power of the Rabbis with the personal standing of the pietists and stresses the intimate relationship of the latter with the Divine:
If R. Johanan b. Zakkai had stuck his head between his knees for the whole day, no notice would have been taken of him. His wife asked him: "Is Hanina greater than you are?" He replied to her: "No, but he is like a servant before the king, and I am like a nobleman before the king."34
In any event, in the Amoraic period the pietists became a historical memory. Ordinary Rabbis such as the "kehilah kadisha [holy community]" in Jerusalem, Phinehas b. Jair, and R. Joshua b. Levi were mainstream Rabbis, although their teachings were imbued with a pietistic tendencies. The pietists' power now, ironically, became an additional factor in the aggrandizement of the Rabbis.35
In the social sphere, in contrast with the ideological aspect reviewed above, matters were likely to develop differently. "Anshei ma'aseh," "yirei het," and "hasidim" are capable of reaching "their [proper] place," that is, of acquiring the standing of pietists, only on the basis of Torah study: "An ignoramus cannot fear sin [yire het], nor can an unlearned man be pious [hasid]."36
At this point, attention should be devoted to the literary-intellectual-social connection between the "historical" pietist and the concept of the righteous individual (tzaddik). Miracles and wonders were ascribed to pietists in the Second Temple period and in the first generation of Tannaim. Honi prayed for rain, and Hanina b. Dosa would pray on behalf of the sick, and personal miracles were performed for him. We should also mention Jesus, a type of pietist who heals the sick, walks on water, and, by the power of his speech, brings up from the Sea of Galilee a fish with silver coins in its mouth. The pietists lived humble and ascetic lives, and, as we have already mentioned,
34 BT Ber 34b. This entire section is missing in the parallel in PT Ber 5, 9(d).
35 For a similar analysis concerning prophecy, see: Ch. Safrai, 'Propheten/Prophetie III', TRE XXVII (1997), 499-503.
were regarded with devotion and esteem. They fulfilled the social role of the holy man, but in relation to what was commonly accepted in the ancient world, their actions and power are not impressive, their "holiness" was moderate. Honi, like Hanina b. Dosa, do not engage in acts of sorcery; they merely pray and "it is not the lizard that kills. It is sin that kills."37 This, at any rate, is the manner in which the Rabbis explain his power. Even Jesus stresses that it is not he who heals, but rather faith in the Lord.38
The phenomenon of the Rabbi as pietists declined after the Yavneh generation, and from the period of the Tannaim and Amoraim we know of only a small number of Rabbis who were also pietists, and indeed their acts of piety were few and modest. However, as early as the Tannaitic period, pietist teachings infiltrated the world of the Rabbis, but these were ethical-scholarly principles, and not the components of "sanctity" and miracles.39
Of special interest in this context is a renewed examination of the prayers of the pietists and the righteous. The Talmudic traditions attribute to the tzaddik mystical power and the special ability to "persuade" God to act in accordance with his requests: the righteous individual decrees and the Holy One, blessed be He, fulfills.40 In Tannaitic sources, the righteous individual generally does not decree, but rather prays. His prayer and blessing do not guarantee success, but rather wield much power and influence in Heaven. It is related in the name of Hanina b. Dosa: "If the prayer is fluent in my mouth, I know that it [the prayer/sick person] is accepted, and if not, I know that it is rejected."41 In a discussion that appears only in the Amoraic literature, the Rabbis refrain from attributing power to the prayer of the righteous. The dispute between Simeon b. Shetah and Honi the Circle Maker focuses on this issue:
38 For the miraculous acts of Jesus and their place in the thought of his circle, see: Safrai, 'Mishnat Hasidim', above n. 1; idem, 'The Pious'; idem, 'Jesus'. All in all, their deeds are modest, and their miracles are not conspicuous. The acts of the Christian monks are much more impressive, and it is doubtful whether miracles such as those performed by Honi would even be included in the biographies of these monks.
39 S. Safrai, 'The Term Derekh ErezZ.
The Holy One, blessed be He, does not cancel His decree in favor of the decree of the righteous!" [Honi] replied, "Yes, the Holy One, blessed be He, does cancel His decree in favor of the decree of the righteous, and [the Holy One,] blessed be He, does not cancel the decree of one righteous individual [in favor of] the decree of another righteous one.42
Only Amoraic literature expressly ascribes the same power to the prayer of the "righteous": the longer the righteous spend in prayer, the more will their prayer be heard.43 Or: "They went to R. Simeon b. Johai, he stood and prayed for them, and they were blessed to become pregnant. This teaches you, just as the Holy One, blessed be He, blesses the barren, so too, the righteous bless the barren".44 Thus also: Whenever the righteous instructs before the Holy One, blessed be He, He acts [accordingly].45
In this realm as well, the teachings from Babylonia differ from those from the Land of Israel. The statement that "the righteous decree, and the Holy One, blessed be He, fulfills their utterance" is Babylonian. Supernatural powers and attributes were ascribed to the "righteous".46 In the Land of Israel, efficacy of prayer was attributed to the pietist. It is his prayer that is superior to all others. Prayer and not miraculous acts are the focal point here.47 Furthermore, even reservations are formulated within the praying framework: "The prayer of the righteous is heard when they pray with the public."48 The "tzaddik" in Rabbinic literature, is often the pietist. Thus, in the discussion in the Palestinian Talmud, Honi the pietist is referred to as a righteous one. But in most instances, the righteous individual is depicted as a Rabbi, or at least as an individual who belongs in part to the Rabbinic stratum. "Happy are you the righteous, for you love the Torah";49 "The righteous pass away from the world
44 Song of Songs R 1.30.
45 TanB Va-Yera 45, 112, and additional, less obvious sources: Midrash Psalms 90.6, 195; RuthR 6.2; Tan Mi-Ketz 10.
47 For example, the series of episodes in PT Taanit 1, 64(b), et alia.
48 Midrash Proverbs 15.4. See also the evaluation by W.S. Green, 'Palestinian Holy Men, Charismatic Leadership and Rabbinic Tradition', ANRW 19,2 (1979), 619-47 and G. Anderson, Sage, Saint and Sophist: Holy Men and Their Associates in the Early Roman Empire, London 1994. Cf. J.E. Mignard, "Jewish and Christian Cultic Discipline to the Middle of the Second Century," Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1966.
49 TZevahim 2.17.
rabbinic holy men
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