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Eliezer Ben Hyrcanus (c.40-before 120 Ce)

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ELIEZER BEN HYRCANUS (c.40-before 120 CE)

Rabbi sometimes called Eliezer the Great; in Talmudic literature he is most

often referred to as Rabbi Eliezer. A native Jerusalemite,

he first showed signs of genius after becoming a student in

his twenties. According to his teacher, Johanan ben Zakkai

(q.v.), Eliezer then outshone all other pupils in memorizing

traditional sources like "a plastered well that retains

every single drop." Together with Joshua ben Hananyah, he

was responsible for Rabbi Johanan's escape (in a coffin)

from Jerusalem when the Roman siege was at its height, after

which the Roman general Vespasian gave permission for the

Sanhedrin's reestablishment at Yavne. Eliezer became one of

Yavne's foremost sages after the destruction of the Temple

in 70 CE, undertook various overseas missions, and once

accompanied Rabbi Johanan on a journey to Rome (c. 95 CE).

He founded an academy of his own at Lydda, where the most

famous students were Rabbi Akiva (q.v.) and Aquila the

Proselyte who produced a Greek version of the Bible for

Diaspora Jews.

A dynamic but inflexible personality, Eliezer ben Hyrcanus

seems to have followed the school of Shammai (q.v.) in his

legal conservatism and anti-Roman outlook. While ready to

accept genuine proselytes, he distanced himself from

heathen, advocated minimal social contact with them, and

believed that his wrongful arrrest on one occasion was the

punishment ordained for his thoughtless approval of a

Judeo- Christian teaching. When Eliezer defied a majority

vote by the Sanhedrin on a legal issue (c. 97 CE), his

brother-in- law, the Patriarch Rabban Gamliel II (q.v.),

proclaimed a ban excluding him from the company and

deliberations of fellow sages. This unusually severe decree

embittered Eliezer until his dying day.

Not only did the sages mourn Eliezer's passing, they also

rescinded the ban and reaffirmed many of his decision which

became authoritative legal rulings. Eliezer's great prestige

and contribution to rabbinic lawmaking are widely

demonstrated by: the recurrence of his name in the Mishnah;

numerous debates in the Talmud arising from his legal

opinions; the support given to him by a heavenly voice (Bat

Kol) in his fateful controversy with Rabban Gamaliel and the

other sages; and, centuries later, the ascription to him of

the midrashic work Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer ("Chapter of Rabbi

Eliezer.") One of his memorable injunctions was to "repent

one day before your death," in other words, as a daily

routine. "Know before Whom you stand!" (another celebrated

aphorism) is a text often displayed on the reader's platform

or lectern in synagogues. J. Neusner, Eliezer Ben Hyrcanus:

The Tradition and the Man, 1973. Y. Gilat, Rabbi Eliezer ben

Hyrcanus: A Scholar Outcast, 1984.

Clemens, had embraced the Jewish faith.



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