Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Surviving Adversity

Many of Israel's enemies, including some home-grown ones, seem to feel that if enough pressure is brought to bear on the Jews, they'll give up on their national project and move "back" to where-ever, so long as it's far away. This is an odd preposition, with no evidence to back it up, but it seems to keep the Palestinians and many other Arabs hoping, and they undoubtedly garner satisfaction from Westerners and Jews who tell them eventually it'll work.

In week or two the Daf Yomi folks will pass this story, about obstinate perseverance in the face of the military might of the most powerful empire of the day, Rome. Many Jews grew up on the story, but in these days of limited Jewish education, perhaps many others haven't. I'm reasonably certain many of Israel's enemies don't know the story or the tradition it fits into, which is regrettable since they clearly underestimate how obstinate we can be. The story took place in the decade of 135-145 CE, most likely.

The Gemarah is discussing how judges are appointed, and they're examining the rule that only judges who have been accredited by three previously accredited judges may set fines.

-Really? So how to explain the story told by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav? [Here's the story]
Blessed is the memory of Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, for if not him, the laws of fines would have been forgotten.
- How forgotten? They could have been re-learned?
- Rather, the authority to apply them would have been abolished. Once the Roman rulers decreed that anyone who accredited judges [the word is smicha] would be killed, and anyone who received smicha would be killed, and any town where smicha was done would be destroyed, and any county were smicha happened would be razed. What did Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava do? He went to an empty spot between two mountains, between two towns between two counties in the area between Usha and Shfar'am, and there he did smicha for five scholars: Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi ELiezer ben Shamua. Rav Avaya adds Rabbi Nechemia to the list. When they realized they'd been seen by the enemy, he said to them, Run, my sons! What will happen to you, they cried. He told them, I'm here like an unturned stone [perhaps this means I won't run, and they'll kill me but I won't feel it, as a stone feels no pain]. The Roman soldiers didn't let up until they had stabbed him with 300 spears.

The Gemarah isn't convinced: there were two additional judges there, but the story doesn't mention them because they were less important than Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava [so the story doesn't prove that a single judge can give smicha]

Another problem with the story:
Was Rabbi Meir accredited by Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava? Didn't Raba bar bar Hana teach us in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Anyone who says Rabbi Meir wasn't given smicha by Rabbi Akiva, has it all wrong!
The Gemarah explains: Rabbi Akiva did give Rabbi Meir smicha, but he was too young at the time and it wasn't recognized, so he had to be given smicha again, this time by Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava.

The spot where this took place is still empty; you cross it when you take Route 6 north of the Barkai junction. Shfaram is an Arab-Druze town by the same name; Usha is a Jewish village.

[The daf Yomi thread starts and is explained here]


Fabián said...

Hi Yaakov. Can't be on road 6.

Between Usha and Shfaram is road 70 and 79, and it is way up north from where road 6 ends.

Fabián said...

At least on walla maps.

Yaacov said...

Oops! You're right, Fabian. Route 70 (not 79, I'd think). Though the next stage of route 6 is to replace route 70 - but it's not there yet, so I was being too futuristic, wasn't I.

If you're really looking at the terrain, I'd go further and say it probably wasn't between Usha and Shfar'am at all, since the hills there are very low; much more likely it happened near Harduf or Adi, if they wanted to hide in some forgotten valley. On the other hand, the Romans saw them, so perhaps it really was between Usha and Shfar'am, only not between two mountains.

Victor said...

Sheesh... post a Google maps tag as long as you're at it.

Anonymous said...

fascinating, please go on, find the place where legitimacy of the legal system was held up/defended/made to survive

but as to shape of hills, it's almost 2000 years - hills and landscapes might have changed a bit so Google would be of little help, ancient maps are needed