Eleazar ben Azariah

Grave of Eleazar ben Azariah, Galilee, Israel.

Eleazar ben Azariah (Hebrew: אלעזר בן עזריה), was a 1st-century CE Jewish tanna, i.e. Mishnaic sage. He was of the second generation and a junior contemporary of Gamaliel II, Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and Joshua b. Hananiah, and senior of Akiva.[1][2] He was a kohen and traced his pedigree for ten generations back to Ezra,[3][4] and was very wealthy.[5][6] These circumstances, added to his erudition, gained for him great popularity. When Gamaliel II, in consequence of his provoking demeanor, was temporarily deposed from the patriarchate, Eleazar, though still very young, was elevated to that office by the deliberate choice of his colleagues. He did not, however, occupy it for any length of time, for the Sanhedrin reinstated Gamaliel. He was retained as vice-president ("ab bet din"), nevertheless, and it was arranged that Gamaliel should lecture three (some say two) Sabbaths, and Eleazar every fourth (or third) Sabbath.[7][8][9]

Journey to Rome

In company with Gamaliel, Joshua, and Akiva, he journeyed to Rome.[10][11] Neither the object of the journey nor the result of the mission is stated, but that affairs important as pressing were involved is apparent from the season at which the journey was undertaken: they celebrated Sukkot aboard the ship.[12][13] With the same companions Eleazar once visited the ruins of the Temple at Jerusalem.[14] On a visit to the aged Dosa b. Harkinas the latter joyfully exclaimed, "In him I see the fulfillment of the Scriptural saying:[15] 'I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread'",[16][17] The latter was amassed by dealing in wine, oil,[18][19] and cattle.[20][21] Subsequent generations entertained the belief that dreaming of Eleazar b. Azariah presaged the acquisition of wealth.

His exegetic principle

With Eleazar's accession to the patriarchate the portals of the academy were opened wide to all who sought admittance. It is said that three hundred benches had to be added for the accommodation of the eager throngs which pressed into the halls of learning. Under his presidency, too, a review of undecided points of law was undertaken. To Eleazar rabbinic homiletics owes the introduction of the rule called (סמוכין = "contiguous"), by which one Scriptural passage is explained or supplemented by another immediately preceding or succeeding it. Thus, Eleazar declares that the slanderer and the listener and the false witness deserve to be thrown to the dogs. He derives this idea from the juxtaposition of the expression,[22] "Ye shall cast it to the dogs," and[23] the prohibition against raising false reports, bearing false witness, and associating with the false witness.[24][25]

In his homilies he generally aims to bring out some ethical or practical lesson.

Biblical interpretations

Eleazar was independent in his Biblical interpretations. He often rejected Akiva's opinions, remarking, "Even if thou persist the whole day in extending and limiting (see Hermeneutics), I shall not harken to thee",[33][34] or, "Turn from the Aggadah and betake thee to the laws affecting leprosy and the defilement of tents" (ואהלות נגעים;).[35][36] Above all, he strove to be methodical. When one applied to him for information on a Biblical topic, he furnished that; was he called upon to explain a mishnah, a halakah, or an aggadah, he explained each point. Eleazar was opposed to frequent sentences of capital punishment. In his opinion a court that averages more than one execution in the course of seventy years is a murderous court.[37]


The following few sentences summarize Eleazar's practical philosophy:[38][39]

Estimation by his colleagues

While he lived he enjoyed the glowing praise of his famous colleagues, who said, "That generation in which Eleazar b. Azariah flourishes can not be termed orphan";[42][43] and when he died the learned said, "With the death of R. Eleazar b. Azariah was removed the crown of the sages".[44][45][46]

Modern Critical Study

The traditions of Eleazar in rabbinic literature have been subjected to form analysis and literary criticism by Tzvee Zahavy. Using the critical methods developed by Jacob Neusner, Zahavy breaks apart the pericopae to isolate and describe the component parts of the tradition. He synthesizes and summarizes the results for the tradition as a whole to describe the formal, literary, and substantive traits of the Eleazar corpus.

Zahavy concludes regarding the best evidence about Eleazar from Mishnah and Tosefta that Eleazar's individual rulings and the pericopae in which he appears are integral to their literary and legal contexts. They fit the agenda of the chapters in which they appear. Eleazar, however, is not represented as a central authority in the formulation of the larger conceptions which underlie the law, nor do his traditions set the agenda of the law of Mishnah-Tosefta. Zahavy concludes that, "What we know of Eleazar thus is limited to the data that a few editors chose to preserve for the direct needs of their compilations. We have only brief glimpses of the whole tradition and the man. The thought and life of Eleazar remains... for the most part unknowable."

See also


  1. Sifre to Deuteronomy 32
  2. Sanhedrin 101a
  3. Berakhot 27b
  4. Yebamot (Jerusalem Talmud only) 1:3b
  5. Shabbat 54b
  6. Beitzah 23a, cf. Kiddushin 49b
  7. Berakhot 27b+
  8. Berakhot (Jerusalem Talmud only) 4:7c+
  9. Ta'anit (Jerusalem Talmud only) 4:67d
  10. Kallah Rabbati 7
  11. Derekh Eretz Rabbah 5
  12. Sifra, Emor:16:2
  13. Sukkah 41b
  14. Sifre to Deuteronomy 43
  15. Psalms 37:25
  16. Yebamot 16a
  17. Yebamot (Jerusalem Talmud only) 1:3a+
  18. Abodah Zarah (Tosefta), 5:1
  19. Baba Batra 91a
  20. Shabbat 54b
  21. Beitzah 23a
  22. Exodus 22:31
  23. Exodus 23:1
  24. Pesahim 118a
  25. Makkot 23a
  26. Leviticus 16:30
  27. Yoma 8:9
  28. Sifra, Akhare Mot:8:2
  29. Deuteronomy 23:7
  30. Sifre to Deuteronomy 252; cf. Berakhot 63b
  31. Sifra, Wayikhra (Khoba):12:13
  32. Sifre to Deuteronomy 18:3
  33. Sifra, Tzaw:11:6
  34. Menahot 89a
  35. Hagigah 14a
  36. Sanhedrin 38b
  37. Makkot 1:10
  38. Pirkei Abot 3:17
  39. Rabbi Nathan's Ethics 22:1
  40. Jeremiah 17:6
  41. Jeremiah 17:8
  42. Hagigah 3b
  43. Mekhilta, Bo:16
  44. Sotah (Tosefta) 15:3
  45. Sotah 49b
  46. Sotah (Jerusalem Talmud only) 9:24c

Contemporary bibliography

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Eleazar b. Azariah". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company. 

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