Shmaya (tanna)

This article is about the mishnaic rabbi. For individuals with the same name mentioned in the Bible, see Shemaiah.

Shmaya (Hebrew: שמעיה, or Shemaiah, Samaias or Sameas) was a rabbinic sage in the early pre-Mishnaic era who lived at the same time as Avtalyon. They are known as one of the zuggot ("couples"): Shmaya and Avtalyon. Both Shmaya and Avtalyon were converts to Judaism and were both descendants of King Sennacherib of Assyria who destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

He was a leader of the Pharisees in the 1st century BCE; president of the Sanhedrin before and during the reign of Herod the Great. He and his colleague Abtalion are termed in Pesahim, 66a the gedole ha-dor (the great men of the age), and darshanim (exegetes) (ibidem, 70a). Grätz has shown (Geschichte iii. 171) that neither Shemaiah nor Abtalion was of Gentile descent, although both were Alexandrians. Of the political life of Shemaiah only one incident is reported. When Herod on his own responsibility had put to death the leader of the national party in Galilee, Hyrcanus II permitted the Sanhedrin to cite him before the tribunal. Herod appeared, but in royal purple robes, whereupon the members of the Sanhedrin lost courage. Only Shemaiah was brave enough to say: "He who is summoned here on a capital charge appears like one who would order us to execution straightway if we should pronounce him guilty. Yet I can blame him less than you and the king, since ye permit such a travesty of justice. Know then that he before whom ye now tremble will some day deliver you to the executioner." This tradition is found twice, in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews xiv. 9, sect. 4, and Sanhedrin, 19, where the name is altered (compare Grätz, Geschichte iii. 711).

Shemaiah said: "Love work. Hate authority. Don't get friendly with the government." (Avoth 1:10).

Of the private life of Shemaiah almost nothing is known, except that he was a pupil of Judah ben Tabbai. According to Avoth i. 10, his favorite maxim was, "Love handicraft, shun power, and make for thyself no friends of worldly might." This apothegm, like those of his colleague Abtalion, is significant of the misery of the entire period.

The tombs of Shmaya and Avtalyon are located in Jish, a Maronite Christian village in the Galilee.[2]


  1. Thunder from Sinai: Chapter 1, Mishna 10, Essay 13
  2. The Guide to Israel, Zev Vilnay, Jerusalem, 1972, p. 539.

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

Preceded by
Simeon ben Shetach
65 BCE–c. 31 BCE
Succeeded by
Hillel the Elder
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