Ismall Ben-elisa, Ha-cohen

Ismall ben-Elisa, Ha-Cohen one of the most celebrated Jewish Rabbis and theologians, was born about A.D. 60 in Upper' Galilee, and when yet a child was carried as a captive to Rome on the destruction of Jerusalem. While he was confined in prison in the Eternal City, the Rabbis Joshua, Azzariah. and Gamaliel II had come to Rome to implore mercy and pardon for the captive Jews of the then reigning emperor Diocdetian (about A.D. 83), and by accident-passing the prison door of this young boy, Rabbi Joshua exclaimed at his door, "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers?" (Isa 42:24) to which Ismael ben-Elisa gave this manly reply: "The Lord, against whom we have sinned, and would not walk in his ways, nor be obedient unto his law" (ibid.). This remarkable reply from the mouth of Ismael so interested the celebrated Rabbis in his behalf that they vowed to secure his liberation before they should quit the city. Ismael ben-Elisa, when liberated, placed himself under the instruction of Rabbi Joshua, and also studied under the celebrated Simon ben-Jochai. At a later period we find Ismael ben-Elisa in Southern Judcea, not far from the Idumsean boundaries, at Kephar-Aziz (כפראּאזיז), occupied in the cultivation and sale of the grape. But while thus employed he was also engaged in the noble effort of maintaining young Jewish maidens, who, by the desolations of the war, had been impoverished, and were suffering terribly from; destitution. Ismael ben-

Elisa is supposed to have suffered martyrdom during the persecutions so frequent at that period (about A.D. 121). His especial service to Judaism was the system of interpretation which he inaugurated in opposition to the system of' Rabbi Akiba. The latter held that "every repetition, figure, parallelism, synonym, word, letter, particle, pleonasm, nay, the very shape, and every ornament of a letter or title, had a recondite meaning in the Scripture, 'just as every fiber of a fly's wing or an ant's foot has its peculiar significance.' Hence he maintained that the particles את, גם, ִא, and רק, as well as the construction of the finite verb with the infinitive, e.g. תעביטנו, העבט, השב תשיב, have a dogmatic significance, and he therefore deduced points of law from them. Philo was of the same opinion (comp. σαφῶς εἰδώς, ὅτι περιττὸν ὄνομα οὐδὲν τίθησιν, ὑπὸ τῆς τοῦ πραγματολογεῖν ἀμυθήτου φορᾶς, Deprofugis, ed. Mangey, p. 458), and he even deduced from them ethical and philosophical maxims; and this was also the opinion of the Greek translator of Ecclesiastes in the Septuagint, as may be seen from his anxiety to indicate the Hebrew particle את by the Greek σύν, which has greatly perplexed the commentators who, being unacquainted with this fact, have been unable to account for this barbarism and violation of grammatical propriety" (comp. Ginsburg, Comment. on Ecclesiastes, p. 496). On the other hand, Rabbi Ismael ben- Elisa held that the Scriptures (of course only the 0. T.), being a composition intended for human eyes and comprehension, "used expressions in their common acceptation, and that many of the repetitions and parallelisms are simply designed to render the style more rhetorical and powerful, and cannot, therefore, without violation of the laws of language, be adduced in support of legal deductions." In accordance with this theory, he established thirteen exegetical rules, which are called דרבי ישמעאל שלש עשרה מדות, The thirteen Rules of R. Ismael, by which alone, as he maintained. the Scriptures are to be interpreted (שהתורה נדרשת בהם). Comp. the very valuable work of Dr. E. M. Pinner, Talmusd Babli (tractat Berachoth) mit deutscher Uebersetzung, etc. (Berlin, 1842, fol.), 1, 17-20, where Ismael's rules are given with lengthy annotations. See also the article MIDRASH SEE MIDRASH . Rabbi Ismael is also the reputed author of a number of other works. The most important of these are, an allegorical commentary on Ex 12:1-23:20, called מכלתא, treating of the ceremonies prescribed by the Torah. 'Numerous editions of it have been printed; the first at Constantinople, 1515, folio; the last, to our knowledge, at Wilna, 1844, folio. It has been augmented by notes from several other Jewish writers, and was translated into Latin by Ugolino (Thesaurus Antiquitatum, vol. 14):-- פַּרקֵי תֵיכָלֹות (or סֵ חֲנוֹך), a work on mystic theology, of which extracts have been published in אִרזֵו לבָנוֹן (Venice, 1601, 4to; Cracow, 1648, 4to), and in other works. It was printed separately under the title דּרוּשׁ פַרקֵי תֵיכָלוֹת (Venice, 1677, 8vo; Zolkiew, 1833, 8vo). It was also inserted in parts in the edition of the Zohar. Ismael also wrote a cabalistic, allegorical treatise on the nature and attributes of God, under the title שַׁעוּר קוֹמָה; also called ס הִקּוֹמָה. A part of it was published in the סֵ רזַיאֵל of Eleazar ben-Jehudah of Worms (Amsterd. 1701, 4to, and often). Another small cabalistic treatise on the shape and mystic value of letters, under the title of סֵ הִתּמוּנָה, was published with a long commentary (Konz, 1774. 4to), etc. See Furst, Bibl. Judaica, 2, 75 sq.; Rossi, Diion. storico degli Autori Ebrei; Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vortrdge der Juden (Berlin, 1832), p. 47 sq.; Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, 4, 68 sq.; Steinschneider, Cataloqus Libr. Hebr. in Biblioth. Bodleiana, col. 1160, etc.; Ben Chananja (Szegedin, 1858), 1, 122 sq.

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