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SIMEON (BEN GAMALIEL II.):

Wide Knowledge.

Tanna of the third generation, and president of the Great Sanhedrin. Simeon was a youth in Bethar when the Bar Kokba war broke out, but when that fortress was taken by the Romans he managed to escape the massacre (Giṭ. 58a; Soṭah 49b); B. Ḳ. 83a). On the restoration of the college at Usha, Simeon was elected its president, this dignity being bestowed upon him not only because he was a descendant of the house of Hillel, but in recognition of his personal worth and influence. There were many children in his family, one-half of whom were instructed in the Torah, and the other half in Greek philosophy (ib.). Simeon himself seems to have been trained in Greek philosophy; this probably accounts for his declaring later that the Scriptures might be written only in the original text and in Greek (Meg. 9b; i. 8; Yer. Meg. 71c). Simeon appears to have studied natural science as well, for some of his sayings betray a scientific knowledge of the nature of plants and animals, while others concern the anatomy of the human body and the means of avoiding or of curing disease (Ber. 25a, 40a; Shab. 78a, 128b; Yeb. 80b); Ket. 59b, 110b). It is not known who were his teachers in the Halakah; he transmits sayings of R. Judah b. Ilai (Tosef., Kelim, B. Ḳ. v. 4), of R. Meïr (Tosef., B. M. iv. 15; Ket. vi. 10), and of R. Jose b. Ḥalafta (Tosef., Dem. iii. 12; Tos. Ṭoh. xi. 16). The last-named was honored as a teacher by Simeon, who addressed questions to him, and put many of his decisions into practise (Suk. 26a; Tosef., Dem. iii. 14).

During Simeon's patriarchate the Jews were harried by daily persecutions and oppressions. In regard to these Simeon observes: "Our forefathers knew suffering only from a distance, but we have been surrounded by it for so many days, years, and cycles that we are more justified than they in becoming impatient" (Cant. R. iii. 3). "Were we, as of yore, to inscribe upon a memorial scroll our sufferings and our occasional deliverances therefrom, we should not find room for all" (Shab. 13b).

Jewish internal affairs were more firmly organized by Simeon b. Gamaliel, and the patriarchate attained under him a degree of honor previously unknown. While formerly only two persons, the nasi and the ab bet din, presided over the college, Simeon established the additional office of ḥakam, with authority equal to that of the others, appointing R. Meïr to the new office. In order, however, to distinguish between the dignity of the patriarchal office and that attaching to the offices of the ab bet din and the ḥakam, Simeon issued an order to the effect that the honors formerly bestowed alike upon the nasi and the ab bet din were henceforth to be reserved for the patriarch (nasi), while minor honors were to be accorded the ab bet din and the ḥakam. By this ruling Simeon incurred the enmity of R. Meïr, the ḥakam, and of R. Nathan, the ab bet din (Hor. 13b). Simeon had made this arrangement, not from personal motives, but in order to increase the authority of the college over which the nasi presided, and to promote due respect for learning. His personal humility is evidenced by his sayings to his son Judah, as well as by the latter's sayings (B. M., 84b, 85a).

As Halakist.

In halakic matters Simeon inclined toward lenient interpretation of the laws, and he avoided adding to the difficulties attending their observance. In many instances in which an act, in itself not forbidden by Biblical law, had later been prohibited merely out of fear that it might lead to transgressions,Simeon declared it permissible, saying that "fear should not be admitted as a factor in a decision" (Shab. 13a, 40b, 147b; Yoma 77b; B. M. 69b; Bek. 24a; Pes. 10b). Of his halakic opinions about thirty relating to the Sabbath regulations and fifteen referring to the seventh year "shebi'it") have been preserved, in nearly all of which the liberality of views is evident. He always took into consideration the common usage, and he often maintained that the ultimate decision must follow common tradition (Ket. vi. 4; B. M. vii. 1; B. B. x. 1). The habits of the individual must also be considered (Ta'an. 30a). In his regulations regarding the legal relations of man and wife he made it an invariable rule to protect the rights and the dignity of the latter in preference to those of the former (Ket. v. 5, vii. 9, xiii. 10). He endeavored to protect the slaves and secure to them certain rights (Giṭ. 12b, 37b, 40b). The weal of the community is more important than the interests and rights of the individual, and the latter must be sacrificed to the former (Ket. 52b; Giṭ. 37b). He especially strove to maintain the authority of the magistrates; according to his opinion the decisions of a court of law must be upheld, even though a slight error has been made; otherwise its dignity would suffer (Ket. xi. 5).

Simeon's decisions are mostly founded on sound common sense and an intimate acquaintance with the subjects treated, and, with three exceptions (B. B. 173b; Giṭ. 74b; Sanh. 31a), his views, as set forth in the Mishnah, have been accepted as valid (Giṭ. 75a). He often cites the conditions of the past, which he learned probably from the traditions of his house, and which are highly important for the knowledge of older customs and habits. He speaks of the earlier festive celebrations in Jerusalem on the Fifteenth of Ab and on the Day of Atonement (Ta'an. iv. 8); of the customs followed there at meals when guests were present (Tosef., Ber. iv. 9 et seq.); of the work on the pools of Siloah ('Ar. 1b); of the nature of the marriage contract (Tosef., Sanh. vii. 1) and the bill of divorce (Tosef., Giṭ. ix. 13).

As Haggadist.

Several of Simeon's haggadic sayings and decisions also have been preserved. "The moral and social constitution of the world rests on three principles—truth, justice, and peace" (Abot i. 18). "Great is peace, for Aaron the priest became famous only because he sought peace" ("pereḳ ha-shalom"; comp. Mal. ii. 6). "Justice must be accorded to non-Jews as to Jews; the former should have the option of seeking judgment before either a Jewish or a pagan court" (Sifre, Deut. 16 [ed. Friedmann, p. 68b]). Simeon praised the Samaritans for observing more strictly than did the Israelites such commandments of the Torah as they recognized (Ḳid. 76a). The Scripture is in many places to be understood figuratively and not literally (Sifre, Deut. 25 [ed. Friedmann, p. 70a]). "It is unnecessary to erect monuments to the pious; their sayings will preserve their memories" (Yer. Sheḳ. 47a; Gen. R. lxxxii. 11).

Bibliography:
  • Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii. 368-370;
  • Frankel, Hodegetica in Mischnam, pp. 178-185;
  • Weiss, Dor, ii. 171-177;
  • Brüll, Einleitung in die Mischna, i. 203-209;
  • Ph. Bloch, in Monatsschrift, 1864, pp. 81-97, 121-133;
  • Grätz, Gesch. iv. 173, 187-189;
  • Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 322-334.
W. B. J. Z. L.
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