SIMEON B. ABBA:
Palestinian amora of the third generation; pupil of Ḥanina b. Ḥama, who esteemed him highly, and of Johanan, who would have been glad to ordain him (Sanh. 14a). Simeon's family came originally from Babylonia; Simeon himself lived in Palestine in such great poverty that his teacher Johanan applied to him the saying of Eccl. ix. 11, "Bread is not to the wise" (Hebr.; Yer. Bik. 65d). On the advice of his teacher Ḥanina he married, successively, the two daughters of Mar Samuel, the head of the school of Nehardea, who had been taken to Palestine as prisoners (Ket. 23a). Both of them, however, died a short time after their marriage (Yer. Ket. ii. 26a). When Simeon desired to travel abroad, and requested his teacher Ḥanina to give him a letter of recommendation, the latter dissuaded him from his project, declaring, "To-morrow I shall go to thy father's, where they will reproach me, saying, 'We had a worthy scion in the land of Israel, and thou hast allowed him to go to another country'" (Yer. M. Ḳ. 81c).
After the death of Ḥanina, and while Johanan was still living, Simeon left Palestine and settled in Damascus. But after Johanan's death, Abbahu wrote to Simeon at Damascus and persuaded him to return to Palestine (Yer. Bik. 68d). According to one tradition, Simeon was a grave-digger in Sepphoris. In this occupation, which involved the collecting of bones from old graves, he evolved the peculiar idea that he could tell by the appearance of a bone what the person to whom it had belonged had been accustomed to drink: black bones belonged to persons who had been accustomed to drink cold water, red bones to wine-drinkers, while white bones showed that their owners had drunk warm water (Gen. R. lxxxix. 2).
Simeon transmitted sayings of his teachers Ḥanina and Johanan, also of Joshua b. Levi and Simeon b. Laḳish. Many of his own haggadic sayings have been preserved. One of them runs: "There are two kinds of acts of love, that of participation in a wedding ceremony, and that of participation in a funeral. When two occur together, and thou hast an opportunity to attend one, but not both, and dost not know which to choose, be taught by the words of Solomon, who said, 'It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting'" (Eccl. vii. 2; Tan., Wayishlaḥ, 23 [ed. Buber, p. 88a]).
- Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. ii. 201-204.