SIMEON B. ELEAZAR:
Tanna of the fourth generation; probably a son of R. Eleazar b. Shammua'. He was a pupil of R. Meïr, whose sentences, both halakic and haggadic, he transmitted (Ḥul. 6a; Shab. 134a; 'Er. 29a). The following anecdote, related of him, shows how he strove for perfection, a characteristic which is evidenced in his ethical sentences also: Once, on returning in a very joyful mood from the academy to his native city, he met an exceedingly ugly man who saluted him. Simeon did not return the greeting, and even mocked the man on account of his ugliness. When, however, the man said to him, "Go and tell the Master, who created me, how ugly His handiwork is," Simeon, perceiving that he had sinned, fell on his knees and begged the man's pardon. As the latter would not forgive him, Simeon followed him until they came near to the tanna's native city, when the inhabitants came out to meet him, greeting him respectfully as rabbi. The man thereupon said to them, "If this is a rabbi may there be few like him in Israel," and told them what had occurred; he, however, forgave Simeon when the people begged him to do so. Simeon went the same day to the school and preached a sermon, exhorting all the people to be pliable like a reed and not unbending like a cedar (Ta'an. 20a, b, where the preferable reading has "Simon b. Eleazar"; see Rabbinowitz, "Variæ Lectiones," ad loc.; Ab. R. N. xli.).
Simeon, like his teacher R. Meïr, engaged in polemic discussions with the Samaritans, who denied the resurrection, proving to them that it was taught by the Bible, namely, by Num. xv. 31 (Sifre, Num. 112 [ed. Friedmann, p. 33b]). In the Halakah, Simeon appears most frequently as the opponent of R. Judah ha-Nasi I. Simeon formulated an exegetic rule for the interpretation of those passages in the Bible in which points are placed over certain letters or entire words, in conformity with a tradition which was even then sanctioned: If the letters without points exceed in number those punctuated the exposition must be based on the former; but if the reverse be true, the letters with points must be interpreted (Gen. R. xlviii. 17; comp. Talmudic Hermeneutics).
Many haggadic sentences by Simeon have been preserved, including the following: "He who is prompted by love to perform ethical and religious acts is greater than he who is prompted to them by fear" (Soṭah 31a). "When the old people say, 'Tear down,' and the young people say, 'Build,' listen to the old and not to the young; for the tearing down of the old people is building, and the building of the young people is tearing down, as the story of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, teaches" (Meg. 31b). "There are two kinds of friends: one that reproves you, and the other that praises you. Love him who reproves you, and hate him who praises you; for the former leads you to the future life, while the latter leads you out of the world" (Ab R.N. xxix.). "The sentence 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord' [Lev. xix. 18] was uttered with a great oath; meaning 'I, the Eternal One, have created him. If thou lovest him, I will surely reward thee for it; and if thou lovest him not, then I am the judge ready to punish" (Ab. R. N. xvi.). "Three things the left hand shall ward off, while the right hand draws them on, namely, desire, a child, and a wife" (Soṭah 47a). "Have you ever seen an animal that is obliged to follow a trade or that must painfully support itself? Yet animals were created for the purpose of serving man, while man was created to serve his Creator. Should not, therefore, man, rather than the animals, be able to support himself without toil? Man, however, has deteriorated in his works, and therefore in his nature, and has been deprived of his nourishment" (Ḳid. iv. 13).
Some fine parables by Simeon have also been preserved (Ab. R. N. i., vi.; Mek., Yitro, Baḥodesh, 5 [ed. Weiss, p. 74a]).
- Frankel, Hodegetica in Mischnam, p. 200;
- Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, i. 236-238;
- Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii. 370;
- Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 422-436.