SIMEON B. ḤALAFTA:
One of the teachers of the transition period between the Tannaim and the Amoraim. He was a friend of Ḥiyya, and is mentioned several times as differing with him in regard to haggadic sentences (Lam. R. i. 2; Pesiḳ. xi. [ed. Buber, p. 98b], xxv. [p. 164a]). He lived at 'En-Tina, a locality near Sepphoris, and occasionally visited the patriarch R. Judah I. at the latter place. He was a pupil of R. Judah, and lived in suchindigence that the patriarch often relieved him (Ruth R. v. 7). His advancing age obliged him to discontinue his visits to Judah; and when the latter inquired into the cause of his absence he gave as a reason his debility (Shab. 152a). He was highly respected. Once when he took leave of Judah the patriarch ordered his son to ask Simeon for a blessing, and Simeon responded with the words: "God grant that you will neither cause shame to others nor be shamed by others." As the patriarch's son took this blessing to be a mere empty phrase, his father reminded him that God had once blessed Israel with these same words (M. K. 9b, according to the correct reading of Rabbinowitz in "Diḳduḳe Soferim"). The honor in which Simeon b. Ḥalafta was held also appears from Ḥanina's remark that he (Ḥanina) merited a hale old age in view of his visits to the aged Simeon b. Ḥalafta; on his journeys from Tiberias to Sepphoris Ḥanina had been wont to make a detour to 'En-Tina in order to visit Simeon (Yer. Ta'an. 68a).His Career.
Various legends are connected with the person of Simeon b. Ḥalafta. Once, on returning from Sepphoris to 'En-Tina he met the angel of death, who said to him in the course of conversation that he had no power over persons who were like Simeon, since on account of their good deeds God often prolongs their span of life (Deut. R. ix. 1). On another occasion, when in danger of being torn by lions, Simeon was miraculously saved (Sanh. 59b). Once a precious stone is said to have been sent to him from heaven in a miraculous way (Ruth R. iii. 4; comp. Perles in "Monatsschrift," 1873, pp. 27 et seq.). Many stories are told of his observations and experiments in zoology, and he was designated by the epithet "'asḳan" = "the busy one" or "the experimenter." He is said to have saved the life of a hen by attaching a reed to her dislocated hip-bone; and he made new feathers grow on another hen which had lost her feathers (Ḥul. 57b). Still other experiments by him are recounted (ib.; Lev. R. xxii.).His Haggadah.
Simeon b. Ḥalafta is rarely mentioned in the halakic tradition, but very frequently in the Haggadah, in which he is especially noted for the parables which he employed in his Scriptural exegesis. Some of these may be mentioned here. He explains the regulation (Ex. xii. 43 et seq.) that circumcision should precede participation in the Feast of Pesaḥ by the following parable: "A king gave a banquet, commanding that only those guests who wore his badge should be admitted. So God instituted a banquet in celebration of the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, commanding that only those should partake of it who bore on their bodies the seal of Abraham" (Ex. R. xix. 6). The following is a parable on the relation between God and Israel: "A king took to wife a matron who brought two precious stones as her marriage portion; and he gave her in addition two other gems. When the woman lost the stones she had brought, he took away those which he had given to her; but when she found her own again, the king gave back those of his gift, and had all the gems made into a crown for her. Similarly Israel brought the precious stones 'justice' and 'right,' which it had received from Abraham [Gen. xviii. 19 (A. V. "justice and judgment")], into the covenant which it made with God. God gave in addition two other precious stones, 'mercy' [Deut. vii. 12] and 'compassion' [Deut. xiii. 18]. When Israel lost justice and right [Amos vi. 12] God took away mercy and compassion [Yer. xvi. 5]. When Israel again produces what it has lost [Isa. i. 27] God will also restore what He has taken away [Isa. liv. 10], the four precious stones together becoming a crown for Israel" (comp. Hos. ii. 21; Deut. R. iii. 1).
Other Scriptural explanations by Simeon are not expressed in parables. For instance, he applies Prov. xviii. 7, "A fool's mouth is his destruction," to the words of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gen. xi.4; Gen. R. xxxviii. 11). The ladder which Jacob beheld in his vision (Gen. xxviii. 12), and which stood on earth and reached to heaven, indicated to him those of his descendants who would be engulfed in the earth, namely, Korah and his followers (Num. xvi. 32), and also Moses, who was to ascend to heaven (Ex. xxiv. 1; Tan., Wayyeẓe, ed. Buber, p. 75a). The following sentences by Simeon may be mentioned here: "Since the fist of hypocrisy has become all-powerful, judgment has become perverted; the good deeds of the individual are destroyed; and no man may say to another, 'My merits are greater than thine'" (Soṭah 41b). "All the future bliss, the blessings, and the comfortings which the Prophets have beheld, apply to the penitent, while the sentence [Isa. lxiv. 3, Hebr.] 'neither hath the eye seen, O God, besides thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him' applies to the person who has never tasted sin" (Eccl. R. i. 8). His sentence in praise of peace was included in the Mishnah ('Uḳẓin iii. 12): "God has found no better vessel than peace to hold the blessing to be given to Israel, as it is written (Ps. xxix. 11): 'The Lord giveth strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.'"
- Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii. 364-365, Warsaw, 1882;
- Frankel, Mebo, p. 128b, Breslau, 1870;
- Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 530-536.