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ZABDAI BEN LEVI:

Palestinian amora of the first generation (third century). He belonged to the scholarly group of which Hoshaiah Rabbah was the chief (Yer. Dem. vii. 26a), and his halakot were transmitted by R. Johanan (Zeb. 28b; Ker. 5a). Zabdai was particularly prominent in the Haggadah and in Biblical exegesis, in both of which he disputed with Rab, Joshua b. Levi, and Jose b. Petrus. Thus the words "le-ruaḥ ha-yom" (Gen. iii. 8; A. V., "in the cool of the day") are explained by Zabdai to mean "the side of the setting of the sun," in opposition to Rab's interpretation, "the side of the rising of the sun" (Gen. R. xix. 8). The phrase "Ka-'et ḥayyah" (Gen. xviii. 14; A. V., "At the time appointed") is explained by Zabdai as meaning "in a year from hence." God made a scratch on the wall, saying that when a year later the sun should arrive at that mark Sarah would bear a son (Pesiḳ. R. 6 [ed. Friedmann, p. 24b]; Tan., Wayera, 36; see also Pesiḳ. xxv. 158a; Gen. R. lxxiv. 11; Lev. R. vii. 2).

Two proems to Lam. R. (Nos. 29 and 30) are by Zabdai; in the second of them he contrasts the different prayers of four kings with regard to their enemies. David prayed to God that he might overtake his foes and defeat them (Ps. xviii. 38); and his prayer was granted (I Sam. xxx. 8). Asa prayed to God that he might pursue the enemy, but that God would smite him; and it was so (II Chron. xiv. 12). Jehoshaphat said that he was too feeble to pursue the enemy, and prayed God to exterminate the foe while he would sing the praises of his divine helper; and his prayer was satisfied (ib. xx. 22). Finally, Hezekiah said that he had no strength even to sing the praises of God, but he prayed that his enemy might be routed while he himself would lie in his bed; and it so happened (II Kings xix. 35). It is related that Zabdai, having survived Joshua b. Levi, wished to see him in a dream. Joshua accordingly appeared to him, and showed him people with faces raised and people with faces cast down. When Zabdai asked the reason for the difference in posture, Joshua answered that those who arrived there with the study of the Law in their memories had their faces raised, while those who had forgotten it had their faces cast down (Eccl. R. ix. 10).

Bibliography:
  • Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. iii. 640-642;
  • Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii.
J. M. Sel.
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