BANNAAH, BANNAY, BANNAYAH (not Benajah):
A Palestinian semi-tanna (see Bar Ḳappara) at the beginning of the third century. Not much of a halakic nature from him has been preserved; but he is distinguished as one of the great haggadists of his time. Probably he also enjoyed the reputation of a saint, as is shown by the marvels related of him in later legends. Regarding Bannaah's relation to Rabbi, the collector of the Mishnah, the following utterance is characteristic: "Man should ever penetrate deep into the study of the Mishnah; for if he knock it will be opened to him, be it the Talmud [= Halakah] or the Haggadah" (Pesiḳ. xxvii. 176a; compare Matt. vii. 7: "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you"). Bannaah therefore belongs to the few of the semi-tannaim who fully acknowledged the merit of Rabbi's collection of the Mishnah, regarding it as a progressive step in the development of the tannaitic literature (compare Yer. Hor. iii. 48c). To the Mishnah of Rabbi in particular, and to the Halakah in general, might be applied Bannaah's remark on Joshua, that he acted "in accordance with the spirit of the Law as revealed by God to Moses, also in instances when not directly instructed by the latter" (Yer. Peah i. 15b).
Bannaah's view on the origin of the Pentateuch is remarkable as almost bordering on Biblical criticism. "The Torah," he says, "was given in rolls" (Giṭ. 60a), meaning to say that the Pentateuch was promulgated in sections, which were afterward joined into a unity. In haggadic exegesis Bannaah frequently applies symbolism. For instance, he thinks that God demanded gold for the Tabernacle, in order that Israel might in this way do penance for the sin committed in worshiping the golden calf (Sifre, Deut. i.). The following words of Bannaah are also noteworthy: "Saul began to subtilize over the order which he had received to exterminate Amalek. 'If the men have sinned,' said he, 'in what manner have the women, the children, or the cattle?' Whereupon there came a voice from heaven that cried, 'Be not righteous overmuch' (Eccl. vii. 16); that is, 'Be not more just than thy Creator'" (Eccl. R. vii. 16; and compare Jerome's commentary, ad loc.).
Neither the foregoing nor any other passage of the Haggadah justifies the rôle of a saint ascribed to Bannaah in the Babylonian Talmud; the following can therefore be accepted only as a legend:
"Bannaah," relates the Babylonian Talmud, "was in the habit of marking tombs, in order that persons might guard themselves against ritual impurity, and, when engaged in this manner, chanced one day to come upon the cave of Abraham. At the entrance he found Eliezer, Abraham's faithful servant, and, being announced by him, thereupon entered. When Bannaah, however, endeavored to view the grave of Adam, which was situated in the same cave [see Adam in Rabbinical Literature], a voice came from heaven, saying: 'Thou mayest look upon the image of My image [Jacob], but not upon My direct image [Adam].' But Bannaah had already seen the soles of Adam's feet, which were like unto two suns"
In another legend the practical wisdom of Bannaah is extolled. On one occasion, a man had ordered that only one of his (supposed) ten sons was to be his heir, knowing that only one was his true son. Naturally all claimed this distinction; whereupon Bannaah told them to visit the grave of their father, and to strike upon it until he should awaken and tellthem which was the true heir. To this proposition all assented except the real son, whose filial piety rebelled against so unnatural an action; whereupon Bannaah decided in favor of the latter. In consequence of this judgment, Bannaah was brought into conflict with the authorities upon the charge of deciding legal cases without witnesses or convincing proofs. He was imprisoned; but his astuteness in explaining a puzzle not only spared him further punishment, but led to his being installed as judge over the people. By his advice, certain legal inscriptions, which had been cut into the gateway of the city, were changed (B. B. l.c.). Bannaah counted among his pupils also Johanan b. Nappaḥa.
- Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 539-543;
- Z. Frankel, Mebo ha-Yerushalmi, 69a;
- Weiss, Dor Dor we-Dorshaw, iii. 510.
- A Midrash fragment on the Redemption, with the title Derashot R. Bannaah, appeared in Ḥayyim M. Horowitz's edition of the Tanna debe Eliyahu Zuṭṭa, pp. 20-26, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1882.