JewishEncyclopedia.com

The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations

BAR ḲAPPARA (Aramaic; Hebrew, "Ben ha-Ḳappar"):

Palestinian scholar of the beginning of the third century, occupying an intermediate position between tanna and amora. His real and complete name was Eleazar (there seems to be no ground for the form "Eliezer") ben Eleazar ha-Ḳappar. This is the form appearing in the tannaite sources, Tosefta (Beẓah i. 7; Ḥullin vi. 3) and Sifre (Num. 42, ed. Friedmann, p. 12b): the usual Talmudic form, "Bar Ḳappara," and the frequent appellation, "Eleazar ha-Ḳappar Berabbi" (see Berebi), are abbreviations of this.

His Academy at Cæsarea.

Like nearly all those who occupied the intermediate positions between tannaim and amoraim (called "semi-tannaim" for convenience' sake), Bar Ḳappara was a pupil of Judah I. ha-Nasi; but he seems to have counted among his teachers, in addition, R. Nathan the Babylonian (Midr. Teh. xii. 4, ed. Buber; other editions and MSS. read "Jonathan") and R. Jeremiah ben Eleazar, probably identical with the Jeremiah mentioned in the Mekilta and Sifre (Pesiḳ. xxvii. 172b; Tan., Aḥare Mot, vi. [ed. Buber, vii.]; and parallel passages cited by Buber). The strained relations between Bar Ḳappara and the patriarchal house, of which mention will shortly be made, induced him to withdraw to the south of Palestine. Bar Ḳappara set up his academy at Cæsarea (concerning or , the alleged residence of Bar Ḳappara, in the passage 'Ab. Zarah 31a, nothing further is known; according to Bacher, "Agada der Tannaiten," ii. 505, it may have been a suburb of Cæsarea); and his school came to be a serious rival of Rabbi's. Among the mostimportant of its scholars were Hoshayah, "the father of the Mishnah" (Ker. 8a), and Joshua b. Levi, the distinguished haggadist, who to a large extent transmitted the Haggadah of Bar Ḳappara (Shab. 75a). The greatest admirers of Rabbi and the best supporters of the patriarchal house, Ḥanina b. Ḥama and Johanan b. Nappaḥa, could not refrain from acknowledging Bar Ḳappara's greatness (Niddah 20a; 'Ab. Zarah l.c.). It is related of him that once while walking on the mole of Cæsarea and seeing a Roman that had escaped from shipwreck in utter destitution, he took him to his house and provided him with clothing and all necessaries, including money. Later this castaway became proconsul of Cæsarea, and occasion soon offered itself to show his gratitude to his rescuer, when Jews involved in a political disturbance were arrested, and he released them on Bar Ḳappara's intervention (Eccl. R. xi. 1, on "Cast thy bread upon the waters").

His Liberal-Mindedness.

Of more interest than his contemporaries' recognition of his greatness as a halakist and a humanitarian, are the many characteristic utterances of his that mark him as a phenomenal personality in his day. Some examples may be given. He said: "He who can calculate the solstices and movements of the planets [that is, understands astronomy] and fails to pay attention to these things, to him may be applied the verse [Isa. v. 12] 'They regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands" (Shab. 75a). This statement about the duty of studying astronomy and physics gains in significance if placed in juxtaposition with Bar Ḳappara's totally different opinion in regard to the study of the Torah. According to him, if a Jew read only two portions from the Torah daily—one in the morning and one in the evening—he fulfils the precept to meditate in God's law by day and night (Ps. i. 2; Midr. Teh. ad loc.). Bar Ḳappara not only admired natural science, proscribed though it was by most Jews of the time, who considered it "Greek learning," but he also appreciated the Hellenic love of the beautiful; and probably he was the sole Palestinian who judged the literary activity of the Alexandrian Jews favorably. A truly liberal exposition of his on Gen. ix. 27 was: "The words of the Torah shall be recited in the speech of Japheth [Greek] in the tents of Shem" (in the synagogues and schools) (Gen. R. xxxvi. 8).

Bar Ḳappara's respect for the exact sciences was equaled by his aversion for metaphysical speculation, which just at his time flourished in the form of Gnosis among Jews and Christians. Referring to Deut. iv. 32, "Ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee," Bar Ḳappara says, "Seek to know only of those days that followed the Creation; but seek not to know what went before" (Gen. R. i. 10), meaning to say that the world and the history of man in the world provide sufficient matter for the mind's employment without subtle investigations into hidden mysteries.

Highly characteristic of Bar Ḳappara's conception of life and its ideals is his opinion concerning self-abnegation: "The Scriptures [Num. vi. 11] say: 'The priest shall . . . make an atonement for him [the Nazarite] for that he sinned by the soul'" [A. V. "dead"; Hebrew text, "nefesh," means also "soul"]. By what soul did he sin? He denied himself wine. Now, if the Nazarite who denied himself wine only is called a sinner, how much more is he a sinner who has denied himself everything?" (B. Ḳ. 91b; Ta'anit 11a and parallels; compare Rab's similar saying in Yer. Ḳid., end; see Abba Arika). It required not a little courage and self-confidence to declare asceticism sinful at a time when fasting and abstemiousness of all kinds were held to be the greatest virtues.

The Patriarchal House.

A comparison of this view of Bar Ḳappara concerning abstinence with Rabbi's declaration before his death that he had not experienced the slightest sensual gratification in his life (Ket. 104a), reveals the striking contrast in the conceptions of the two men. This difference was true no less in regard to the affairs of daily life than to matters of the intellect. No greater dissimilarity is possible than was presented by the majestic repose and princely grandeur of Rabbi, and the poetic abandon and gay address of Bar Ḳappara. Since Rabbi's mere presence sufficed to put a check upon Bar Ḳappara, it is possible that a breach between the two men might not have come to pass had their personal relations alone been concerned. But the members of the patriarch's family, especially Simon, his son, and Ben Elasah, his son-in-law, rich but unlettered (Ned. 51a), were frequently subjected to Bar Ḳappara's biting satire. A somewhat irreverent remark about Rabbi, which he let slip in Simon's presence, was reported by Simon to Rabbi, who informed Bar Ḳappara of his firm resolve never to grant him ordination (M. Ḳ. 16a).

According to the Yerushalmi, however, the final rupture was induced by the following incident: During a gathering at Rabbi's house Bar Ḳappara remarked to Rabbi's unlearned son-in-law that it was conspicuous in him to maintain complete silence while all others present were asking Rabbi for opinions on subjects of learning. Ben Elasah was at a loss as to what question to put to his father-in-law, but Bar Ḳappara prompting him by whispers in his ear, he propounded to Rabbi the following riddle:

(Translation by A. Sekles, in "The Poetry of the Talmud," pp. 87, 88, New York, 1880.)

"High from Heav'n her eye looks down; Constant strife excites her frown; Winged beings shun her sight; She puts youth to instant flight; The aged, too, her aspect scout; Oh! oh! the fugitive cries out. And by her snares whoe'er is lured Shall never more from sin be cured!"

When Rabbi turned round after hearing the riddle of his son-in-law, he discovered Bar Ḳappara smiling, and exclaimed: "I do not recognize you, old one!" (meaning also, "I do not recognize you as an elder, a sage!"). Bar Ḳappara now understood that he would never receive ordination (Yer. M. Ḳ. iii. 81c).

His Poetry.

What the riddle really signifies is not known, despite many attempts to explain it. The most probable view is the one taken by Abraham Krochmal that Bar Ḳappara intended it as a criticism of Rabbi's unrelenting severity toward young and old. The verseis extremely valuable as a specimen of Neo-Hebraic poetry in Talmudic times; its few lines furnish, perhaps, the sole testimony to the activity of the Jews of that time in secular poetry. Its language is classic, but not slavishly so; forceful and pure, yet easy and flowing. It is a curious coincidence that the one other specimen of Bar Ḳappara's poetry which has been preserved in the sources should be the eloquent words in which he proclaimed Rabbi's death to the assembled people of Sepphoris. They are: "Brethren of the house of Jedaiah [an epithet of the inhabitants of Sepphoris], harken unto me! Mortals and angels have long been wrestling for the possession of the holy tablets of the Law; the angels have conquered. They have captured the tablets" (Yer. Kil. ix. 32b; Yer. Ket. xii. 35a; Bab. Ket. 104a; Eccl. R. vii. 11, ix. 10, with many variants of the text, which is here given according to Eccl. R. l.c.). Bar Ḳappara's presence in Sepphoris at Rabbi's death shows that, despite Rabbi's unjust attitude toward him, he duly appreciated his great obligations to his teacher; and there is no cause to doubt the sincerity of his grief for Rabbi's death.

Mishnah of Bar Ḳappara.

Bar Ḳappara was especially known to the Amoraim as the author of a Mishnah called the Mishnah of Bar Ḳappara (Pesiḳ. xv. 122a; Yer. Hor. iii. 48c; and many other places). This Mishnah compilation has not been preserved, and probably at the final redaction of the Talmud it was no longer extant (Meïri, in commentary on Abot, ed. Wilna, p. 14, does not mention the fact of having had such a Mishnah collection [thus Schorr, "He-Ḥaluẓ," i. 44, and A. Krochmal, ib. iii. 118], but a Baraita cited in Bar Ḳappara's name in the Talmud). Nevertheless, the numerous passages from his Mishnah that found their way into the Talmud suffice for judgment upon its character.

Meïri (l.c.) quite correctly designates it as a supplement to the Mishnah of Rabbi, intended chiefly to explain it, and, on rare occasions, to give differing opinions (see Baraita). Bar Ḳappara's Mishnah also presented variants to Rabbi's Mishnah, and later on became occasionally so interwoven in the text of the latter that doubt arose whether the Mishnah in question belonged to the one or to the other (Yer. Pes. x. 37d). The Mishnah of Bar Ḳappara was also used by the redactor of the Tosefta, who derived many decisions from it (for instances, see Weiss, "Dor Dor we-Dorshaw," ii. 219). Whether Bar Ḳappara's Mishnah ever reached Babylonia has not been definitely ascertained, the one passage in the Babli referring to it having originated with Simon b. Laḳish, a Palestinian (B. B. 154b). [Compare also Is. Halevy, "Dorot ha-Rishonim," ii. 123-125, who, without sufficient reason, denies the existence of Bar Ḳappara's Mishnah.]

His Knowledge of Fables.

Bar Ḳappara is the last one in Talmudic times who is stated to have had knowledge of fables. The Midrash (Lev. R. xxviii. 2) relates that because Rabbi did not invite Bar Ḳappara to the wedding of his son, Bar Ḳappara revenged himself in the following way: At the feast which Rabbi subsequently gave in Bar Ḳappara's honor, the latter told a vast number of fox fables—300, it is reported—and the guests left the food untouched in order to listen to him.

Bibliography:
  • Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, ii. 503-520 (for other passages in the same, see the Index);
  • Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, i. 244, 289-292;
  • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, p. 313;
  • idem, Mebo, 20a et seq., 71a;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 4th ed., iv. 198, 199, 211;
  • Hamburger, Supplement to R. B. T. pp. 36-38;
  • Kohan, in Ha-Asif, iii. 330-333 (Kohan here first pointed out the identity of Bar Ḳappara with Eleazar ben Eleazar ha-Ḳappar);
  • Abraham Krochmal, in He-Ḥaluẓ, ii. 84;
  • Rapoport, in Literaturblatt des Orients, i. 38, 39;
  • Reifmann, Pesher Dabar;
  • Weiss, Dor Dor we-Dorshaw, ii. 191, 219.
J. Sr. L. G.
Images of pages