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BATHYRA (commonly called Betera, Beterah []):

A family whose name is probably identical with that of the city of Bathyra. The name is so rare that all persons called "Bathyra" in the Talmud and Midrash are included in the one family, although there are no data to prove their relationship. Bacher remarks that it is one of the most difficult questions of tannaitic history to distinguish the several members of this family from one another. According to Z. Frankel, the following can be distinguished:

1. The Children of Bathyra (, Pes. 66a) or The Elders of Bathyra (, Yer. Pes. vi. 33a):

It is commonly assumed that they were two brothers, heads of the Sanhedrin under Herod I. But as near relations were not allowed to belong to the same judicial college, they probably were merely compatriots; so that the phrase "Sons of Bathyra" was not a patronymic, but a family name (nomen gentilicium). Whether the phrase included two or more persons can not be ascertained. They, however, gave a definite character to the Sanhedrin. Herod favored them probably because they were not Judeans but Babylonians, perhaps forerunners of the colonists for whom the city of Bathyra was founded under Herod. When their ignorance was revealed in reference to the question whether the Paschal lamb may be sacrificed on the fourteenth of Nisan when that date falls on a Sabbath, they modestly resigned their position in favor of the more worthy Hillel. The children of Bathyra who disputed with Johanan b. Zakkai in reference to the New-Year falling on a Sabbath (R. H. 29b), can not be identical with Hillel's opponents, as about one hundred years lie between them; the latter must have been descendants of the earlier leaders of the Sanhedrin who probably still retained some of their ancestors' reputation.

2. R. Judah b. Bathyra (also known as R. Judah Bathyra):

Eminent tanna. He must have lived before the destruction of the Temple, since he prevented a pagan in Jerusalem from partaking of the Paschal offering. Thereupon he received the message: "Hail to thee, Rabbi Judah ben Bathyra! Thou livest in Nisibis, but thy net is spread in Jerusalem" (Pes. 3b). Since R. Judah was not present himself at the Passover in Jerusalem, it may be concluded that he was far advanced in years, although as a citizen of a foreign land he was not bound by the law which demanded the celebration of the Passover at Jerusalem (Tos. to Pes. l.c.). At Nisibis in Mesopotamia he had a famous college, which is expressly recommended together with other famous schools (Sanh. 32b).

R. Eleazer b. Shammua, and R. Johanan, the sandal-maker, started on a journey to Nisibis in order to study under him, but turned back when they reflected that they were giving preference to an alien country over Palestine (Sifre, Deut. 80). R. Judah b. Bathyra himself undertook a journey to Rome with some colleagues. No sooner had they landed at Puteoli than they returned home weeping (ib.). R. Judah once arrived at Nisibis just before the beginning of the fast of the Ninth of Ab, and although he had already eaten, he was obliged to partake of a sumptuous banquet at the house of the chief of the synagogue (Lam. R. iii. 17, ed. Buber; "Exilarchs" in other editions is incorrect). The Mishnah quotes seventeen, the Baraita about forty, Halakot by R. Judah; and he was also a prolific haggadist. Since controversies between him and R. Akiba are frequently mentioned, these being chronologically impossible, the existence of a second R. Judah b. Bathyra must be assumed (Tos. to Men. 65b; "Seder ha-Dorot," ed. Warsaw, ii. 110), who was probably a grandson of the former, and Akiba's contemporary; it is possible that there existed even a third R. Judah b. Bathyra, who was a contemporary of R. Josiah (Sifre, Num. 123) or of R. Judah I. (Ḥul. 54a; Shab.) 130a; see also Midr. Sam. x.); he also seems to have lived at Nisibis (Sanh. 96a; but the version "R. Judah ben Bathyra" is doubtful; see Rabbinowicz, "Diḳduḳe Soferim," ad loc., note 10). It is evident from the cases quoted in Tosef., Yeb. xii. 11 (compare Yeb. 102a), and Tosef., Ket. v. 1 (Yer. Ket. v. 29d; Bab. Ket. 58a; compare Weiss, l.c., 158, and Ḳid. 10b), that R. Judah b. Bathyra (probably the earliest one by that name) did not quite keep pace with the Halakah as it was formulated in Palestine, and represented rather the earlier standpoint. This R. Judah is probably also the one who now and again is mentioned simply as "Ben Bathyra"; compare Tosef., Pes. iii. (iv.) 8, where R. Judah and R. Joshua dispute with Ben Bathyra. Here again the first and last names, "R. Judah" and "Ben Bathyra," probably belong together, making one name; so that R. Joshua was the only other person concerned (compare Zeb. 12a). In Mishnah, Pes. iii. 3, the editions have "R. Judah ben Bathyra," while the Yerushalmi has only "ben Bathyra." There is one passage, however, where R. Judah b. Bathyra and b. Bathyra are reported as entertaining different opinions (Ta'anit 3a); hence Maimonides takes "ben Bathyra" to be identical with "R. Joshua b. Bathyra."

3. R. Joshua b. Bathyra:

Mentioned in Mishnah Shab. xii. 5; Yeb. viii. 4; 'Eduy. viii. 1; Parah ii. 5. The names "R. Judah" and "R. Joshua b. Bathyra" being abbreviated in the same way (), they are often confounded on being written out afterthe abbreviation. Frankel has endeavored to distinguish the two tannaim on the basis of the inner peculiarities of their respective teachings. The chronological difficulties may perhaps best be solved, not by assuming the existence of two or three men by the name of R. Judah b. Bathyra, but by substituting "R. Joshua" for the name of the younger "R. Judah."

4. R. Simon b. Bathyra:

Occurring in 'Eduy. viii. 1, somewhat earlier than R. Akiba, since the latter adds to R. Simon's words.

5. R. Johanan b. Bathyra:

Mentioned in Zeb. 63a; probably only a misreading for "R. Judah b. Bathyra" (see Rabbinowicz, "Diḳduḳe Soferim," note 50), or, "R. Joshua b. Bathyra."

R. Judah b. Bathyra sent from Nisibis three warnings to the scholars in Palestine or Babylonia (Sanh. 96a); the same warnings are in part also attributed to Joshua b. Levi (Ber. 8b), which again increases the confusion. The later compilers ("Pirḳa" of Rabbi the Holy, ed. Schönblum, 20b, and "Ma'ase Torah," in Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 95) mention respectively five and four warnings by R. Judah b. Bathyra. The pseudepigrapha ascribe to R. Judah b. Bathyra the mystic "Sefer ha-Biṭṭaḥon" (Book of Trust).

The name "Bathyra" or "Beterah" is variously spelled (Tosef., Naz. v. 1, ed. Zuckermandel); (Tosef., Oh. iv. 14); (Naz. 56b); or (Tosef., Soṭah, v. 13, and vi. 1); (Yer. Sheḳ. iii. 47c).

Bibliography:
  • Z. Frankel, Hodogetica in Mischnam, p. 94;
  • Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, i. 379-385;
  • Weiss, Dor Dor we-Dorshaw, i. 156;
  • M. Braunschweiger, Die Lehrer der Mischnah, pp. 100-102, 119, 255.
J. Sr. S. Kr.
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