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"Builder of the Law."

Palestinian scholar of the third amoraic generation (third and fourth centuries). In one form or another, his name frequently appears in both Yerushalmi and Babli, mostly in the field of the Halakah. He was so distinguished that his contemporary and friend Zera I., admiring Ela's acumen, exclaimed, "The very air of Palestine imparts wisdom" (B. B. 158b). On two other occasions the same Zera applied to him the epithet "Bannaya d'Oraita" (Builder of the Law: establisher of fine legal points; Yer. Yoma iii. 40c; Yer. Git. vii. 48d).

He carried his theoretical knowledge into actual life, so that the very appointments of his house afforded object-lessons in rabbinic rites (Yer. Yoma i. 38c; Yer. Meg. iv. 75c). It is related that when on a certain Friday his duties detained him at college till late into the night, and, returning home, he found the entrance barred and the people asleep, rather than desecrate the Sabbath by knocking at the gate for admission, he spent the night on the steps of his house (Yer. Beẓah v. 63a).

In halakic exegetics Ela laid down the guiding rule, "[Every textual interpretation must respect the subject of the context" (Yer. Yoma iii. 40c; Yer. Meg. i. 72a). Another and the most frequently cited of his exegetic rules is, "Wherever the Bible uses any of the terms 'beware,' 'lest,' or 'not,' a prohibitory injunction is involved" (Men. 99b, and parallels). Quite a number of exegetical observations applied to halakic deductions are preserved under Ela's name (Yer. Shab. i. 2b, etc.), and he reports like interpretations by his predecessors (Yer. Ma'as. Sh. v. 55d). In the field of the Haggadah, also, Ela is often met (Yer. Shab. ii. 5b, vi. 8c; Yer. Yoma v. 42b, etc.), but as a transmitter of the homilies of others he appears only rarely (Yer. Peah i. 16a; Sanh. 44a). That psychological test of human character as betrayed in the passions produced "by the cup, by cash, and by choler" (, Er. 65a; compare Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa v.), which some ascribe to this Ela (Ilai), others ascribe to Ilai the tanna (second century).

Exegesis of Job xxviii.

Eulogizing R. Simon b. Zebid, Ela skilfully interweaves several verses from the Book of Job, to which he adds simply their application to Simon's death, thus: "'Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?' (Job xxviii. 12). 'The depth saith. It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me' (ib. 14). 'It is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air' (ib. 21). The four objects necessary to man, if lost, may be replaced; for 'there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it. Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone' (ib. 1-2); but when a scholar dies, who can take his place? We have lost Simon: whence shall we procure his like?" (Yer. Ber. iii. 5c, and parallels).

  • Frankel, Mebo, p. 75b;
  • Weiss, Dor, iii. 101;
  • Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, i. 139;
  • Bacher, Ag. Pal. Amor. iii. 699.
S. S. S. M.
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