Temple Beth Joseph of Herkimer, New York

A Conservative Synagogue in New York’s Mohawk Valley

“All Who Are Hungry, Let Them Come & Eat”

May 2017

The title of this month’s column, while taken directly from the Passover Haggadah, has nothing to do with matzoh or with a seder. Still, I think that it is an appropriate title. The material, like much of the Haggadah, involves rabbinic literature with which many of our coreligionists, sadly, remain unfamiliar.

The story involves 3 rabbis. The principal character in this story is Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the president of the Sanhedrin. The Talmud often refers to him merely as “Rabbi”. He was extremely wealthy, often providing food for the sages & their disciples & enjoyed a close relationship with the emperor of Rome, possibly Antoninus. The relative peace & stability of this period allowed Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi to organize the Oral Law & publish the Mishnah (~220CE), a collection of rabbinic law & lore which forms the basis of both the Babylonian & the Jerusalem Talmud. He once stated, “I have learned much from my teachers, even more from my colleagues than my teachers, & the most from my pupils.” This tale seems to support his assertion!

The other 2 characters are Rabbi Jonathan ben Amram & Rabbi Simeon. The former is a disciple of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi who had vowed never to profit from his association with or knowledge of Torah. The latter is the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi. Together, these 2 younger rabbis teach the great master a great lesson.

Some stories just stand on their own; you will need no further commentary from me. Here is the tale of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi & his younger disciples:

Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi once opened up his granaries in a year of scarcity, proclaiming: “Let those enter who have studied the Scriptures, the Mishnah, the Gemara, the Halacha, the Aggada. However, let there be no admission for those who have not studied.” Rabbi Jonathan ben Amram pushed his way forward & said, “Master, give me food.” Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi inquired of him, “Have you learned the Scriptures, my son?” Rabbi Jonathan replied, “No.” Then Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi asked him, “Have you studied the Mishnah?” And, again, Rabbi Jonathan replied “No.” “If so,” said Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, “How can I feed you?’ Rabbi Jonathan replied, saying to Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, “Feed me as you would feed a dog or a crow.”

So Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi gave him some food. Some time later, after Rabbi Jonathan had left, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi came to regret what he had done & said, “Woe is me that I have given my bread to a man with no learning!” Rabbi Simeon, the son of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, suggested to his father that perhaps he had shared the food with Jonathan ben Amram, his disciple, who, throughout his life, had made it a point never to benefit from honor rendered onto Torah. Inquiries were made & it was found that this was indeed the case, whereupon Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi said: “Let everyone enter. Now, Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi [in refusing aid to the unlearned] was acting in accordance with his own ruling, for he had stated previously, “It is the unlearned who bring misfortune upon the world.”

Talmud Bavli, Babba Batra, 8b.

שלום וברכה
-shalom uverakha-
(peace & blessing)
Rabbi Ronald B. Kopelman