Wednesday, September 10, 2014

R. Hananiah ben Teradyon

A MEDITATION ON THE STORY OF THE TEN MARTYRS: For These We Cry: Rabi Chananya ben Teradyon (Libi Astaire, The Jewish Press). In advance of Yom Kippur, this article retells the moving story of one of the Ten Martyrs. Excerpt:
Rabi Yosi ben Kisma was very ill. Yet, when Rabi Chananya ben Teradyon came to visit him, Rabi Yosi took the opportunity to strongly admonish his colleague for disobeying the Roman edicts.

“Don’t you know that Heaven has decreed that Rome shall reign?” he told Rabi Chananya. “True, this nation has destroyed the Beit Hamikdash and killed Hashem’s Sages, but Rome is firmly established! Yet, what do you do? You sit and occupy yourself with Torah, gather people together and publicly teach them Torah, and even keep a sefer Torah close to your heart.”

“Hashem will have mercy on us,” replied Rabi Chananya.

“I am speaking rationally and you answer me with ‘Hashem will have mercy on us’? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Romans burned you together with a Torah scroll” (Avodah Zarah18a).

As we know, Rabi Yosi’s words were fulfilled. Both the Talmud and the medieval piyyut Eleh Ezkerah, which we read on Yom Kippur during Mussaf, describe the fiery death of Rabi Chananya, one of the Ten Martyrs, at the hands of the Romans. Yet, this same Rabi Chananya, who fearlessly defied the edict of the Romans that forbade the teaching and studying of Torah, understood that not every Jew could be expected to have his courage. He therefore encouraged those who were afraid to learn Torah in public to at least learn in private.
The various recensions of the Story of the Ten Martyrs have been collected in an excellent German edition by Gottfried Reeg: Die Geschichte von den Zehn Märtyrern: Synoptische Edition mit Überstezung und Einleitung (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987). And I have noted another book on the subject here.

As I have mentioned before, an alternate, subversive, and macabrely upbeat version of the Story of the Ten Martyrs is found in the Hekhalot Rabbati (§§107-121). In this version R. Chanaya (Hananiah) was shapeshifted, terminator-like, to take over the identity of the evil (and entirely legendary) Roman Emperor Lupinus. R. Hananiah then spent six months terrorizing the Roman army, after which Lupinus was miraculously transformed to have the appearance of each of the ten martyrs successively, in order that the execution of each could be inflicted on him while they were all spared. You can read this story on pages 66-77 of my translation of the Hekhalot literature or you can read an earlier draft of the translation which I circulated with an SBL paper back in 2008. And Ra‛anan Boustan has published a very interesting book on the Hekhalot Rabbati which focuses on this story: From Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism (TSAJ 112; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).