Joshua ben Levi

Joshua ben Levi

Joshua ben Levi or Yehoshua ben Levi was an amora (Rabbi of the Jewish Talmud) who lived in the Land of Israel, of the first half of the third century. He headed the school of Lydda in southern Palestine. He was an elder contemporary of Johanan bar Nappaha and Resh Lakish, who presided over the school in Tiberias. (Genesis Rabbah 94.) With Johanan bar Nappaha, Joshua often engaged in homiletic exegetical discussions (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 116a; Megillah 27a; Shevuot 18b). It is doubtful that the name "ben Levi" meant the son of Levi, whom some identify with Levi ben Sisi, or a descendant of the tribe of Levi. (Grätz, "Gesch." 4:263; Frankel, "Mebo," 91b; Weiss, "Dor," 3:60; Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 1:124.)

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi studied under Bar Kappara, whom he often quoted. But Joshua considered his greatest indebtedness to Rabbi Judah ben Pedaiah, from whom he learned a great number of legal rulings. (Exodus Rabbah 6; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:7; Genesis Rabbah 94.) Another of his teachers was Rabbi Phinehas ben Jair, whose piety and sincerity must have exerted a powerful influence upon the character of Joshua. Joshua himself had a gentle disposition. He was known for his modesty and piety, and whenever he instituted public fasting and prayer, it was said that his appeals were answered. (Jerusalem Talmud Taanit 66c.)

His love of peace prevented him from making any attacks against the Christian theology that was then gaining ground. He was tolerant of Jewish Christians, though they often annoyed him. And he forbore cursing one of them, pronouncing rather he identified "glory" ("kavod") with homiletic exegesis. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 9b.) There is also a reference to a book ("pinkes") by Joshua ben Levi which is presumed by some to have presented haggadic themes (Weiss, "Dor," p. 60); but this can not be well reconciled with Joshua’s disparaging of the writing down of homiletic exegesis. (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 15c; Midrash Tehillim 22:4; Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." 1:129, against Weiss, "Dor," 3:60, who assumes that the "pinkes" was the work of another rabbi of the same name.)

Nonetheless, homiletic exegesis occupied an important place in the teaching of Rabbi Joshua. His disciples and contemporaries quoted many such propositions in his name.

As an exegete, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was of some importance, his interpretations often enabling him to deduce legal rulings. Some of his explanations have been accepted by later commentators. (See, e.g., Abraham ibn Ezra and others on ). (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 69b; Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 11c; Jerusalem Talmud Megillah 74c.) He conceived the relation between Israel and God as most intimate, and he expresses it in the words, "Not even a wall of iron could separate Israel from his Father in heaven." (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 85b; Sotah 38b.) In his doctrine of future reward and punishment, paradise will receive those who have performed the will of God, while the nether world becomes the habitation of the wicked. (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 19a). In

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